No, it's not an electric car or a super-fuel-efficient compact—it's the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the granddaddy of SUVs. Well done Chrysler for meeting our energy and transportation crisis in a head-on collision with a vehicle that gets 20 mpg on the highway!
Still, Chrysler could design all the electric cars in the world and it would mean nothing without robust government policy intervention. After all, the rise and rise of the gasoline powered internal combustion engine was made possibly by the government standardization of gasoline, as well as other policies that made possible our vast network of cookie-cutter gas stations.
Just think of the situation if, after a Sunday drive in your brand new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, you had to search for a Chrysler-only gas station (or a Ford-only diesel station or Subaru-only ethanol station). But until we have a standard for batteries and a network of battery stations (that frankly could become a new line of business for existing gas stations), electric cars will remain a novelty. (This is not to mention the need to have a power and grid network that could handle millions of batteries needing a re-charge.)
The point is that the driver of an electric car, when his or her standard Lithium Ion or whatever battery is dying, should be able to swing into a "gas" station and switch out a battery as easily as filling up a gas tank, knowing that the battery is made to a standard that will work in any car.
The extent of the government regulation needed--in the service of competition, mind (nobody argues about the stifling hand of government when it comes to gasoline standards and regulations)--might seem overwhelming. However, there are signs that sweeping sustainable regulations are taking hold in Europe: check out this link to read about Copenhagen's new green roof policy.
--Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence