Hands on the Wheel, Head in the Clouds
September 07, 2016
By Ricardo Pena, MPA’17
To clarify, the government cannot dictate private purchases nor sell research to private corporations. Instead, the government can release research and educational materials into the open market. This research is essential for the continued American presence. It keeps us competitive; it keeps us relevant. Our government invests in research and education, but in the end, the market decides.
And yet, what does this have to do with the market penetration of electric vehicles? The answer is simple. Research and education work in tandem; their existence complement each other. Providing free public research will move the market forward, but only by so much. Research has made electric vehicles cheaper, cleaner, and more practical, but without demand there will be no supply, simple as that. That is why electric vehicles have only really taken off within niche groups. Environmentalists, thrifty citizens, and tech buffs all see the benefit and intrigue of this emerging technology. Electric vehicles boast a national average of $1.13 per gallon, need no oil changes, and are safer and more reliable than the average internal combustion engine. Yet, it seems no one knows.
While electric vehicles have made a big splash among early adopters, the average buyer is still in the dark. It appears that either people know nothing or fall victim to the fears and misconceptions that similarly plague other new technologies. One example of this is “range anxiety.” Although the average trip length in the United States is 9.7 miles, we desire a car that can drive 30 times that. Charging is another concern that hinders adoption, yet vehicle utilization is around 4%, with the vehicle not being used the other 96% of the time, making charging a non-issue for most. Electric vehicles will no doubt prompt a lifestyle change, but only minimally. Meaning, as we cling to these fears and live in a post-factual era, we will continuously fail to benefit from existing technologies, and as a consequence, delay future technologies and progress.
Thus, the government has intervened. Electric vehicles benefit Americans, but the challenge is to make those uninterested become interested. Research on market penetration states that we rely on a variety of factors before making any purchase. One of these critical factors is internal knowledge. As electric vehicles emerge as a viable option, we will see perceptions change due to increased awareness, followed by increased knowledge and subsequently a change in purchasing habits. The process is slow, until the market hits the tipping point. Government interventions aim for market acceleration, fervently and continuously working towards this tipping point.
Yet, it might be hard to imagine an entire nation switching to electric when we’ve been going to the pump for over a century. Nonetheless, there is one future we have always acknowledged, and that is a future of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs). The ability to have a vehicle drive itself while we engage in other activities is appealing. As well, the likelihood of these computers on wheels being electric is substantial. It is hard to keep up with all the innovations in the past decade alone, but it is imperative that our society moves at a quicker pace, lest we fall behind. CAVs will bring ease and comfort to our hectic lives, while also providing positive societal benefits. Reduced traffic, reduced mortality, reduced accidents, increased personal time, lower carbon emissions per trip, and increased road access for the elderly, disabled and children are among the many benefits. The cornerstone of our future is electricity. This energy alone has the potential to change transportation and the way we live our lives, similar to how “black gold” changed our lives more than a century ago.
And while the future rests in the market, the market rests with us. It’s like an unknown democracy in which we vote with our money. As we move towards the future, our society is slowly progressing towards electric vehicles, but due to our built-in suspicion, the government is lending us a helping hand. In time, we will transition to electric vehicles, which will evolve into autonomous vehicles, benefiting our society for generations to come. It’s a logical next step that starts with today, but until then, we’ll keep driving with our hands on the wheel and our head in the clouds.
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