Chrysler and General Motors, which received nearly $18 billion from the Bush administration in 2008 and are asking for another $21 billion from the Obama administration, have had to pledge to make greener cars.
One route they, and automakers worldwide, are pursuing is the development of new electric cars.
Electric vehicles have been around since the 19th century, but the advent of the electric starter in the early 20th century made internal combustion engines more convenient and safer.
Electric vehicles were sidelined for many years, until increasingly stringent fuel-economy and emission-restricting regulations pushed automakers to reconsider the simplicity of a battery-powered drivetrain. Today, electric vehicles range from simple Neighborhood Electric Vehicles to cars that look quite similar to standard models, and even electric delivery vans, trucks and buses.
Despite electric cars lengthy history, the market for them remains in its infancy. NextGen Research, in the report The Market for Electric Vehicles: An Assessment of Plug-in Vehicles, Fuel Cell and Battery Technologies," observes that fewer than 10,000 electric vehicles of all types were sold worldwide in 2008. (In comparison, in January 2009, a slow month, more than 300,000 cars were sold in the U.S. alone).
NextGen Research foresees the global market for electric vehicles growing to a hefty 350,000 units by 2013.
Says Larry Fisher, research director of NextGen Research: A number of developments are coming together to propel the market for electric vehicles. The fuel price spike in late 2007-early 2008 pushed automakers to intensify their R&D outside of standard internal combustion engines.
Ongoing battery development also has contributed, as new chemistries promise higher range per charge, which has been a major factor limiting electric cars. Finally, automakers are working with governments and utilities to plan out a charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, which further extends the viable range of electric vehicles.