The prevailing mood in the alternative fuels automotive community has been one of uncertainty since Donald Trump was elected president. That's the reading of John Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports. He added: "There's a lot of fear."
Understand this: nobody knows what President-elect Trump has in mind regarding alternative fuel vehicles. His core energy policy is rooted in traditional fossil fuels - coal, oil, natural gas - but it offers no guidance regarding alternatives such as electric cars.
So right now consumers contemplating an alternative fuel vehicle purchase - maybe $35,000 for a Chevy Volt or upwards from $66,000 for a Tesla Model S - have to grapple with big issues. Will the infrastructure to support such vehicles continue to build out? Will public sentiment turn against alternative fuel vehicles if that's the White House's signal?
Enter the uncertainty, where a lot of a car buyer's money is on the line.
A clear position Trump took, in a TV interview three years ago, was scathing commentary about the U.S. government's investment (approaching $200 million) in Fisker, a start-up electric car manufacturer that went bust. Trump said: "We are backing all this garbage, and they are all out of business." But that condemnation - on close listening - is hinged in a belief that the U.S. Department of Energy lacks the expertise to make shrewd investments in emerging technologies.
That's not the same as condemning the technologies. So what will Trump do regarding alternative fuel vehicles where the federal government currently has a huge role. Buyers of plug-in hybrids get a federal tax credit of $2,500 to $7,500 (the Chevy Volt qualifies for the big number), and that's thought to help stimulate at least some purchases.
There also is a substantial amount of money - some federal, some state - subsidizing building electric charging stations. The reason for the federal funding mainly under Obama: alternative fuel vehicles, which now usually means electric, are powered by cleaner energy sources than are gasoline powered cars. They contribute little to global warming. And that's been an Obama concern.
But candidate Trump had indicated significant skepticism about climate change. Could Trump seek to end the tax credit?
While he acknowledged it's "very possible" the credit come into play, Voelcker said, "I don't see that happening soon." That's partly because the administration will likely have higher priorities in its early months but also because "the automakers would scream bloody murder," said Voelcker.
And those automakers are American companies. Sort the best selling electric vehicles in the U.S., and three are made by U.S. based companies - the top selling Chevy Volt, Tesla Model S and Ford Fusion Energi -- and Trump has consistently spoken loudly about stimulating growth by American companies.
Experts also insist that alternative fuel vehicles are winning buyers, not only because of government subsidies but because "they are fun, they are fun to drive," said Scott Gerber, a founder of consulting firm Vrge, which in October polled Californians and found that 43% are considering buying or leasing an electric vehicle before 2025. Nearly 70% also supported California Governor Jerry Brown's goal to have 1.5 million electric vehicles on the state's roads by 2025.
When mulling Washington, D.C.'s next steps, also think about California, multiple experts advised. California, with almost 40 million people and a GDP of $2.448 trillion - ranking it among the top ten countries - has its own, generous incentives, up to $2,500, to stimulate alternative fuel vehicle purchase. It also has programs to help low income people buy used electric vehicles. There's even a pilot electric car sharing program aimed at low income people in Sacramento, the state capital. California just is all in when it comes to alternative fuel vehicles: experts say up to half of the purchases of such vehicles in the US now are in California.
Nobody sees California support waning regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C.
Just that may be the fact: Washington may not matter that much in terms of the future of alternative fuel vehicles. "Any President has little sway over what happens in this marketplace," said futurist Chris Martenson, who runs Peak Prosperity.
Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Washington, D.C. lobbying organization Public Citizen, said, "We are seeing automakers investing heavily in alternative fuel vehicles, irrespective of Washington."
He added: "There's a growing social preference for electric cars. Tesla made electric cars cool and desirable."
More important than government, too, in helping consumers to buy - or scorn - alternative fuel vehicles is the price of gasoline, said Martenson. Right now the average retail price of a gallon of gasoline is $2.18 nationally and that low price is stimulating sales of heavy SUVs and trucks, not ultra fuel efficient cars.
But, suggested Martenson, eventually the pendulum will swing and as gasoline creeps back up in price, so too will consumer enthusiasm for alternative fuel vehicles that are cheaper to operate.
Bottomline: right now nobody knows what Trump will do about alternative fuel vehicles. And just maybe, consumer tastes are changing so dramatically that a segment of the population will want a clean car - regardless of what the White House does.