(Electric) Power to the People: Citizen Involvement in Getting Auto Companies to Make More Electric Vehicles

How can we incentivize automobile companies — especially those that are traditionally most vested in the ICEV (internal combustion engine vehicle) realm — to not “be evil,” as the Google mantra goes? That is, to promote the adoption of EV tech and thereby the sustainability of human society.

It should not be that difficult to devise one or more policies/incentives that achieve this. It would likely have to be more complex than free pizza in compensation for the cessation of self-interested obstructionism. We can provide the consumer with a tax break or a point-of-sale rebate or unlimited access to HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes or free ferry crossing, and thereby raise the supply of EVs by increasing demand (via these various consumer benefits, thus added perceived value). However, it is trickier with companies who would take advantage of legal loopholes to delay EV development.

Consider the relative success story of the Nissan Leaf, and the kind of governmental support Nissan received in the process of initiating its development and production:

Do be like Nissan, you could say.

“Nissan-Renault has been a leader. At the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan shocked the industry with a plan to leapfrog the gasoline-electric hybrid with a new mass-market BEV, called the Fluence in France and the Leaf in the U.S. Nissan’s business plan called for EV sales of 100,000 per year in the U.S. by 2012, and Nissan was awarded a $1.6 billion loan guarantee by DOE to build a new facility in Smyrna, Tennessee to produce batteries and assemble EVs.” (Graham et al 2014)

It seems that a partnership-like injection of capital courtesy of the federal government succeeded in overcoming whatever initial inertia might have otherwise precluded Nissan from taking the leap that it did.

Is there some way that citizens could get involved in pushing these kinds of inertia-dissolving leaps into creation and use of EV production infrastructure? Perhaps citizens can get involved, at least a little bit. We can shelve our pitchforks and torches and purchase EVs as well as write letters to ICEV-heavy companies, for cash and ink are stronger than the blade.

The federal government provides guidance on writing complaints.

A benchmark letter might state how one’s ICEV lacks the advantages of an EV, or how the company’s offerings are disappointing by virtue of a lack of EV offerings. One can also insist that the company ought to do more to steer toward EVs, perhaps by seeking partnership with the federal government as Nissan did.

(While this may feel like sending a message into a black hole, intuition suggests that companies do generally listen to their customers. Ergo it is worth a try, complain to your ICEV-heavy company of choice today!)