2012 a Record Year for Green Cars

Model year 2012 was a record breaking year for green cars. Average fuel economy (23.6 mpg), conventional hybrid sales (399,782), and plug-in electric sales (37,753) all hit historic highs. As a result of steadily rising fuel efficiency over the last five years, American drivers will use over two billion gallons less gasoline and cut their fuel bills by over $8 billion in 2012.

Unfortunately, in this sea of good news, there are still those who criticize the clearly successful government policies that have fostered this outcome.

Consider the case of plug-in electrics. Detractors like to focus on their sales as a percentage of total auto sales, but instead the focus should be on the incredible growth in sales this year in this sector and that the trends are in the right direction.

In the first nine months of 2012, electric vehicle sales increased an astounding 178 percent in the U.S.  over the first nine months of 2011. The number of hybrid and electric models available on the market increased in 2012 by 10 and about 15 more models are expected in 2013.

Instead of focusing on the bankruptcy of A123 systems, the focus should on the fact that the U.S. now has a healthier advanced battery manufacturing industry and that the A123 automotive technology, products, customer contracts, and its two Michigan factories will stay in the U.S., thanks to its purchase by Johnson Controls.

The bottom line is that overall, the government strategy to support the market for green cars through consumer incentives, retooling loans and providing long-term pollution and fuel efficiency standards is already paying off.

But particularly with new technology such as plug-ins, it takes time to reach critical mass. When first introduced, cell phones were more rare than California Condors, but now they’re more like pigeons – everywhere.

Survey after survey shows fuel efficiency is key to auto purchases. With electrics able to deliver the equivalent of running on $1 per gallon gasoline, consumers becoming more familiar with the technology, more models entering the market, and prices continuing to drop, the future is bright for electrics.

Roland Hwang is Transportation Program Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council