At the Plug-In 2008 Conference in San Jose, General Motors today announced a collaboration with 34 electric utility companies around the country, along with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The goal is to figure out how to charge a coming generation of electric vehicles without overtaxing the grid.
For generations, corporate alliances have included fossil fuel interests. In the 19th century, the railroads would have gone nowhere without a coal industry. In the 20th century, Henry Ford could never have built up America’s auto industry without a close collaboration with John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly. That partnership had some pernicious outcomes, among them the destruction of America’s system of streetcars and interurban trolleys by National City Lines, a bus company owned by GM, Firestone, Standard Oil and Phillips Petroleum. The sole cultural memorial to that scandal is the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
It’s heartening to see an alliance emerging around a potentially clean energy source.
“Engine Charlie” Wilson, president of General Motors in the ’40s and secretary of defense under Eisenhower, famously said “For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” As long as he thought that what was good for oil companies was good for General Motors, he was wrong. But if what is good for America is electricity from renewable sources, then that should be good for General Motors, too.
Irony here is that General Motors, along with the entire American auto-and-truck industry, have been betrayed by the oil bidness. By betting the company on SUVs and light trucks, the auto companies in effect expressed confidence that the oil business would keep gas prices down indefinitely. It turns out that oil companies have a higher commitment than to their former co-conspirators, or to a tax-paying public that subsidizes Middle Eastern oil wars.
GM now plans to put promotional samples of its Chevy Volt PHEV on the road by next spring, with sales to begin in 2010. At about $40,000, the car will compete with PHEVs from Toyota, Honda, Nissan-Renault, and the German factories. $40,000 is a big hit for the average American family. It’s time to start advocating for a tax credit to support PHEV sales, patterned after the tax credit that supported SUV sales for so long, to such destructive effect.
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