Will Electric Cars Catch On?

by Greg Pollowitz

Bottled Lightning author Seth Fletcher thinks so. Here’s a book review:

Mr. Fletcher does a good job surveying this old-yet-nascent industry in the U.S. But he wonders whether, even with all the federal largess, it will be able to compete with Asian battery giants like Panasonic in Japan, BYD in China and LG Chem in South Korea. Even GM’s Volt is powered with batteries built by an LG Chem subsidiary. Some commentators worry that we’re going to replace our dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on foreign batteries — and foreign lithium. “Bottled Lightning” alleviates at least one worry: By taking us to the salt flats of the “Lithium Triangle” in Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, Mr. Fletcher shows us the abundance of the metal and puts to rest any fears of “peak lithium.”

Mr. Fletcher is in love with the Volt. After a test drive, he gushes: “The car, in short, is fantastic.” And it is technically sweet. But at $41,000 per copy, will it interest American drivers? As of this month — with the price of gasoline hovering at $4 a gallon — GM has sold only about 2,000 Volts. Still, most other car makers have jumped on the electric bandwagon. The fate of their gamble depends on improvements in battery chemistry and the price of oil. Most of the clean-tech boom — in solar panels, windmills and other projects — has been fueled by government mandates and billions in subsidies. The boom will no doubt go bust when the taxpayer dollars dry up. But Mr. Fletcher makes a good case that the electric-car trend may soon be able to shed its dubious reputation as a public-private hybrid and roll under its own power.

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