Driving Innovation: Washington DC’s Auto Show

What will it take to get more electric vehicles on the road? Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and James Wisemen of Toyota got a head start at that question at yesterday’s Policy Summit at the Washington DC Auto Show. It was the day after the President’s State of the Union address, where he reiterated his commitment to "double-down on a clean energy industry" as a path to a stronger American manufacturing sector:

On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse...Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number-one automaker. Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company. Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories. And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.

We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight, the American auto industry is back.

But which part of the American auto industry is back? Last year, Obama called for "a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015," but we’re nowhere near that number, and most industry analysts thing that goal is unattainable.

Why? You can ask National Journal’s Energy Correspondent Amy Harder, who will join us live tonight from the Washington Auto Show. Ask Amy a question>>

But James Wisemen of Toyota offered his reasons at the Policy Summit, arguing that American workers are failing to get the education they need to be eligible for the jobs on the factory floor.

Part of the challenge: today’s auto plants are not the the ones of our grandfathers. They demand new skills and employ high-tech engineering, zero-waste programs, and some are moving toward being LEED-certified.

But it’s not just where they’re working it’s what they’re working on. All the clean energy that the President is calling for will be converted into electricity. And that electricity will go to powering our cars, but not quite yet according to IHS expert, Rebecca Lindland. Only 2% of drivers are taking on electric vehicles--people just don’t want to buy them.

But if we can get that marketing right, we might see some really cool cars on the road in the coming years. Auto manufacturers are working on more efficient batteries that will be able to power bigger cars for longer trips, advanced hybrid technology and even some traditional internal combustion engine cars that compete with the hybrids in MPGs.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.