Are We Green Yet?

By John O'Dell January 12, 2011

Are We There Yet Volt.jpg

The just-ended 2011 Detroit Auto Show brought a flurry of media calls from reporters wanting to know if the plethora of electric cars on display there meant the electric age was here. It was with a heavy heart – and a sense of bewilderment – that I had to tell them no.

The bewilderment was because it amazed me that people who are supposed to be professional skeptics would think that fewer than two dozen cars and trucks with plugs – most of them shown only as concepts with potential production dates still years in the future – would spell the dawning of a new age of enlightened transportation. The heavy heart was because I really wish I could have said "yes."

We've come a long way in the past five years. The Detroit expo showed us that. With the Chevrolet Volt (top) extended-range plug-in hybrid and the all-electric Nissan Leaf starting to trickle into the market in select regions, with Ford, Fisker Automotive and Coda Automotive slated to start selling their first electric-drive cars and with Mitsubishi, Think, Volvo and Smart all beginning fleet tests of electric cars, 2011 marks a beginning.

But it's just a beginning. Picture a big swimming pool out there with maybe 12,000 gallons of water in it. The entire "alternative" fuels and powertrains fleet – from diesels and conventional hybrids to natural gas to electric to hydrogen –  is about 400 gallons. 

We won't progress much farther without more cars from more manufacturers, more publicly available alternative fuel dispensers to keep the cars rolling – including quick chargers to make EVs useful for trips of more than 50 miles away from home - and more people able to understand that electric-drive cars and trucks can play a valuable role in helping us reduce air and noise pollution and our dependence on imported oil.

So, are we green yet?  No. But we're working on it. While we've climbed the ladder up to the springboard at the pool and have begun testing it for bounce, we sure as heck haven't dived in.

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