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'Critical mass' of electric vehicles on the way

New and much tougher standards for vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions are on the way.

New and much tougher standards for vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions are on the way.

They kick in for 2011 model-year vehicles, and get exceedingly tougher each of the next five years. This will set the table for 2016 model-year vehicles to be about 30 percent more fuel-efficient than they are today.

That's a humongous jump.

Auto analyst Denis DesRosiers noted in an industry get-together last week that, by his reckoning, relative fuel efficiency over the last 28 years has increased only about 12 per cent.

You might wonder, then, how the heck the automakers are going to make that much bigger leap in five short years?

Well, at that same industry get-together, six Canadian auto companies told us how their respective R&D teams are planning to "get 'er done" (so to speak), and it's my sad duty to report that none will involve anything as snazzy as Flux Capacitors, Quantum Physics, or Star Trek-ian Dilithium Crystals.

All of them noted their strategies will consist of more of what they're already doing: introducing more hybrids and electric vehicles; refining the internal-combustion engine and their transmissions; introducing more attractive cars with tidier proportions; adding "lightness" to electrical and mechanical systems.

In fact, Hyudai Canada's president, Steve Kelleher, noted that the Korean automaker wouldn’t even need five years; it plans to meet the 2016 standards by 2015.

Even a luxury make, like Audi, isn't worried. Audi Canada's president and CEO, Martin Sander, noted that the company is on-track to meet the 2016 standards, and will do so without veering off the Audi playbook, which calls for lots of performance and cuddly comforts.

So I'm thinking, "Way to go, guys!"

But I'm also thinking, "You guys weren't holding out on us were you?"

As a journalist I've lived with deadlines all my life — I am extremely aware of how effective they are at lighting a fire under one's butt, and how creativity is actually enhanced when that fire spreads to your hair.

These automakers also have deadlines imposed on them by their competitors.

If you plot when most manufacturers will have a “plug in” electric vehicle (EV) ready for sale in Canada, it’s apparent that the electric party starts in late 2011. And who wants to be late for a party?

By 2012 we will have at least 10 different makes and models of EVs available for purchase or lease.

Toyota Canada’s managing director, Stephen Beatty, refers to this coming EV cohort as the “critical mass” that will make EV “a major movement in the auto industry.”

Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for over 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.

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