Last February, my daughter and I flew to Fairbanks, Alaska and then motored another 60-or-so miles to lodgings located, literally, at the end of the road in the Alaskan outback. We were intent on seeing the aurora borealis from a snow-covered mountain top. We did. It was a glorious sight.
My point in this recitation is not to talk about the aurora, but to offer a surprising note about the rapid advance of the coming revolution in ground transportation. For there, in the hinterlands of Alaska, in the lodgings parking area, was an electric automobile charging station. Thus, the resort alleviated the concern about the return trip of those who might want to drive their electrics to the place.
The ranges of electric cars vary widely by make and model but they are typically limited to 60 to 120 miles on a full charge although a few models can go 200 to 300 miles. GM says its Bolt auto has a range of nearly 250 miles. The state of Minnesota has bought 13 Bolts and plans to add more than 1,500 electrics to its fleet in the next 10 years.
Charge 'er up? Fully recharging the battery pack can take 4 to 8 hours. Even a "fast charge" to 80% capacity can take 30 min. But such concerns are amenable to the advance of technology. Count on it. There are already more than 60 charging stations in the Capitol complex in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In the meantime, all sorts of solutions to the range problem are emerging. The Minneapolis, Minnesota Star Tribune reported that a coalition of electric utilities, government agencies and environmental groups has completed the first highway corridor in Minnesota that is fully friendly to electric vehicles. From the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, travelers on Interstate 35 and Highway 61 will find enough charging stations to ensure they can make a trip all the way to Minnesota's north shore on Lake Superior and return. Similar installations are planned for other highways.
Global electric vehicle startups and manufacturing are proceeding at a whirlwind pace. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that electrics will be a third of all passenger vehicles on the road by 2040. Chinese companies are producing hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles a year. William C. Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. said in Shanghai in December, according to the New York Times, "It is clearly the case that China will lead the world in EV development." Chinese automakers are expected to produce more than 4.5 million electric vehicles annually in 2020. American and European automakers are paddling furiously to try to catch up.
Meanwhile, the kingpin of American motorcycles, venerable Harley-Davidson Inc, announced that it will launch its first electric motorcycle within 18 months. Presumably, it will not have any loud exhaust pipes.
Chuck Swann is Senior Editor of Paperitalo Publications.