We all know: cars are bad to our environment because by burning fossil-fuels they pollute the air we breathe. There are studies showing that automobiles account for 30% of all toxic air pollution (in the US), and are responsible for 60-80% of urban air pollution. Any second-grader will attest that electric cars are better than regular cars because they do not pollute (at least, not directly next to us). However, as second-grader’s mom and dad will patiently explain to you, electric cars also happen to be wicked expensive to buy, have limited ranges, cannot be refueled at a gas stations, and basically do not make any economic sense for individual buyers.

But what about socially responsible corporations? Quite a few businesses own vast vehicle fleets, and perhaps careful tailoring of operations and efficiencies of scale would help mediating the initial investment to more environmentally friendly cars – and thus help building the momentum behind conversion to more environmentally friendly modes of transportation?

Electric Vehicle (EV) producing companies realize that economics of electric cars do not make sense to individual drivers just yet, and they have been actively targeting corporate customers. Most recently, Toyota is releasing a 150 of their new Plug-in Priuses for testing at major corporations and government offices. FedEx has been playing with hybrid cars in their mail-delivery fleets since 2003, and they just started testing four all-electric trucks in LA. Meanwhile, USPS is trying to come up with an economic way of retro-fitting their standard trucks with electric drive systems. Does it mean that we are just about to turn the corner where the corporate EV fleets will take over the streets?

Unfortunately, as of today the answer still looks like a big “no”. No company has been able to demonstrate a financially viable way to switch over to EV fleets. Electric car manufacturers themselves acknowledge that while there are still lots of technical shortcomings to be worked out in EV technology, the high initial investment that is required to convert to all-electric vehicle fleets is one of the biggest deterrents – even with prices heavily subsidized by manufacturers.

This realization was quite discouraging to me. I was visiting the Electric and Fuel Cell Vehicle Showcase at Stanford last week, and the display was truly amazing: Daimler, Honda, Volkswagen, Tesla, Toyota – all of these manufacturers have at least one car that is more environmentally friendly than anything we have on the roads now. The technology is here, however, economic incentives are lacking.

This, unfortunately, most likely means that I will have to wait another year or two before proposing the switch from gasoline cars to electric Teslas or plug-in Toyotas to my next employer…

—Jonas Laucys

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