Plug-in cars part of economy’s solution

Plug-in cars part of economy’s solution

Originally posted as a Guest Commentary in the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

By Tory Bruno

Our still struggling economy requires new solutions consistent with the nation’s innovative spirit. An exciting new opportunity is at hand for a number of major automakers to produce advanced and affordable plug-in electric vehicles. Like all good solutions, these modern vehicles solve multiple problems. They lower fueling costs, improve national security, reduce impacts on the environment and create jobs.

For six weeks, I drove a 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid as part of a national demonstration project. This project is gathering data from real drivers all around the country to help inform the public of the emerging technology, and to help Toyota finalize its engineering and rollout plans for next year. Experiencing the technology firsthand has given me a real sense of what the current capabilities are and where the future of the auto industry is headed.

From what I experienced, the technology is great. I got more than 50 miles to the gallon overall, and for short trips, fuel was free since I was charging on SunPods’ solar charger that’s built right here in Silicon Valley. While the plug-in car doesn’t quite sound like my sports car, the get-up-and-go power is still there. I certainly didn’t mind emptying less of my wallet at the gas pump either. A vehicle that doesn’t guzzle gas is a big deal. America sends some $350 billion overseas each year for oil, much of it to unstable or unfriendly regimes. This is money that could be better invested at home to stabilize the economy and spur employment.

Toyota’s demonstration is only the first phase of the plug-in car; more of these vehicles are on the horizon. GM and Nissan have cars coming in a few weeks. Ford, Chrysler and the other big players will be following not long after. In addition, numerous global companies, universities and entrepreneurs are rapidly advancing plug-in performance with large R&D investments aimed at improving all aspects of the technology. These advancements are tied to our backyard. Electric transportation technologies are integrally connected to a range of innovations driven by Silicon Valley, such as wireless communications, data management, electronic control systems and system automation. With programs similar to this demonstration and further research investment in the tech community, the plug-in hybrid vehicle can only improve and progress.

The basic motor technology in our cars today, the internal combustion engine, has seen one of the longest runs of a fairly unchanged technology — more than 200 years of industrial use. But, the time has come to seriously re-evaluate our use of transportation and natural resources in a way that improves our security, advances our economy and protects our environment. These are the kinds of solutions we need to keep America the innovative nation it is today.

Tory Bruno is a member of the board of directors of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and president of Lockheed Martin’s Strategic & Missile Defense Systems. Through a partnership with the Bay Area Climate Collaborative, this car is being shared with Bay Area leaders to draw on diverse experience and build awareness on the benefits of plug-ins.

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