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Barton Sidles, of Hubject Inc., speaks during a panel discussion on electric vehicles during the 2019 Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme.

ACME — Roads in the near future will hum with electric cars, according to industry experts who spoke last week at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars.

“Companies are investing an incredible amount of money in electric vehicle technology,” said Brett Smith, director of Propulsion Technologies and Energy at the CAR.

He introduced a series of speakers during a session on electric vehicles at last week’s 2019 CAR Management Briefing Seminars, held each year at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Panel members represented General Motors, Volkswagen Group and technology companies working in the electric vehicle field.

Volkswagen has committed $50 billion to development of electric vehicles, said Reinhard Fischer, senior vice president of Volkswagen Group. The company plans to have 70 different all-electric vehicles available on the global market by 2028, he said.

“The investment is happening,” said Fischer. “By 2050, we (VW) are going to be completely carbon neutral. The transition is happening right now.”

Part of Volkswagen’s $50 billion commitment — $2 billion — will go toward installation of a U.S. network of charging stations.

Public acceptance of electric vehicles will depend heavily on the existence of a charging network, said Mike Ableson, vice-president of Electric Vehicle Charging and Infrastructure at General Motors.

“Fuel choice isn’t just a technical decision. It’s got to be something that society accepts,” said Ableson. “We see the public accepting battery electric vehicles.”

GM already is delving deep into helping establish a unified national charging network. It’s a huge project.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had to worry about infrastructure,” Ableson said.

He was referring to the period more than a century ago when automakers depended on oil companies to establish a network of fueling stations to support gas-fueled vehicles. Drivers today seek out gas stations when they need to top up the tank. But GM and others in the auto industry seek to build electric charging stations to more convenient locations.

“I don’t believe fast chargers are going to follow the gas station model,” Ableson said, in which oil companies typically place stations at intersections.

Instead, GM is exploring the possibility of using data from its OnStar vehicle tracking system to help place charging stations strategically where cars typically are parked, such as near shopping districts.

Where vehicles charge is just one part of how corporations are building charging networks. Companies also are working on how vehicles charge, how drivers use their vehicles, how batteries interact with the power grid and how power is generated.

“If we don’t move toward renewable energy, we’re just transferring the problem from the tailpipe to the producer,” said Fischer.

Several speakers mentioned efforts to deal with battery material recycling and manufacturing efficiency. At least one said production of a high-output battery takes a lot of energy, which results in the production of a substantial quantity of carbon dioxide emissions.

Transportation accounts for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, said Barton Sidles, senior director of corporate and business development at Hubject Incorporated’s North American subsidiary. Berlin-based Hubject specializes in electric vehicle charging technology. Californians drive so much that transportation accounts for 40 percent of that state’s greenhouse gas emission.

Hubject forecasts that 65 percent of new cars sold in 2050 will be electric. The company is pushing a system that allows automated two-way communication between vehicles and the charging network.

Hubject believes smart technology will play a key role in the future of the national charging network. Sidles described a system that would allow users to pull a quick partial charge — just enough to get home — wherever they normally park.

The same smart technology would allow idle electric cars, plugged in at home, to act as power sources that could feed power back into the grid during peak demand periods.

Smith acknowledged that cold weather in states like Michigan are a challenge for battery-dependent electric vehicles. But he believes the Midwest will continue to be at the center of electric vehicle development because it has the required manufacturing infrastructure and human talent.

“Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are right in the sweet spot for this,” said Smith.

“The investment is happening. By 2050, we (VW) are going to be completely carbon neutral. The transition is happening right now.” Reinhard Fischer, senior vice president of Volkswagen Group