Consumers are the key to driving down costs on green vehicles

by Kelly Gardner, Staff Columnist

With gas prices on the constant rise and no end in sight, hybrid and electric cars seem like the simple solution. So when Volkswagen recently released a new diesel plug-in hybrid that gets an estimated 261 mpg, Americans wanted to know why they wouldn’t be able to purchase the vehicle. Well, some creative thinkers chose to start the conspiracy theory that the United States government and oil companies are working together to prevent high-mileage vehicles from entering the states.

Fortunately, this is not true. The VW XL1 will not be found in the U.S because of multiple factors­: it doesn’t meet U.S safety regulations, VW is only producing 200 units of the vehicle, and the model is geared toward European consumers. All the commotion surrounding the high-mileage car prompted me to question why other hybrids and electrics are so far behind.

While we will not be seeing the XL1 on American roads in the near future, it’s not the first of its kind. Tesla produces some of the most highly ranked vehicles in the U.S—they’re all high-mileage and all electric. Not only has Tesla won awards for safety, innovation and design, but their electric cars will also outperform any other of the kind.

The Tesla Model S runs solely on electricity with a range of 208 miles per charge. That’s more than double the range of its closest competitor. Business Insider estimates the annual fuel cost (electricity cost, if you will) of a Model S would run about $650–compare that to what you pay now. Possibly the only cons about Tesla vehicles are their hefty price tags and the waitlist you will most likely have to suffer thorough before getting your hands on a set of keys.

Tesla vehicles run upward of $65,000, realistically closer to the six-figure range. This is because Tesla is designed to be a luxury brand. Tesla also has been the brains behind the operation of developing more advanced and efficient battery systems. Tesla set out to pioneer its own battery systems that would allow their cars to travel greater distances, crushing boundaries that previously limited electric vehicles. So, what’s so genius about Tesla’s battery?

Electric cars are typically restricted in the distance they can travel because of small batteries that hold small amounts of charge. Tesla conquered this problem by placing thousands of tiny lithium-ion battery cells together inside a chamber to create one big unit. The smaller cells are cheaper and when used in unison they create a much greater charge. The batteries Tesla uses in its cars are still extremely expensive and a big part of what drives up the price of their vehicles. Now that the technology has been engineered why are other companies taking so long to develop their own high-mileage vehicles?

The U.S government is undoubtedly subsidizing green vehicles; the real problem lies with the auto manufacturers that have to develop and produce these new parts.

According to the Congress Research Service, “In making a national commitment to building electric vehicles and most of their components in the United States, the federal government has invested $2.4 billion in electric battery production facilities and nearly $80 million a year for electric battery research and development.”

The cost of developing new technology is far too expensive to maintain without a large consumer demand. Until Americans begin buying green vehicles in significantly higher numbers, the initial costs within the industry will not begin to decline.

If there was ever a time to consider a green vehicle, it’s definitely now. Even though a Tesla might be out of your price range, there are still a number of green vehicle options to choose from, most of them being totally affordable.

If the environment or insane gas prices aren’t what get you motivated to make the switch right now, you might consider the other incentives on the table. While green vehicles are still relatively pricey on the manufactures’ end Obama has created major tax cuts for consumers who purchase green vehicles, most cars redeem around $7,500. And don’t forget about the fabulous option available with certain electric models—24/7 access to the carpool lane even when ridin’ solo.

Green cars are still relatively new and ultimately could have a positive impact moving forward, but unless consumers are willing to fully commit to the concept the industry will struggle to advance much further.