The technology exists — so why aren’t Americans buying it?
When it comes to oil consumption, the U.S. is king. In 2012, Americans used more than 134 billion gallons of fuel, beating out China for the top spot in the global oil rankings. On top of fuel consumption, there’s also fuel waste, with Americans using 1.9 billion gallons a day in traffic, according to the Sierra Club.
The sheer volume of consumption shows Americans’ thirst for oil, a now-necessary component of the transportation industry, around which the entire economic and social system is built. Yet those involved in the green movement say the craving is more about the need for energy, not the fossil fuel, and they claim there is a way to satisfy needs while also kicking the oil habit.
Despite calls for a greener transportation fleet, the oil industry is moving full-steam ahead. Equipped with new fracking technology, the International Energy Association estimates the U.S. will be energy independent by 2030, due simply to new production of oil.
That oil, however, comes with health and environmental concerns for those living near new oil sites. And while the boom may be just around the corner, it inevitably will end, leaving Americans with a scenario that requires a shift in the industry, and the economy as a whole.
The Sierra Club is taking the lead in the movement to get America to start early, promoting its new “Beyond Oil” campaign as a catalyst to what the organization expects to be somewhat a green revolution toward clean energy.
But before Americans turn over their car keys for electrically-powered vehicles, there has to be an economic incentive, and that’s what key players in the environmental movement are hoping the government will help with.
“Imagine a world with clean, abundant, affordable energy,” states the organization’s campaign website. “One where climate disruption is a fading threat and American soldiers are never again deployed to defend oil fields. One where innovating green industries provide good jobs and supply 100 percent of our energy needs.”
The argument used by the organization is similar to the debate raging in the U.S. in favor of domestic oil drilling and oil pipeline transport, yet the way Beyond Oil Deputy Director Kate Colarulli sees it, oil and the disasters that come along with it, doesn’t need to be a part of the debate.
In July, a train hauling North Dakota oil went off the tracks in Quebec, killing more than 50 and ruining a community, a good example of the danger the industry poses. in 2010, a Enbridge pipeline spill in Michigan contaminated the Kalamazoo, resulting in an environmental disaster that has yet to be fully remedied.
“We don’t have to choose what type of disaster we want,” Colarulli told Mint Press News in a July interview.
The technology exists
When it comes to electrically-powered cars, there are plenty to choose from.
On the list of go-to cars for fuel efficiency are hybrid cars, which run on battery and limited gasoline, plug-in hybrids, which can run completely on battery when charged, electric cars and fuel cell vehicles, which use hydrogen gas produced through water.
Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Ford and Chevrolet have already introduced plug-in electric cars. It’s a step forward for the industry, yet they’re not seeing the sales of the gasoline-fueled cars on the market.
Tesla, a premier maker of electric cars, sold roughly 5,150 vehicles in its 2013 second quarter. It was a record for the automotive business, yet it was far from the number of oil-reliant vehicles sold on the market.
“People are not buying electric cars because they want to save money,” Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of General Motors, told CNBC. “Tesla is riding a wave of favorable publicity, and people are buying the car because it’s a cool thing to do.”
Ford, in fact, saw a 26 percent increase in the number of F-Series pickups sold in its 2013 second quarter — a sign that the “gas guzzlers” of the market are still in demand.
And so long as that demand exists, industry will follow.
Yet America’s desire for the status quo isn’t stopping those who continue to see a need to push for change. While Tesla’s number of cars sold is minuscule in comparison to other automotive retailers, it still represents a few thousand people who have a desire to move beyond oil.
“I mulled over American know-how and marketing genius as I slipped along California’s U.S. 101 in a ‘crystal red’ four-door Volt with library-quiet power,” Sierra Club’s Reed McManus wrote in a post about his experience test driving the new round of electric cars. “My commute (which I normally do by bus) is 41 miles round-trip, almost exactly what the Volt’s display suggested I could drive on battery power alone.”
Driving 41 miles on electrical power, generated through a plug-in, is a feat for the auto industry. Yet at this point in the game, it’s not enough for the American consumer. Gas stations are a dime a dozen on American roadways, yet electrical power stations for vehicles are almost nonexistent, and there’s still a question as to where that energy will come from.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, however, believes things will change.
By 2030, the same year America is slated to reach near-energy independence, the Union claims clean vehicles, which encompass all vehicles that seek to run on as little gasoline as possible, will cut gasoline consumption by 50 billion gallons a year.
Lutz agrees, claiming technology is close to cracking the code. But in terms of making it affordable on the market, the industry still has a way to go.
“For the generalization of electric vehicles you really need three things,” Lutz told CNBC. “You need cars that can go at least 300 miles a charge. You need rapid recharging capability. And you need affordable pricing. So far, Elon Musk’s Tesla has achieved two out of the three. They are a long way from mass-market pricing.”
Government taking the lead
In 2012, the Obama administration set new fuel efficiency standards, calling the industry to comply with measures on all car models by 2025.
It wasn’t a popular move among those who want the government to leave the free market system to itself, but it was applauded by consumers and the environmental community, as the administration estimated it would save consumers more than $1.7 trillion in gasoline costs. It’s also estimated to halt U.S. consumption by 12 billion barrels.
“That’s the technology we should be investing in,” Colarulli said.
In 2010, the Obama administration set fuel economy standards at 34.1 miles per gallon for all cars sold after 2016 — the 2012 standards represent an increase, assuring all cars sold with model year 2025 and beyond guarantee 54.5 miles per gallon, according to the Center for Climate And Energy Solutions.
The rise in mileage is something most Americans can agree is a good thing, especially in a pinched economy. In 2008, gas prices were as low as $1.87. Five years later, in an economy that’s still struggling through recovery, prices hover at around $3.57, according to GasBuddy.com.
Responding to the market, major automotive companies have emerged with fuel efficient cars, using the high gas mileage rate as a major selling point. While most Americans aren’t influenced to make car shopping decisions based on the vehicle’s impact on the climate, the cost-saving factor is one that drives consumers.
“Higher vehicle costs for fuel efficiency improvements will be far outweighed by fuel savings, with the average driver saving about $8,000 net over the lifetime of a model year 2025 car compared to a model year 2010 car,” the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions states in its Federal Vehicle Standards statement.
That alone will be incentive for Americans to at least take a step away from fossil fuel transportation independence. And if trends continue as they have, the industry will continue to respond to government regulations that coincide with the best interest of the consumer.