The interesting thing about this story, noting that General Motors has unveiled a prototype electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, is the part about batteries. "GM hasn't given a date when consumers can buy the Volt because the advanced lithium-ion batteries needed to power the vehicles -- similar to technology used in cellphones -- are still years from widespread use in automobiles," according the the Washington Post story.
"Similar to technology used in cellphones." That's an interesting bit of technology crossover if it works. It strikes me -- I don't know all the details behind this development -- as an adaptation more likely to happen in a free economy rather than a planned economy. I've been fascinated by the capabilities of a cellphone, even though I use mine mostly to stay in touch with family. But the fact that they can pack Internet technology, a video camera, games and other cool stuff into such a small package is pretty neat. So who came up with the idea that a similar battery might be able to power a car (the battery problem -- they're clunky and heavy and take up a lot of room so far -- and the fact that they're more expensive, has deterred real progress toward consumer-friendly electric cars despite tax breaks and other inducements) with a similar battery? Colleagues probably told him or her it was a crazy idea at first. But not all crazy ideas turn out to be crazy.
I wouldn't mind at all if somebody came up with a practical electric car. I drove a prototype somebody -- I think the electric company -- brought around to the paper 10 or 12 years ago, and while it didn't have much pick-up it negotiated city streets quite satisfactorily. But the battery took up a huge space and it was considerably more expensive than a comparable gasoline model. And it didn't catch on.
The advantage to leaving development to the private sector rather than having the government offer inducements like tax credits or development subsidies is that the necessity to make a profit tends to concentrate the mind on coming up with something consumers might actually want to buy for more than it costs to make it. Subsidies distort that equation and induce false signals.