Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Electric-car gang is ahead of pack

July 10, 2010

The drive to make central Indiana a leader in the use of electric vehicles is smart—regardless of where the money comes from.

As we reported last week, the Indianapolis region is jockeying to be one of up to 15 cities nationwide that could receive hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money to encourage the purchase and use of plug-in cars and trucks.

Bills pending in Congress would provide anywhere from $250 million to $800 million per chosen community. The money would subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles to the tune of about $2,000 per vehicle and would pay for the construction of the infrastructure, such as public charging stations, that would make the cars viable. Jump-starting the market for such vehicles is intended to spur additional research and lead to a robust component-manufacturing sector.

The jobs that would presumably result from the effort are what’s powering the city’s bid to capture its share of the federal funds. And the region’s already strong position in the sector is the reason local officials like the city’s chances of being chosen.

Energy Systems Network, an arm of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, has pulled together an impressive coalition, including the likes of EnerDel and Bright Automotive—two players in the sector—to make the case that the Indianapolis region is ready to play an important role in weaning Americans away from their dependence on foreign oil.

Whether taxpayer money should be used to turn the key on the electric-car industry is open to debate. But if the legislation emerges from Congress, as proponents expect, we’re glad our region is positioned to bring some of that money home.

The local push for electric vehicles isn’t totally dependent on federal money. Energy Systems Network’s Project Plug-in is set to kick off this fall regardless of what happens in Washington. The initiative started with $1.5 million in private and institutional funding and is rounding up in-kind contributions of goods and services from organizations in the coalition, which includes Cummins, Delphi, Duke Energy and Purdue University.

The locally raised, mostly private funds will pay for 300 charging stations in the metro area and the purchase of about 100 electric cars to be used in local fleets to demonstrate the viability of the vehicles.

With the debut late this year of the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the possible release of an all-electric Smart car, plug-in vehicles are poised to become more than novelty items. With dozens of central Indiana companies positioned to benefit if the public takes a liking to the cars, the region has a lot riding on the outcome of this movement.

In a city and state where change sometimes comes slowly—think government reform and smoke-free workplaces—it’s refreshing to see locals on the leading edge of a movement that could transform American transportation and put Hoosiers to work.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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