Xconomy Editor Successfully Avoids Wrecking Electric Car. Entire World Rejoices.

3/15/11Follow @xconomy

Who Killed The Electric Car? Hopefully not me.

As I surveyed the commotion at the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor Monday morning, I couldn’t help but think of that documentary for a couple of reasons.

One, I was just about to test drive one of the next-generation electric cars developed by college students across North America. Let’s just say my driving skills are…uh…a little suspect and I didn’t want to wreck some poor kid’s research project, at least not before it got graded.

Secondly, I appreciated the irony of the moment. Released in 2006, Who Killed The Electric Car? argued that the federal government had conspired with auto manufacturers and oil companies to derail the nascent battery-powered electric car industry.

Five years later, two of those alleged conspirators have joined forces to sponsor a three-year competition for American and Canadian college students to create the very cars they supposedly plotted to destroy. General Motors, based in Detroit, provided vehicles and cash to the students while the EPA and the U.S. Energy Department offered research, technical, and logistical help.

Things have sure changed since 2006. Faced with rising oil prices and political instability in the Middle East, President Obama has made developing electric cars a centerpiece of his national energy strategy.

“With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015,” Obama told Congress during his State of the Union address in January.

But more importantly, electric cars have leap frogged from novelty to reality. Judging from the buzz surrounding the Ford Focus and Chevy Volt, consumers today actually want to buy American-produced electric cars.

Which is why GM invested so heavily in this EcoCAR competition, says Kent Helfrich, the company’s … Next Page »

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