Car Manufacturers Are Moving Fast


We’re Electrifying the Road

PUF 2.0 - February 15, 2018

PUF's Steve Mitnick: Britta, you have a very interesting job at GM. Tell us what you do.

Britta Gross: As the director of advanced vehicle commercialization policy, I pursue policies, strategic relationships, and infrastructure solutions that will accelerate advanced vehicle technologies into the marketplace.

I'm primarily focused on electric vehicles, both plug-in battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles. I look at, for example, what does it take to increase EV adoption?

What partnerships do we need to create to accelerate the build-out of EV charging infrastructure? What policies do we need to put in place to encourage consumers to consider purchasing these new technologies? I have the opportunity to look outside the company to develop the partnerships and relationships we're going to need to make these markets real.

In the policy realm, I look for things that make it easier to purchase these vehicles and operate these vehicles, such as incentives, and HOV lane access. In our fast-paced world, what will get the consumer's attention and convince him or her to look at EVs?

Electric vehicles have so many advantages over conventional vehicles - instant torque, smooth ride, quiet, and emissions-free. One test drive is usually all it takes to appreciate the inherent advantages of electric drive.

PUF: It's not easy. There are many different barriers, including just lack of awareness.

Britta Gross: Yes. We've been at this now for over ten years. The design of the Volt was penciled out on a napkin back in 2006. In 2007, I was already on board with EVs, working to establish a cooperative relationship with the Electric Power Research Institute and fifty forward-looking utilities, to determine how these two large industries could work together to bring EVs to the market.

We had some really important learnings from EV1 in the '90s. We knew what didn't work, and we knew that what did work was the relationship with utilities. We just needed to expand from a relationship with five utilities to a relationship with hundreds or thousands of utilities.

Utilities are a very important stakeholder when it comes to charging infrastructure. And utilities are also uniquely positioned to help grow EV awareness. That's because consumers see utilities as trusted, third-party experts, not only on what's good for the electric grid, but also on the benefits of electric vehicles to consumers. It's critical that all utilities are fully involved and directly engaged in growing the EV market.

PUF: What would you like the utility industry to do, to get the EV market going?

Britta Gross: It's challenging to transition to a new type of vehicle technology that uses a new type of fuel. The early years of this transition are particularly fraught with challenges.

It might be a different matter if gasoline was expensive and consumers were actively looking for a new fuel solution. But that isn't the case, and so simply getting the attention of consumers is one of the biggest market challenges we have.

Another key challenge during the early years of this transition to electric vehicles is that investment in infrastructure is lacking. In a perfect world, I would like to see all thirty-two hundred utilities in the United States jump in with both feet, directly engage in developing EV charging infrastructure strategies across their service territories, and integrate their plans with adjacent service territories.

Most EV charging happens at the home, so home charging is an important element in a utility's plan. But workplace charging and public charging are more visible to consumers, and so these are also key elements of an infrastructure plan.

When it comes to EV education and awareness-building, utilities have an important advantage over both automakers and dealers, and that is that every consumer uses electricity and already has a relationship with his/her utility. 

Utilities can use this direct relationship with every consumer and every corporation to deliver very compelling and credible messages about electric vehicles. And even expose consumers to these vehicles through EV outreach events, much as utilities already promote LED lightbulbs and efficient home water heating systems.

Utilities could also promote advantageous programs they offer on how to best utilize the grid by charging at off-peak hours, like in the early morning hours and late evening hours.

And in a perfect world, I'd like to see these utility programs supported, and even encouraged, by state regulators, the public utility commissions and the public service commissions. I'd like to see them aggressively support the utilities in these two specific areas, because without this sort of concerted effort, the benefits to the grid of large-scale EV adoption are simply being delayed.

Look at the transformations occurring right now across both the transportation and energy industries. As we move towards more and more renewables, there is a huge opportunity right now to incorporate EVs into the grid solutions.

The market's growing in the right direction, but to really accelerate these numbers, we need to see those two things happen: infrastructure and EV awareness.

PUF: I've been speaking with others in similar areas. I think a little more coordination between key stakeholders could really accelerate the EV market.

Britta Gross: Yes. And I'm not talking only about the retail market and retail consumers. I'm talking about our interest in accelerating our deployment of electric vehicles into ride-sharing, car-sharing, and self-driving vehicles.

All of this is made possible when there is a strong foundation of EV charging infrastructure and when awareness grows among consumers.

PUF: Why is this good for GM? You all make a full fleet of cars. Almost all of them have gasoline motors. Tell me why the management of GM has a passion for EVs.

Britta Gross: We believe electric vehicles are the future. You may have heard recently that we announced a new vision of a future with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.

Electric vehicles, combined with advanced mobility solutions such as autonomous vehicles, which we'll be bringing to the market in 2019, will be the fundamental building blocks for this new vision of transportation.

We're a global company and we're seriously committed to making the world a better place. Yes, we have to manage our core business. But in parallel, we're intensely focused on a vision that requires us to develop industry-leading technologies and bring them to market just as fast as we safely can.

And I must tell you, working at a company that's thinking so progressively is exhilarating! It is wonderful to be a part of something that matters and could have such a profound impact on the future.

PUF 2.0 Articles: We’re Electrifying the Road

Coming Together to Plan EV Future — By Steve Mitnick, with former NARUC President Phil Jones
Electrifying America’s Buses — By Steve Mitnick, with Proterra CEO Ryan Popple
Environmental Community Looks Forward — By Steve Mitnick, with Energy Foundation’s Patty Monahan
Car Manufacturers Are Moving Fast — By Steve Mitnick, with GM’s Britta Gross
A Utility Perspective — By Steve Mitnick, with Fortis EVP Jim Laurito