Just Build, Baby, Build
Felix Kramer is the Founder of the non-profit, California Cars Initiative (Cal Cars), where he leads a team of entrepreneurs, environmentalists, engineers that focuses on developing "plug-in hybrid" technologies. He has been a founding or active member of World Wide Web Artists Consortium, New York New Media Association, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. A graduate of Cornell, he lives in California.
Question: Do we have the tools to make electric cars work on a large scale?
Felix Kramer: Basically there are a lot of people who say we need new inventions, new breakthrough technologies for plug in vehicles to be practical and our position from the start has been they are way better than good enough to get started. Right now the batteries we have and the motors and the electronics we have are able to make great vehicles. It would be great to have better batteries someday as they come in. That’s icing on the cake. Right now there is a good economics case for battery technology and then on the other side every alternative fuel needs a new infrastructure or new scientific breakthrough except t this one. You need new fueling infrastructure for alternative fuels, for bio fuels. You need to create more. For natural gas the same thing, but one of our big… One of our big gimmicks we had when we started Cal Cars was we walked around with this and we said every alternative fuel vehicle needs a new infrastructure except this plug in car.
This is… connects you to today’s infrastructure. A 120 volt plug can power most cars and when you get to a truck or a big vehicle it’s going to take too long on 120, so you’re going to need the dryer plug in your garage, a 240 and you can do that, but the point is we have the infrastructure now, the fueling infrastructure for cars.
Question: How can business and government work together to allow for this to happen?
Felix Kramer: Well when Cal Cars was founded and we did our first conversions we put it all into the public domain and we enabled individuals to do their own conversions. At that point it was a strategic goal to get enough plug in hybrids around the country to show what was possible. Since then a small ecosystem of companies has grown up to do conversions of hybrids, of Prius and that’s a market of around a million vehicles perhaps, so those companies are moving ahead. Some of them have gotten all the federal approvals and crash testing and so forth and they have a business opportunity. We think there is a much larger business opportunity for companies to convert some of the 250 million vehicles that are not hybrids, the big gas guzzlers and some of those in the US, 900 million in the world and a lot of companies will do that. Where the federal government comes in and where our local governments come in is in helping us get there quicker, so right now for instance if you buy a new plug in vehicle in the next year or two you’ll get a $7,500 tax credit from the federal government, which will help a lot to bring down the price.
There are other places in the world which have even higher incentives than that and there a places that are using tax policy and so forth because the reason why we have that credit is not simply the practical reason of helping these companies get started and so forth. It’s because the buyer doesn’t get a lot of the social benefits that driving a gas sipper or a plug in hybrid brings. It brings some benefits to the whole society in reducing energy and security and emissions and so forth, so you incentivize the buyer for higher first costs for those vehicles. Now at this point within few years it’s very possible with the… It will be cheaper to actually buy a plug in car than a regular car and it will be a no-brainer at that point. When we get to that point the incentives will be less necessary.
We already have all of the tools and technological capacity necessary to create a highly efficient line of plug-in vehicles on a mass scale—all we need is the fueling infrastructure.
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