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Electric cars are here, now where are they headed?

With all the talk of electric cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, the public has been waiting to see how they will compete with other more conventional models. Are consumers really willing to trade their gas-powered vehicles for something they have to plug in every night? Surveys have shown that 62% of car buyers are concerned about climate change and around 74% are concerned about our dependence on foreign oil. These numbers show that perhaps the consumer is willing to take the step of giving up his gasoline car for the new electric ones. The Chevy Volt has hit showrooms and Nissan has taken orders for its all-electric vehicle, the Leaf, and will begin deliveries soon.

Many states are offering incentives to encourage consumers to buy an electric car. Some states are offering electric vehicle drivers the privilege of using the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane on highways, even with only one driver. However, in California this privilege won’t be effective until 2012 and will require a special car sticker to qualify. This incentive may not be the best to convince drivers to buy an electric vehicle. But cash incentives are always a good way. During the Cash for Clunkers program, thousands of people traded in their old cars and got a new car and extra money. The State of California understands this and offers numerous rebates, including a $3,000 to $5,000 tax credit in addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit. California expects to have 7,500 all-electric and 25,000 plug-in hybrids on its roads by 2014 with an increase to 60,000 electric and 85,000 plug-in hybrids by 2017.

A plug-in hybrid is a vehicle like the Chevy Volt. It can run on electric power for a certain range, and then the gasoline engine will start. Fully electric vehicles include the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster. Most fully electric vehicles have a range of no more than 100 miles. However, as technology improves, this range will only increase. For now, some companies have taken the initiative to start installing charging stations for electric cars in certain cities. California plans to spend more than $200 million a year on low-emission vehicles, and this includes subsidizing charging stations that should be operational by 2012. There are already about 140 charging stations installed in the Los Angeles County area. New York City also recently installed its first charging station using a grant received from the Department of Energy, and Mayor Bloomberg hopes to have more than 100 charging stations installed citywide by September 2011. President Obama hopes to have a million of plug-in vehicles on US highways by 2015 and with charging stations installed in eight different areas of the country, this could become a reality.

The idea is to have these charging stations in areas where drivers will be spending a great deal of time. To reach a full charge, the vehicle must be plugged in for 8 hours. Since most drivers don’t spend 8 hours anywhere other than their home, the main purpose of these charging stations is to provide people with enough “juice” to get home. Charging stations are being installed in the parking lots of movie theaters, restaurants and shopping malls; places where people will spend at least 2 hours before needing the use of their car again.

Electric cars have a long way to go before they can become conventional vehicles; but automakers, politicians, and engineers are doing everything they can to enhance their popularity. Once electric cars become cheaper with more efficient batteries, the average consumer may become more interested. It’s true that consumers care about the environment, but ultimately, when it comes to buying something as expensive as a car, the consumer’s wallet is the biggest deciding factor.

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