EV Veteran Calls for Faster Shift to Plug-in Cars

By · December 31, 2010

Last week, Ron Gremban took possession of Chevy Volt #24. This was not merely a car purchase, but a moral victory for Gremban, who has been advocating electric cars for more than 40 years. He received his car in Novato, Calif., at a celebration where CalCars Founder Felix Kramer and plug-in hybrid inventor Andy Frank also became proud owners of the Chevy Volt.

Gremban and Kramer

Ron Gremban (left), technical lead for CalCars, with the organization's founder Felix Kramer. They were among the first customers to purchase a Chevy Volt in 2010.

Gremban’s EV activism began in the late 1960s when, as a Caltech student, he drove an electric car from Pasadena to Boston on a nine-day journey to promote the viability of the technology. In the early 1970s, in the wake of the Arab oil embargo, Gremban headed research and development of the Sebring-Vanguard Citicar, an early neighborhood electric vehicle. And decades later, he became the technical lead for CalCars, the organization that spearheaded efforts during the past six years to promote plug-in hybrids.

Sebring-Vanguard Citicar

Gremban led research and development of the Citicar, a much maligned neighborhood electric vehicle from the 1970s. More than three decades later, electric cars are finally being offered to mainstream consumers. (Photo by: Bo Hee Kim)

Gremban is now driving a Chevy Volt—a car that he calls the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid; the most important car that General Motors has produced in a century; and a joy to drive.

“It took 42 years, auto manufacturer bankruptcies, global climate change, impending peak oil, an influential movie, tremendous grass-roots enthusiasm, and serious governmental incentives to get to today’s deliveries of the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid, done by a re-emergent U.S. manufacturer,” said Gremban on the day he picked up his Volt.

He praised the public relations and lobbying work of CalCars founder Felix Kramer. According to Gremban, General Motors might not have produced the Volt if it wasn’t for CalCars, and the combined efforts of Plug-in America, Plug-in Partners, Set America Free, and other environmental organizations, to raise awareness of the facts about electric cars and their many benefits.

As 2010 comes to a close, Gremban—and many others—believe that the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF will together “open the public's eyes to the personal joys as well as social advantages of electric vehicles.” Yet, he believes that critical challenges lie ahead.

What Will It Take?

“Even if EVs achieve 10 times the penetration rate that hybrids have seen, it will take at least 15 years to make a dent in either energy security or greenhouse emissions,” Gremban said. That’s why Gremban and CalCars are working on an effort to add plug-in capabilities to millions of existing gas-powered vehicles. He admits that the public is skeptical about this project, much the way they were dubious about plug-in hybrids just a few years ago.
The first plug-in hybrids and electric cars are just the beginning, according to Gremban. To greatly accelerate the move to vehicle electrification—as required by the seriousness of the environmental and economic challenges of oil addiction—he believes the public needs to be shaken into a new heightened level of awareness.

“Katrina didn’t do it. The BP disaster didn’t do it. Tales of extreme climate and resulting environmental catastrophes from Russia to Pakistan haven’t done it,” he warned. “What will it take, and what can we do, individually and collectively, to help out? I don’t have an answer except to keep on telling our stories, focusing on possible solutions, and emphasizing facts over fiction.”

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