Hybrid, Electric Car Industry Experiences Growing Pains

By Joel Arellano | December 12, 2011
Remember the old days when you'd open up the hood of the family car and start tinkering away? It used to be the worst case result was the engine wouldn't start and dad would ground you for the next week. Now, tampering with today's car engine could get you six feet under especially if it's a hybrid or electric vehicle. "I don't want to scare anybody, but you could kill yourself doing the wrong thing," says Doug Brauner, mechanic and host of the Car Czar radio and television show. "Yes, that's unlikely, but I can tell you I'm careful when I get under the hood of an electric. "If you wouldn't take the back off your TV, then don't delve into your electric car."
Good advice. Toyota first heralded the age of electric drivetrains with its gasoline-electric hybrid Prius hatchback. Pure electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster, and the Mistubishi i are now the vanguard of the second wave, with the unique Chevrolet Volt and its "range extender" electric motor-gasoline engine (notice the reversal) a part of, and yet separate from, this EV segment. The stakes are huge among the automakers, their suppliers, and even the states over this EV trend. Pike Research guesstimates that hybrid and EVs will comprise roughly five-percent of vehicle on U.S. roads by 2017 and slightly over three-percent worldwide. All the above parties are watching the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as it investigates reports of Volt batteries catching on fire. California, especially, is considered a key market due to its "concentration of early adopters in terms of technology and environmentally friendly purchasers," states Truecar.com analyst Jesse Toprak. San Francisco-based Next 10, a non-profit organization focused on educating people on California's future, states in a recent report that EV investment in the Golden state totaled $840 million last year and saw job growth in the segment more than double. Thus the Chevrolet Volt battery issue, if not handled judiciously, could have consequences in the debt-ridden state as well as GM. General Motors believes EV issues like the Volt will sort themselves out just like they did for gasoline-powered vehicles in the past. States GM spokesperson Dave Barthmuss, "Because (EVs) are an evolving technology, we have to be as responsive as we can be to all problems and public concerns. … Public education is a process that's likely going to take multiple years." Source: The Sacramento Bee