Do We Need Federal Government Policies to Promote the Adoption of Electric Vehicles?

By James Gover

The federal government under both political parties has promoted the development of electric and hybrid vehicle technology.

In 1993, during the administration of President Bush, the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) was created as a cooperative research program between the U.S. government, U.S. government-owned laboratories and major auto corporations.  Its goal was to bring 80 mpg vehicles to market in the U.S. by 2003.  DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors (GM) were the three U.S. auto companies participating in the PNGV; each created working concept vehicles of five-passenger family cars that achieved at least 72 mpg.

PNGV was continued into the administration of President Clinton until it was terminated in 2001 with none of the automakers’ concept vehicles having been put into production.   In fact, the first Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) entering the US market were the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight; both Toyota and Honda were excluded from the PNGV.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, the federal government supported research on fuel cells which would power Electric Vehicles (EVs).  In fact, President Bush famously stated in 2003, “the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.”

When President Obama came to the White House, the Secretary of Energy, Dr. Chu announced that the administration preferred to focus on transportation projects that would bear fruit more quickly than fuel cells, so fuel cell research was no longer emphasized.  Plug Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and EVs became the focus of the federal R&D investment in vehicles.  The Obama administration set goals for sales of electric vehicles charged from the grid. In addition, the Obama administration is now considering reviving the fuel cell research program. The question is what should the federal government emphasize going forward?

There are many ways that government policy can impact the adoption of HEVs, PHEVs and EVs.  Federally funded R&D is one of several means that include standards on fuel efficiency, limits on exhaust emissions, federal purchase of hybrid and electric vehicles, tax or other rebates for purchase of hybrid vehicles, initiation of a carbon tax, and funding construction of hybrid and electric vehicle infrastructure, such as battery charging stations, etc.

Companies in the computing, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors spend the most on R&D. The top R&D spenders in 2010 in these sectors were Microsoft ($9 billion), Toyota ($9.2 billion) and Roche ($9 billion).  GM and Ford are not far behind Toyota in their investment in R&D.  If a market emerges for electric and hybrid vehicles, auto companies are poised to build vehicles for that market.  The federal government needs not sponsor research at the Big 3 auto companies as was done in the PNGV program.

However, auto companies and their suppliers need qualified, multi-disciplinary engineers to develop electric drive trains and electric drive train technology, and manage its manufacture.  Federal R&D funding of university research on electric and hybrid vehicles can help provide graduates ready to fill that employment need.  However, federally funded research at universities should focus on transformational research and development of batteries and fuel cells that would not be sponsored by companies.

Then what might cause the market for electric and hybrid automobiles to grow in the future?

  1. Research breakthroughs in battery and fuel cell technology that cause major cost reductions in these technologies and result in major reductions in the cost of electric and hybrid vehicles would accelerate the adoption of these vehicles.
  2. States such as California that have a major base of residents with strong interests in protecting the environment, states with wide spread air pollution, as well as states in which electric and hybrid vehicles are manufactured can pass zero emission regulations that can only be met by electric vehicles.
  3. A federally imposed carbon tax would encourage consumers to purchase electric vehicles.
  4. A dramatic increase in oil consumption or a dramatic decrease in oil supply could raise oil prices and make the value proposition of electric and hybrid vehicles more attractive to consumers.
  5. Major cities experiencing rapid growth in their economic ecosystems which are creating jobs and attracting people to move to these cities and live in a high people density setting.  The dark side of this economic growth is the air pollution that accompanies rapid population growth. In contrast, it will create (a) restrictions on automotive emissions that limit the use of automobiles powered with internal combustion engines, (b) measures such as city parking and driving lane privileges for HEVs, EVs and PHEVs and (c) easily accessible battery charging infrastructure which promote the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles in cities.
  6. Ironically, regulations by states that require utilities to utilize a prescribed fraction of low/zero emissions fuels for grid generation are indirectly creating a market for electric vehicles where intelligent charging methods can be deployed to vary EV charging rates to assist grid operators in dealing with the intermittency of clean renewable generation such as wind or solar  In addition, using electric and plug hybrid electric vehicles to store electric energy and power the grid can help offset the uncertainty associated with alternative energy sources to power the grid, i.e. vehicle-to-grid (V2G) system.
  7. The federal government can promote the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles by purchasing these vehicles for government and military use.
  8. Federal rebates that encourage consumers to purchase electric and hybrid vehicles can help spur market development.
  9. Other valuable regional incentives, such as the legal use of HOV lanes with only one vehicle occupant can be provided to encourage PEV adoption.

In conclusion, the federal government can focus on sponsoring transformational research on electric and hybrid vehicle battery and fuel cells conducted at universities, as well as be an early adopter of the HEVs and EVs.  Federal tax rebates for purchase of these vehicles also aid market development.  Moreover, the regulatory changes that will help create markets for electric and hybrid vehicles are most likely to occur in states and cities that are experiencing air pollution problems accruing from their rapid economic growth.

James Gover graduated from University of the Cumberlands pre-engineering program.  He received a BSEE from the University of Kentucky, an MSEE from the University of New Mexico and the Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of New Mexico. His graduate school education was sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories.  At Sandia he worked as a member of the technical staff, Division Supervisor and Senior Scientist.  His Sandia career included 20 years of nuclear weapons R&D, focused on radiation effects and weapons firing system development, 5 years of energy R&D and 10 years of science and technology policy research.  He was awarded the title of IEEE Fellow for his work in radiation effects.  His science and technology policy work included working as an IEEE Congressional Fellow in the Offices of Senator Domenici and the House Science Committee and as an IEEE Competitiveness Fellow in the Offices of Senator Roth, the DOC Technology Administration, and the DOE Office of Technology Transfer.  IEEE-USA awarded him its Citation of Honor for his policy work.  He also worked at Kettering University for 14 years as Head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and as Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  His research and teaching specialty at Kettering University was hybrid electric vehicles and the associated technologies. He is currently Professor Emeritus at Kettering University and teaches the graduate courses: Power Semiconductors, Advanced Power Electronics and Fuel Cell System Integration and Packaging. 

He has served in a wide variety of roles for conferences sponsored by the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society (NPSS) and the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society (VTS).  He currently represents the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society on the IEEE-USA Energy Policy Committee and the IEEE-USA Research and Development Policy Committee.  He has recorded 8 hour courses on power electrics and grounding and shielding of hybrid electric vehicles for VTS and he is currently developing 8 hour courses on advanced power electronics and power semiconductors for VTS.  He also taught circuits and electromagnetic waves as Kettering University.  At Sandia he developed and taught courses on radiation effects in microelectronics, magnetic flux compression and applied nuclear physics.

About the Newsletter


Jin-Woo Ahn


Sheldon Williamson

TEC Call for Articles 2023 - Advances in Charging Systems

The TEC eNewsletter is now being indexed by Google Scholar and peer-reviewed articles are being submitted to IEEE Xplore.

To submit an article click here.