EDTA President Brings Fresh Eye to EV Industry
By Bill Moore
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince.
Last week, there was a sad, but necessary transfer of power in the tiny principality of Monaco. It occurred with the passing of Prince Ranier III and the assumption of his son, Prince Albert.
That event may someday be looked on in a larger historic context than we might imagine, for Albert Grimaldi, now the head of state, is an active supporter of clean, green, sustainable transportation technologies. He may also be the first head of state to drive his own hybrid-electric vehicle. It was his influence and interest that helped bring EVS 21 to Monaco.
So, in a way, it was strangely fitting that the 21st Electric Vehicle Symposium should be held in one of the world's smallest countries during the very week that Monaco's beloved Prince Ranier would pass, allowing his son to assume his duties. We may someday see the passing of the generation that brought the excitement of road racing to Monte Carlo and the assumption of a new, more environmentally-aware Regent as a harbinger of things to come.
EDTA (Electric Drive Transportation Association) president Brian Wynne was on hand in Monaco last week and told me just one day after Ranier's death that the Grimaldi family's personal tragedy did cast a pall over the event.
"It provided a bit of a backdrop and some of the events that would have happened were, to some extent, toned down out of respect for the Prince. Prince Albert, who has taken this father's duties as Regent, as of last week, I had the good fortune of meeting for an organizational event. He is a big believer in our technology and was very eager to come and open the event, but obviously the circumstances being what they were had to decline to do that".
Wynne assumed EDTA leadership in January 2004, overseeing the legislative and education efforts of the industry advocacy group, which is made up largely of electric utilities, major carmakers and industry suppliers.
Europe's E-Drive Focus on Urban Congestion
I asked Wynne how Europe's view of electric-drive technology differs from that of North America. He responded that the technology manifests itself differently in various regions of the world.
"There is more of a focus, I think, in Europe on reducing congestion and emissions in urban areas. That tends to lead you more to direct, grid-connected vehicles such as battery EVs, which fit those kinds of applications.
"Hybrids in Europe get a little less attention than we tend to see here in the US, probably because petroleum is upwards of three times the price here; and diesel is so much more popular for inter-city travel".
If the imminent death of Prince Ranier cast a shadow over the conference, so did the escalating price of oil that briefly peaked at $58 a barrel during the conference. Wynne said that the changing price of oil should have been projected on screens in the exhibition area because "everyone was following it".
|There's no question people are getting very concerned that we're not moving up the adoption scale fast enough to keep up with a gathering problem...|
"It's a backdrop -- no question -- for this show and the discussion for electric drive," he stated.
"Others are talking about the perfect storm when you look at energy security issues, the price of energy, availability, refinement capacity... there's no question people are getting very concerned that we're not moving up the adoption scale fast enough to keep up with what people feel is a gathering problem".
What vehicles most impressed him?
As might be expected, the Venturi Fetish, which is manufactured in Monaco, clearly caught his attention, as it did everyone else who attended EVS 21, since it enjoyed the prime spot at the entrance to event. But he was also impressed by Provo, Utah-based Raser Technologies who had converted a Formula One race car to run on their Symetron electric motor.
"It was a very impressive vehicle with 420 foot pounds of torque".
He also cited REVA, the Bangalore, India electric car manufacturer, and Volkswagen, which displayed a diesel-electric hybrid version of its popular "Golf", the latter attracting a lot of interest, he said. He was also taken by Intelligent Energy's ENV fuel cell motorbike
Wynne is an experienced Washington insider who has spent 22 years promoting technology inside the Beltway. Trained in international economics and trade, he previous job before EDTA was with ITS America, a public-private partnership promoting Intelligent Transportation Systems, both in-vehicle and infrastructure-based.
"I like working on global trends that can be accelerated using government policy, which is, of course, what we do here at EDTA..."
Besides seeking to influence federal policy to help promote electric-drive technologies, EDTA also engages in educational initiatives that include its own annual conference. [See EV World's coverage of 2004 event]. Once every three years, it also hosts the EVS series, the last of which was in Long Beach, California.
EDTA Brian Wynne [center] with Joseph Romm [left] and Dan Sperling [right] at 2004 EDTA conference in Orlando, Florida. This year's conference will be in Vancouver, BC.
EDTA Reshapes Its Mission
I asked Wynne what was the most gratifying event for him personally since assuming the EDTA presidency.
He replied that this was acceptance by the EDTA board of a reshaped mission statement, one which shifted focus away from specific vehicle platforms to a view that electric-drive is now a "foundational" technology.
At a board member meeting last October, "everyone in the room could see that EDTA was really the place they wanted to be, no matter what kind of company they were representing or what kind of bias they were bringing to the table'
"That's really the fun part of the association business... getting people together that normally don't find each other or that compete directly in the marketplace with one another and having them collaborate together and create something that's larger than the sum of the parts".
Wynne explained that EDTA is probably the only association where carmakers and electric utilities cooperate; and the new mission statement seeks to enlarge the "tent" even more by bringing in upstream technology companies like Intelligent Energy.
"Let's make sure that we've got everybody who is toiling in this vineyard working together. Let's expand our footprint here in Washington. We've already got industrial-sized players, but there's going to be a lot of complex work that needs to be done going forward, whether it be from a policy perspective, or a regulatory perspective, or an engineering perspective that requires more people to be in the tent".
Industry's Biggest Challenges
Given the dramatic shift in public perception of electric-drive technologies, driven by a combination of brilliant engineering and savvy marketing by Toyota, along with the war in Iraq and $50 a barrel oil, I wanted Wynne to give me his perspective on what he thinks are now the industry's biggest challenges.
"We want to move towards broad market adoption," he replied, "and there are some large forcing functions that are going to push us in that direction. I think our biggest challenge is going to be upstream supply to make sure that we're ready. If we were to have a major oil supply disruption tomorrow, I think everyone would be calling upon this technology and the industry to produce more of these kinds of vehicles and I just don't think that we're either able to at this point, or that we've educated the marketplace sufficiently or deeply enough that we would be able to move to respond to a real crisis.
"So, that says to me two different things. Number one, we need to begin before a crisis. We need to begin broadening out the demographic of people and the number of applications that actually leverage electric drive. The way we're trying to do that is, first and foremost, beginning with where I think we've got the largest potential volumes, is working here in Washington on behalf of consumer-based tax credits to reduce the cost differential between a traditional vehicle and a gasoline-electric hybrid, for example, or potentially a diesel-electric hybrid coming down the road".
Wynne also noted that EDTA is also promoting other market niches for electric-drive technology including the electrification of airport ground support equipment.
"Those are perfect, non-road kinds of applications for vehicles that leverage the technology and have an enormous impact both from a petroleum perspective, as well as an emissions and greenhouse gas perspective. We're trying to get deeper into those kinds of verticals, working with fleet operators and working here in Washington to get incentives for fleet operators so they can grab this technology and run with it".
A specific example is the 1992 Energy Policy Act or EPAct, a regulation that requires utility fleet operators to buy or lease alternative fuel vehicles to help reduce their use of oil while also helping stimulate the market for domestic fuels like ethanol and propane. When the law was written, it didn't envision gasoline-electric hybrids, so it makes no provisions for them Fleets want them, but since they don't currently meet EPAct guidelines, fleet operators can't buy them in any significant numbers.
"We're working to try an overcome that obstacle and get them that opportunity. And again, that will begin to move us towards broad market adoption and it will help us with this upstream supply problem that I sense we are already making progress with. The more volume we can get out there in the marketplace, the more companies that we can attract into this business, whether they be battery makers, controller makers, software makers; technology folks that want to contribute and bring the prices down.
"A lot of very large industrial players are quietly getting into this business," he remarked to my observation that the day we did the interview DENSO, one of the world's largest automotive component makers announced the development of four small, lighter components specifically designed for hybrid-electric vehicles. "They see the volumes coming".
Not Surprised By New Allies
Given the support hybrid technology is starting to garner from the political right and national security interests, in particular, I wondered what Wynne thought of this recent phenomenon as conservative hawks the likes of Robert McFarlane, James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney lending their significant political clout to E-Drive technology.
"Personally, I am not surprised at all," he responded. "As I have said, we've positioned electric drive as a solution in three realms, which are exceedingly important at this particular moment in history from a policy perspective: energy security, pollution and greenhouse gases".
He commented that the security think tanks inside the Beltway have "finally woken up to the fact that there is a solution... the technology is proven and can be leveraged and we can work our way out of this problem".
"What I need to caution about and I do caution about is that these are large societal issues. They are not going to be solved by policymakers or policy changes overnight. We are going to have to work on this overtime. And I really welcome the support that we are now getting from folks in the security arena that are opinion leaders. A lot of what we spend time doing here, through interviews such as this and other media channels, is try to influence opinion leaders about what it is that we can be doing that is really constructive".
He added that the EDTA and its predecessors, as well as its current members, have worked for decades on this problem and it is now starting to pay-off.
He is, however, concerned that the industry and its supporters not make promises for the technology that are unrealistic.
"It's very easy to minimize the challenges that we've got. Right now we have hybrids being adopted; there are waiting lines for some of the platforms that are out there because they are so attractive to the consumer. But it's still a very narrow demographic -- if you will -- of consumer that's out there. It's someone that is relatively well-educated, makes a good deal of money, is energy conscious and environmentally sensitive. We need to broaden that demographic if we're going to have the impact that people are talking about that I think all members of EDTA want to have. We want to broaden that out and that's going to require that we get some help and that we leverage it. There are people that want to work on this problem. We shouldn't delay working on it. We should get after these things right now".
Wynne realizes that his job is to not only help create an climate that helps speed acceptance of electric drive technologies, but to also help people realize that it isn't a quick fix. It is a medium to long-term play, in his view.
How's he feel about the ideological "tug-a-war" between those who support fuel cell technology and those pushing for flexible fuel-capable, electric [plug-in] hybrids?
Drawing on his experience in watching technology get used in ways never intended, he told me that, "EDTA is not going to try to pick winners and losers. We don't suggest that the government should pick winners and losers. I don't favor one type of vehicle platform over another type of vehicle platform by charter. The reason for that is, you can leverage electric drive on different kinds of vehicle platforms. My watch phrase is 'different horses for different courses'".
He thinks plug-in hybrids have huge potential but also equally daunting obstacles, as do fuel cells; both of which are EVs.
"As we get further down the road in applying more of these technologies and building a robust upstream supply... the availability and the commercial case for each of these kinds of platforms gets easier to make".
Have we finally arrived at the "tipping point" for E-Drive technology, I asked?
"I think that there's a growing recognition that electric drive is the solution. It's the best solution we've got to addressing energy security challenges, pollution problems, or greenhouse gas emissions".
Wynne credits not only high oil prices and Toyota's triumph with the 2004 Prius, but also the people laboring behind the scenes to bring the technology to maturity.
"There's a lot of credit to spread around here and that's one of the reason why this is such a fun enterprise. As long as we can keep the collaboration moving, I think we can gain momentum, but I don't think that we're there yet, by any stretch. I think we've got a long way to go to recognize the promise that electric drive holds out for us.
By the time the 23rd Electric Vehicle Symposium returns to North America in December, 2007 -- probably in Southern California again -- Wynne expects to see may more electric drive vehicles in the exhibit hall, estimating that there are already some 16-17 platforms announced that will be available with hybrid options.
He also expects by then that many more end users will be showing up looking for electric-drive solutions to their mobility needs, citing the example of the hybrid-drive Eaton built for FedEx to meet its transportation needs.
"Everybody knows that the technology works, now we need to know how people are going to use it and what their requirements are".
You can listen to our complete 34-minute interview using the Flash-based MP3 player above or by downloading the file to your computer hard drive for later playback on our favorite MP3 device.