When electric cars rule the road

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Saturday is usually a sleepy news day. But sometimes an article comes along and wakes you, just like that, because it is loaded with so many golden nuggets.

Today's topic: electric cars.

OK, everyone knows that something needs to be done with automobiles. The industry is running on fumes. Car sales are slumping, and the fluctuating price of gasoline has consumers looking for alternatives.

Enter the electric car. We've been hearing about it for years. People agree it's a great idea. The trouble is how do we build them for mass production, and how do we generate enough safe energy to make them work.

The Post and Courier ran an article today. It discusses the situation, the new developments and challenges the electric car faces.

It begins:

Today we bring you an update on the progress of electric car plans. Many are due soon.

Before getting into that, there should be serious questions concerning the availability of the ultimate source of power for potentially thousands of electric vehicles clogging highways — and the electrical grid.

This column supports alternate energy supply, as long as the cost factors are reasonable. Key questions: will wind power and solar panels be enough? Both are feasible, as long as they do not obstruct my views of the landscape.

Serious questions indeed. The author (an ex-General Motors executive) mentions the thousands of vehicles that will clog the highways, suggesting electric cars are no better than the gas-guzzlers we drive now.

Sure, the toxins entering the air will be removed. Sure, the cost to drivers idling in traffic will be significantly cheaper. But the author focuses on the old charge that too many people are driving on the roads, rather than seeing our reality improved by a better automobile.

And then, after declaring his support of alternative energy, he provides the caveat that gets so many people caught up: personal convenience.

I'm all for environmental conservation and the preservation of landscapes -- I think that's one of the things we're talking about here, isn't it? -- but the author, who dismisses the attributes of solar and wind power if it obstructs his landscape, suggests we do otherwise. Rather than install wind turbines, which can produce unlimited amounts of energy, he says drill for oil, which is a finite fossil fuel.

We continue to hear so much from politicians about “not depending on Mideast oil.” Fine, so what is wrong with drilling in our own lands, such as Alaska, Colorado, 100 miles off the coast?

Let us not forget the cleanest fuel of all, nuclear. France produces 75 percent of its power by nuclear; we are still struggling because of the “anti” crowd. So, if all proposed new all-electric vehicles hit the road in the next two to three (y)ear, is there enough basic power to supply the electricity? Oh, well, we’ll worry about that when the time comes.

This argument is both limited and insightful. Regardless of how far offshore it is, drilling in Alaska and Colorado still affects the landscape. It's just out of eyeshot. And by using our efforts for oil, we temporarily solve a problem that demands a long-term solution.

Nuclear energy is a good option. It is efficient and clean. But it needs to be generated in a way that makes people feel safe. Even if statistics demonstrate that nuclear energy is perfectly safe, images of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island die hard. Especially to those who live close enough to see the power plants. And I suppose building a plant here in Charleston is out. People here don't want see that as their landscape, right?

Everyone has an opinion. But it's time to sacrifice personal convenience and replace the easy answers with long-term solutions that will benefit our economy and environment.

Oh yeah. About those electric cars. Here's the roundup:

The Chrysler 200C EV concept vehicle was shown at the Detroit Auto Show. It has a 268 hp electric engine supported by a small gasoline engine to extend the range.

Here’s the latest on Chevrolet’s Volt and Cruze electrics. GM has cancelled a new engine for the cars originally scheduled for Flint, Mich. Now the company is looking for engines to be imported from Europe. The Volt has been scheduled for introduction in 2010.

Toyota has announced it intends to start selling a brand new electric passenger car in 2012. It is understood the company is looking at a range of 50 miles. The firm showed a front-drive FT-EV concept car at the Detroit show. It said an electrical charge would take six hours using a 110-volt outlet, or two hours using a 220-volt outlet.

Ford’s electric is Fusion-sized with a lithium ion battery. It is said to have a range of 100 miles on a single charge, which is high for an electric. It is expected to be on sale in 2011.