Toyota's recent problems have shown that even a mighty and seemingly invulnerable brand can be brought to its knees in an instant.
But although the automaker's image is tarnished, Toyota will eventually recover. Consumer confidence will likely return and the company's PR nightmare will fade as the news cycle moves on.
In the meantime, there is much to learn from Toyota's grief. As automakers set out to release innovative vehicles, they will do well to remember the past few weeks.
With consumer perception such a powerful force, stakeholders in the electric vehicle industry know they can ill afford such a crisis -- one small issue could significantly undermine the future. So automakers are exercising caution by releasing EVs in small numbers and in targeted cities. Likewise, a host of other shareholders are covering every necessary base in advance of their arrival.
Project Get Ready, an initiative created by Rocky Mountain Institute, has assembled a roster of partners who are working to create EV-ready cities across the country. Acting as an arena where stakeholders can share information with one another, the group consists of major automakers, charging station manufacturers, city leaders and, most recently, a safety certification organization.
One of Project Get Ready's new technical advisers, Underwriters Laboratories, is standardizing a wide array of EV-related equipment. Cables, cords, plugs, receptacles and inverters-there's a standard for each. And UL is continuing to receive a flood of certification applications as electric vehicle supply equipment advances at a rapid pace.
According to Joe Bablo, principal engineer for UL's Automotive Equipment and Associated Technologies department, the organization ensures product safety in three areas: electric shock, physical injury and fire hazard. "The UL mark will go a long way with electrical inspectors," Bablo says.
From the charging source (either an outlet or charging station) to the car, each component is probed for accessibility to wires and other harmful elements. This will prove important as electric vehicles hit the roads. Electrical inspectors and mechanics will likely require such a certification as they start to work with unfamiliar components.
Ensuring a standard for servicing and repairing these vehicles is an important step to legitimizing the electric car in the minds of Americans.
Cities in the Crosshairs
With the first launch of electric vehicles months away, attention is turning to cities. Both the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are set to hit showrooms this year. But it's clear that automakers are seeking early adopters in the beginning and will target markets most primed for the technology. Some cities will get EVs; others will have to wait.
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