We May Not Be Ready for Electric Cars

Tupelo, Mississippi resident Dennis Seid finds that his house may not have the power to recharge an electric car.

Published: 18-Jan-2010

Originally published in Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

Our home has about three dozen electrical outlets, with about two-thirds of them occupied.

Among the plug-ins: two televisions, a DVD player, a Nintendo Wii, a computer, a printer, several lamps, a washer, a dryer, the fridge, the oven ... well, you get the idea.

It's a scene repeated across the country.

Now, automakers hope that we'll be plugging one of their cars into one of our extra outlets in the near future.

The Chevrolet Volt is the vehicle getting the most press. General Motors introduced the car a couple of years ago at the North American International Auto Show, and the automotive press has been eagerly anticipating its rollout sometime this year.

The cost? About $40,000 before special tax credits kick in.

Here's GM's description of it:

"Volt is an electric car that can create its own electricity. Plug it in, let it charge overnight, and it's ready to run on a pure electric charge for up to 40 miles, gas and emissions free. After that, Volt keeps going, even if you can't plug it in. Volt uses a range-extending gas generator that produces enough energy to power it for hundreds of miles on a single tank of gas."

In other words, Volt buyers get the best of both worlds, while saving the planet at the same time.

And more Volt-like vehicles and other assorted eco-friendly cars are on the way.

Last year's auto show was abuzz with new electric vehicle concepts, and this year's show was filled with even more of them.

But as Detroit Free Press writer Brent Snavely points out, our neighborhoods might not be ready to handle the additional power load needed.

The electricity supply is available -- but the transmission and power lines might not be, even though nearly every automaker plans to sell some electric-powered vehicle in the next three years.

But even then, auto analysts have said the market share for plug-in, hybrid and battery-only vehicles will be about 15 percent by 2020.

In 2009, for example, hybrids accounted for only 3 percent of U.S. auto sales.

But let's say the U.S. auto market reaches 20 million in 2020, compared to about 10.5 million now. A 15 percent share is 3 million vehicles.

Most of the vehicles probably won't be bought by drivers like you and me.

Electric-car manufacturers are marketing their vehicles mostly to drivers who commute about 40 miles a day. Whether it's a Volt, Tesla, Fiskar or Nissan electric car, it's the city drivers who will mostly likely buy them.

And finding some way to recharge their cars. Can you see the extension cords running from across the sidewalks?

In Northeast Mississippi as well as most rural areas across the country, electric-vehicle makers probably will not see high demand for their products.

Many commuters drive 40 miles one way and don't like the thought of running out of juice. The Volt does have a gas-engine backup, so that won't be a problem.

But all-electric plug-in vehicles? Probably won't get a charge out of too many drivers around here.

We'd rather save our electricity for Super Mario Bros. on our Wii, hooked up to a 50-inch plasma TV.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com

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