Amy Reisen Freundlich climbed behind the wheel of an all-electric car, took it for a test drive on the JFK Parkway, and proclaimed the experience to be “unbelievably cool.”
Freundlich, president of American Jewish Committee’s Metro NJ region, took part in an unusual AJC gathering at the Tesla Motors showroom at the Mall at Short Hills on May 8, where 60 members came to explore alternatives to fossil fuels.
“It was so unbelievably quiet we didn’t realize it was on,” she told NJ Jewish News the morning after the meeting. “They let us open it up and it has great pickup. It drives like a BMW or a Mercedes.”
For Freundlich and a dozen other AJC members, driving the Tesla was not just a joy ride. As part of the organization’s efforts to reduce U.S. dependence on OPEC oil, they came to the dealership to hear a speech about electric cars from a conservation expert, Robbie Diamond.
Diamond is president and CEO of Securing America’s Future Energy, a Washington, DC-based organization committed to “protecting American security by combating oil dependence.”
“Electric vehicles are incredibly exciting,” he told NJJN in a May 13 phone interview. “But as long as we use oil, anything that happens anywhere in the world will impact us here. There is no way to take ourselves off that global market. It is a cartel. Electric vehicles are an important solution because they use domestic fuels and the price is very stable.”
“This represents an important advance toward AJC’s goal of energy independence and security,” said John Rosen, director of its NJ region. “We wanted to offer a hands-on connection to one of AJC’s primary advocacy initiatives.”
Although Tesla models sell for $80,000 and up, there are more moderately priced electric cars on the market. The Nissan Leaf sells for about $30,000 and the Chevy Volt for $37,000. Ford, Mitsubishi, and BMW are among the car companies offering all-electric vehicles.
According to Diamond, the demand for them is growing. “In 2010 17,000 electric cars were sold in the United States. In 2011, they sold 17,000 electric cars in the first six months. In 2013 they sold 17,000 electric cars in the first quarter,” he said. “If people replaced one of their two or three cars with an electric vehicle, our economy would not be held hostage by OPEC.”
Other energy experts have a less optimistic view of their impact.
“The electric car will be a factor way down the road,” said Neil Goldstein, executive vice president and CEO of The Israel Energy Partnership, based in New York, which is promoting alternative fuels like bioenergy.
“There are a handful of electric cars being sold in the United States,” he told NJJN. “Hybrid cars continue to be very cost-effective as ways to reduce fuel consumption. But plug-in hybrid cars or battery electric vehicles will be only 3 or 4 percent of the cars on the road by 2040. It’s not happening.”
Freundlich called that view “way too pessimistic. I think 2040 is too pessimistic. The rollout of electric cars is happening faster than that, and all you need is one bad energy crisis” to make the demand even stronger.
For Diamond, speedy development of transportation not fueled by oil is a major imperative.
“We need government policy and other financing mechanisms to bring down the upfront cost of electric cars and the research and development to bring down the battery price,” he said.