Electric vehicles have been around in one form or another for more than a hundred years. Yet, it’s still rare to see one driving beside you, or to find one at your local auto dealer. That will soon change if Ollie Danner has his way.
Ollie is the founder of the Electric Car Pledge, a site dedicated to connecting consumers who want to make the move to an electric vehicle with the dealers who can supply them.
I spoke with Ollie and asked him to tell me about the Electric Car Pledge, how it works, and what it will take to make electric cars our primary mode of transportation.
Jules: Tell us about Electric Car Pledge.
Ollie: Electric Car Pledge allows you to go online and pledge to buy an electric vehicle for your next purchase. There’s no contract. It’s just a personal pledge to do this. We then take those contacts and send them to local dealers.
Jules: What has been the response?
Ollie: I’m getting some good responses from cities in the US, like Austin and Portland. There’s also been a good response from Canada. As a matter of fact, right now Quebec is one of my biggest regions as far as pledges goes.
When it comes to dealers, some auto dealers are more open to this than others. Many dealers don’t have inventory right now so they don’t want to participate. But others want to get involved.
[To date Electric Car Pledge has received over 700 pledges and dealers have started following up with those interested in buying electric cars.]
Jules: Why did you start the Electric Car Pledge and where would you like to see it go?
Ollie: Where I am in California we have the worst air quality in the country. So I think that improving the air quality is one of the main reasons we started this, not that we’re going to all of a sudden wake up tomorrow and be able to see the mountains around us. I moved to my location in 1983 and at that time half the year you could see the mountains, the foothills, and the snow capped peaks. But now you may only see that a couple of times a year, right after it rains.
When you live in Los Angeles, as I did for 15 years, tourists ask, “Where’s the Hollywood sign?” But there aren’t many days out of the year when you can actually see the Hollywood sign; you have to be pretty close to it to see it. Thirty, forty years ago you could see the Hollywood sign from all over Los Angeles. But now, the smog is so horrific that you can’t usually see it.
So this has to do with improving air quality. I know a lot of people’s health is affected by the air quality, not just here but globally. You can tell people’s health is affected by the smog; you feel horrible when the air quality is bad.
Also, I had some interest in the electric vehicle world before this. The whole Electric Car Pledge idea came to me one night and I thought, “Let’s start a movement and hopefully it will take off. And it has.
Jules: How do you react to claims that electric vehicles haven’t really made an impact on improving air quality?
Ollie: I hear both sides of the story, but I think we’re going in the right direction. Last year about 1% of all cars sold in the U.S. were electric or plug-in. Electric vehicles are just in the baby stage, the beginning steps. It’s still early on.
Jules: What role does the Electric Car Pledge have to play in this?
Ollie: My motivation is to accelerate the process. If I can go to a car dealer and say, “We’ve got 2,000 pledges to buy an electric car just in the city of Los Angeles,” perhaps they’ll speed up production.
Jules: What do you see as some of the obstacles?
Ollie: Clearly one is battery technology. That’s the number one issue. With ranges being on average right now about 100 miles, some people couldn’t do with an electric car. They could use it for commuting locally, for groceries and things like that, but not for longer trips because the range isn’t there.
Second, the infrastructure for the charging stations isn’t there yet either. I can’t just go to an ESSO station and charge my car.
Infrastructure is currently being moved forward by private industry, but government is going to have to step in and expand that.
[For more about the current future state of the EV infrastructure, read our article, Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure – Where Do You Plug In?]
Of course, auto makers aren’t motivated to build something that’s just a niche product at this point. But, as you can see with all the news about new vehicles coming out, I think they realize that it’s not going to stay just a niche thing. In the next 10 to 20 years, 20 to 30 percent of us will drive electric cars. It will get better every year.
Jules: What would you like to tell consumers?
Ollie: Buying an electric car is a great advantage, especially with what’s happening at this point. If you’re looking for something that’s going to be for your daily neighborhood around-town commuting, an electric car is a great option. Not an alternative, but a true option.,
Also, the incentives are there. A lease starts off at about $30,000, and you would probably get $10,000 or so in rebates, so you’re down to below $20,000. Then, over the lifetime of the vehicle you could save another $6,000. So cost savings are significant, and you benefit the environment.
Jules: What message would you send to auto manufacturers?
Ollie: The auto manufacturers need to improve the technology with better range, and they need to develop the cars and produce more electric cars.
Jules: What would you say to government?
Ollie: First, continue with the rebates. Auto makers are saying that the only way to accelerate the adoption process is through rebates and tax incentives. So government needs to continue incentivizing and promoting electric vehicles.
Second, they need to work with private industry to build the electric vehicle charging infrastructure. A lot of private industries are taking it upon themselves to put electric charging stations in parking garages and so forth. Government needs to support that with grants.
Jules: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ollie: All we can do is work to improve the quality of living for people, not only here but everywhere, and be willing to help future generations. We’re not going to change the world, but if everybody just pitches in a little bit it will make a difference.