The Chevy Volt, an advanced hybrid that gets plugged in... The Chevy Volt, an advanced hybrid that gets plugged in to recharge the batteries. (GM)
I love plug-in electric vehicles like tne Chevy Volt and Ford C-Max, but I am losing faith and hope that these vehicles are going to catch on in any meaningful way in the U.S.

Earth Day is meant to spike our awareness of our environmental issues--climate change, water pollution, air pollution, ground and water contamination from all the ways we pull fossil fuels out of the ground and seas. It's also a hope-raising day. But I am losing hope for these cars making a dent in our efforts to make a real difference on the planet and our national security as it relates to our need for foreign sources of fossil fuels.

My ten reasons:

1. There is a paralysis of debate in the U.S. about whether these cars would even be pushed through policy. The argument is that even if we run on batteries alone 90% of the time, the power to recharge them comes largely from coal-fired or nuclear power plants, so what is the point? That is an argument to make electrical power cleaner, not to ditch the development of the EV market. But tell that to pro-oil/anti-climate change zealots who take pride in ignorance.

2. The cost of lithium-ion batteries remains stubbornly high, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of plug-in EVs, compared with similar non-plug-in models. This requires government subsidy to make them affordable, which is deeply unpopular with many people.

3. The Chevy Volt proved the case that a well-turned out car with plug-in, sensible technology could work. Thirty-five miles on each charge before the gas motor kicks in to power the car is the right recipe. The Ford C-Max Energi has been engineered to get just 20 miles on a charge at best(it gets far less in cold temps), which is too little to impress buyers.I predict it won't catch on, setting back the market.

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4. The infrastructure to support charging, especially fast-charging, EVs and plug-ins (parking lots, gas stations and retailers) is too slow in coming, and won't expand at a sufficient rate to support enthusiasm for buying the cars in the first place.

5. The American driving public is lazy. It takes a bit of thought and effort to own an EV or plug-in EV, and too few Americans want to be bothered thinking about their driving, or where they are going to power up. Too many people get their news from sources that like to bash environmentalism and the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and the auto and green energy industries generally do an awful job of communicating their virtues.

6. Electric-only vehicles are a distraction. The focus should be on extended-range plug-in vehicles that will go a decent distance on an electric charge before the gasoline motor kicks in. Even if an EV driver takes three months to use one tank of gas, they generally need to know they won't run out of power. That is called "range anxiety," and it's real. Too few people will ever opt for 100% EVs.

7. We are so hideously politically divided in the U.S. that even if President Obama and his family became visible, regular champions of this technology, it would probably alienate half the country from ever considering the technology. Converting the country to greener energy and conservation is a massive cultural under-taking we just don't have political will to do. There are massive energy savings associated with just turning black roofing to white. We can't even get political agreement to fund that simple project, which would also have the added benefit of creating a huge number of jobs when we need them.

8. The industry may not be as far along in perfecting the safety of lithium-ion batteries as we thought. Fires with these batteries occur in cars, and now planes, and the industry's explanations have been lame. The truth is that one lithium-ion battery certainly does not present a greater fire threat than sitting on 15 gallons of gasoline, but try to tell that to a largely incurious public, most of whom do not want to be bothered in the first place with recharging a car battery every day.

9. The truth has that the best move we could make to have more fuel efficient vehicles, and become less dependent on foreign fossil fuels, is a higher Federal gas tax. The auto industry knows this. The energy knows this. Politicians know this. But any politician who votes for a higher gas tax will be excoriated by a political opponent in their next election. Because we all know the folly of this, spending lots of money on EVs and battery-powered cars, in the back of our minds, just doesn't make sense. In other words, EVs and plug-ins don't make sense -- not because of the argument that they are still powered by dirty energy sources, but because we actually know there is a smarter alternative that we can't bring ourselves to choose.

10. The oil industry is so powerful and rich, and so motivated to keep us on as much oil as possible, there is no sustained political will at the Federal or state level to enact real policy shift that would actually impact the public acceptance of EVs and plug-ins on a wide scale. Oil companies spend a great deal of money on campaigns to keep their people in office.

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