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Summary:

The last decade has been a tumultuous one for green transportation in the U.S. Take the on-again off-again electric vehicle market. We entered the 2000′s with rules in California requiring automakers to offer EVs, but by 2003, state regulators changed the rules and many automakers dropped […]

The last decade has been a tumultuous one for green transportation in the U.S. Take the on-again off-again electric vehicle market. We entered the 2000′s with rules in California requiring automakers to offer EVs, but by 2003, state regulators changed the rules and many automakers dropped EV initiatives and focused on gas guzzlers. But here we are nearing the end of 2009, and automakers are now investing heavily in electric vehicles, natural gas cars are gaining traction in high places, and hydrogen cars are about as far off as ever.

Here’s our take on some of the most persistent predictions of the past decade for what kind of green transit we’d have by 2010. We invite you to share your own thoughts on broken promises, dead-on predictions or what kind of Jetsons-esque transit options you once thought we’d have delivered by this point in time. To get things rolling, here’s our top five.

1). Prediction: Natural gas vehicles will go mainstream. “I think our time has come, and I think we’re ready [for natural gas vehicles],” T. Boone Pickens told Green Car Journal  in 2005. “You might say, well, if you’re talking about Monday morning, probably not. But I’m talking about the next two or three years. I think there’s going to be some real changes in the use of this fuel.”

How’d that work out?: Pickens is still touting the potential of natural gas vehicles to help wean the U.S. off imported fuels, and the tech is now getting federal attention. Legislators introduced a bill this year aimed at encouraging the development and purchasing of natural gas vehicles. But natural gas vehicles are far from mainstream, and have yet to make a real dent in the U.S. consumer market.

2). Prediction: California will finally get high-speed rail. “It could be a matter of years — not lifetimes — before Californians can zip from the Bay Area to Los Angeles on a bullet train in less than three hours…the first train could roll out of the station in 2010.” the San Jose Mercury News wrote in 1999.

How’d that work out?: Voters approved $9.95 billion in bond funding for the long-discussed project in November 2008, but this month the High Speed Rail Authority tossed the project’s route back into limbo by reneging on its approval of an environmental study for a section of the train. According to the Sacramento Bee, the latest cost estimates for the line jumped to $42.6 billion, up from the previous estimate of $33.6 billion. The new numbers take into account inflation costs expected between 2012 and 2020, when construction is — in theory — supposed to take place. We expect it could be another decade or more before Cali residents will see the benefits of this tech.

3). Prediction: Hydrogen cars are just around the corner. “You’ll be able to buy a commercially viable hydrogen car by 2009 in the showrooms in the U.S., along with regular fossil-fuel internal-combustion cars,” Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Hydrogen Economy toldSalon.com in 2002. “Those hydrogen cars will use fossil fuels to get the hydrogen, but at least it’s a bridge.” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in 2004 that he envisioned every citizen in California having access to hydrogen fuel along state highways by 2010.

How’d that work out?: It didn’t. Still waiting.

4). Prediction: Hybrids will form a bridge to EVs.“In the near term, at least, hybrid cars are more likely than battery-electrics to be a solution to the problems of air pollution and dependence on imported oil,” the New York Times wrote in 2000. “Toyota, which has produced both types of vehicles, told California regulators last week that the public was not ready to accept electrics; indeed, Toyota said it could not sell the cars and would have to pay customers to take them.”

How’d that work out?: That prediction still seems on target. Toyota’s early bet on hybrid tech with the Prius proved a smart one, but even the hybrid leader is now working on an “affordable” plug-in model for 2011. Global Insight has forecast that hybrids could snag some 5-11 percent of the U.S. market by 2015, up from 2.2 percent in 2007. By comparison, electric vehicles are expected to take a smaller, but growing share of the market in that time frame.

5). Prediction: It’s clear sailing now for electric car tech. “There are no technology hurdles at all [for electric transportation]. It’s simply a matter of getting the vehicle built out on the street and getting people to recognize its value,” Robert Graham of the Electric Power Research Institute said in a 2005 New York Times article.

How’d that work out?: One of the biggest remaining hurdles for mass-market adoption of electric cars — cost — has everything to do with technology. The battery technology, that is. The race is on now to reduce cost by increasing energy density. Startups including Envia Systems, Amprius, PowerGenix, Mobius Power, Seeo and many more are trying to tackle this.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user seanmcgrath

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

  1. [...] Right, Wrong & Out There: A Decade of Predictions for Green Transit by 2010 ­­– Earth2Tech – 12/24/09 [...]

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  3. [...] at Earth2Tech, they’ve taken a look at a handful of specific prognostications made during the first half of [...]

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  5. I’m really torn. I think that EVs particularly BEVs are one of the steps needed for the salvation of our future. EVs are currently too expensive for mass adoption but there are several promising technologies on the horizon to bring the cost down. This will not happen without “early adopters” willing to spend premium $ to help get us there.

    There are so many reason:

    1. Oil is too precious to burn. All our synthetic and plastic industry depends on it. About 1/2 of oil production goes to industry. If we burn it the price will only continue to rise and drive up the costs of plastics. Plastics are recyclable, and do not add CO2 to the atmosphere.

    2. We cannot continue to export most of our wealth to support terrorism, fight wars, lower our standard of living. Converting transportation to run from local renewable sources instead of importing fuel will go a long way to balancing trade deficit.

    3. Global Warming is real, there is serious possibility that the arctic lands will get warm enough to start releasing large quantities of methane into the atmosphere. If this happens then all life on earth will die. Apparently this happened 55 million years ago, dynasours died off and eventually we came along. Maybe the oil companies can harvest this methane and save us from this fate.

    So how will this play out? Will we in 10 years be solving our economic and pollution problems or will be be complacently waiting for the arctic lands to erupt with methane? Unfortunately the prognosis does not look good and I predict that we will have not learned our lessons yet, we will have gone through yet another near-meltdown of the world financial economy, but will finally be buying EVs in earnest, not to save the world, but just because they will be cheaper than ICEs at that time. Standard of living will have dropped significantly and unemployment will remain high. It will unfortunately take a bloody revolution to unseat those who control our economy and replace the financial system with a long term stable one, and get the world’s economy working properly. Type of government is irrelevant, it is the monetary system that has to change.

    Happy New Year!

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  6. [...] at Earth2Tech, they’ve taken a look at a handful of specific prognostications made during the first half of [...]

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  7. [...] at Earth2Tech, they’ve taken a look at a handful of specific prognostications made during the first half of [...]

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  8. [...] has posted an interesting article which takes a look at some of the predictions made for green transportation at the beginning of the decade, and how close those predictions were to reality. While the decade [...]

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  9. [...] at Earth2Tech, they’ve taken a look at a handful of specific prognostications made during the first half of [...]

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