Austin Mayor Pitches Plug-in Hybrids in Nation's Capital

Austin already has 11,000 signatures from local citizens and soft orders of more than 600 vehicles from local governments and businesses.

Published: 26-Jan-2006

Austin Mayor Will Wynn is in Washington, D.C., this week to help launch a national campaign aimed at encouraging auto makers to mass produce plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Wynn, along with a group of leaders in the energy field, announced the national campaign at a press conference Tuesday. The movement's leadership hopes to gain strength through a grass-roots venture of petitions, commitments by businesses showing their willingness to purchase plug-in hybrids in bulk and pledges from public utility companies to support the purchase of these types of vehicles through tax incentives and rebates.

This national campaign is based upon one started in Austin last year. Austin already has 11,000 signatures from local citizens and soft orders of more than 600 vehicles from local governments and businesses.

"We have made our intentions clear that we want to pave the way for the plug-in hybrid initiative," Wynn said.

Hybrid vehicles run off of self-charging batteries that do not need to be plugged in but switch to gasoline for high speeds and long distances.

Plug-ins, unlike current hybrid vehicles, have a larger battery and can go farther and faster without needing to switch to gasoline. However, they need to be plugged into a standard electrical outlet at night. The plug-in variety of hybrids is currently not available commercially.

According to Plug-in Partners Coalition, the organization behind the campaign, the plug-in hybrid gets more than 80 miles per gallon and could reduce the average American's gasoline consumption by 50 percent to 70 percent.

James Woolsey, CIA director from 1993 to 1995, said the push for plug-ins is a realistic goal since it would require only a small change to the existing auto industry's infrastructure.

"The only infrastructure investment - an extension cord." Woolsey said.

George Pipas, a sales analysis with the Ford Motor Company, said their hybrid models have sold more than 18,500 units, but the hybrid is still a niche product.

"As awareness grows and people talk about their experiences, I think the demand should probably grow with each passing year," Pipas said.

Nancy Hubbell, spokesperson with Toyota Motor Company's corporate office, said their flagship hybrid vehicle, the Prius, has been available for two and a half years, and they have always had a waitlist for buyers. Toyota sold more than 150,000 hybrids last year.

But while the consumer interest for hybrids is steadily growing, the marketability of the plug-in variety may be more difficult.

Hubbell said one problem with the plug-in movement is that hybrids do not have to be plugged in, an attribute that has made them so successful.

Alan Richardson, CEO of American Public Power Association, said 140 publicly owned utility companies in 33 states already support the campaign, and this support is expressed only after gaining full support of their local city councils and board of directors.

Austin Energy has committed to a reserve of $1 million to use for tax and rebate incentives to help insure the success of initial plug-in production.

Several other cities that have pledged their support of the plug-in initiative.

"We have received an incredible response from cities and industries in the U.S. and worldwide. This is only the beginning of a long effort, but I look forward to making this vision a reality," Wynn said.

For more information or to sign the group's petition, visit www.pluginpartners.org.

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