Friday, June 26, 2009

Electric cars: Hot, hot, hot!

The hottest car in the world may be an electric car.

For those of us accustomed to thinking about golf-cart-like electric car models, something like Tesla's Roadster is the game changer.

It's what car magazines would call “smoking hot,” a sexy low-slung sports car that goes 0-60 in four seconds, and whose top speed is double the highest posted speed limit in Hawai'i.

Touch the car with a finger and go “Sssss.” (Image: Tesla Roadster. Credit: Tesla Motors.)

There are a couple of them in Hawai'i already and more coming, bought by well-heeled customers. (They run a bit north of $100,000.)

Tesla just picked up $465 million in federal loans for efficient cars, which Tesla will use most of to produce its latest product, the $49,900 Model S, a seven-passenger family sedan with four doors and a range, depending on battery package selected, of up to 300 miles per charge. (More than my truck gets between fillups.)

But Tesla's far from the only player in the field, and Tesla's not what we're talking about when we say the hottest car in the country may be electric. Rather, we're talking about categories.

In Hawai'i, Project Better Place has planted its flag. The company has a new paradigm for electric cars, creating a charging and battery replacement network that it expects will make ecars the standard. (Charge them at home or at work—no gas stations. Need a quick charge? Just swap the battery pack.)

The Hawai'i Legislature this year passed a bill to allow Project Better Place to issue $45 million in special revenue bonds in Hawai'i “for the planning, designing, construction, and development of transportation infrastructure, equipment, and apparatus to support electric vehicles in Hawaii.”

Gasoline is the place where cars have been, and electric sure looks like the place the automobile is going.

Tesla got its half-billion from Uncle Sam, but it was just a bit player.

The U.S. Department of Energy has a $25 billion box of cash for energy efficient vehicles, and a fair chunk will be focused on the electric vehicle. Tesla's loan came from there. Nissan is slated for a $1.6 billion loan to build, in the United States, electric vehicles, as well as to build a new battery manufacturing plant.

Nissan's first electric car is scheduled out by the end of next year. That one is to be built in Japan, but using the federal money, Nissan expects to produce an American-built ecar by 2012.

Ford is in for a big chunk of change for efficient vehicles, about $5.9 billion, and

is promising multiple models of pure electric and hybrid cars in the coming years.

The American-made electric vehicle that's probably gotten the most news play is troubled General Motors' Volt. It's been argued that the company is pinning its entire future on the success of this car, which is not technically a pure electric car, but a plug-in hybrid. They're talking about a $30,000 price.

Chevy just showed off the production model, which thankfully is far more attractive than its boxy concept style, has a couple of really nice exterior features, but overall seems rather staid to this reviewer. (Image: Volt. Credit: GM.)

But it could be worse. Tata has announced an electric version of its Nano. (Think golf cart). (Image: Nano. Credit: Tata Motors.) And there are lots of electric cars in the golf cart style, like Norway's Buddy, and India's Reva. (Go ahead and Google, Yahoo or Bing them). Cute, but it's not clear you'd feel comfortable on the freeway.

The Mini Cooper has a Mini-E, its electric counterpart. It takes twice as long 0-60 as the Tesla Roadster, but this car has its own brand of cool.

China has announced it plans to be a world leader in electric cars in as little as three years.

Ecars, once ridiculed, are filling all the vehicular niches: your small cars, your big cars, your hot cars, your cute cars, even your dorky cars.

This is a wave. Might want to start paddling.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009

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