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Three signs that electric cars are here to stay

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On: Thu, Oct 3, 2013 at 4:11PM | By: Bill Wilson


Three signs that electric cars are here to stay

Nothing in recent automotive history has stirred up as much passion as the move towards electric vehicles. To some drivers, they’re the long-awaited breakthrough that will free us all from the grip of the oil companies. To others, they’re overpriced hippy-mobiles that stand for everything that’s wrong with America. 

But, like them or not, electric cars are here to stay, if recent trends continue. Here’s a look at three signs that this is the case.

Sign # 1: The technology is improving
Battery-powered cars have been around since 1834, when Thomas Davenport, inventor of the first American DC motor, built one that ran on a closed track. But range and power limitations have kept them from being more than play toys for those with more money than the rest of us.

This began to change in the 1990s, when lithium-ion batteries started to replace older nickel-cadmium versions. Today’s designers have continuously refined the technology, using features like regenerative braking and super-capacitors to make the vehicles go further and faster than ever before. Also, battery packs are getting smaller; batteries with the same capacity as today’s units but at ¼ the size are already being developed. As these innovations become more affordable, prices for electric cars are expected to be on a par with most gas-powered autos within the next five years.

Sign # 2: The support infrastructure is growing
Another issue that has limited adoption of battery-powered cars is the need for recharging stations. Today’s best electric autos have a maximum range of about 200 miles, yet juicing up the batteries in a reasonable amount of time requires access to 220 volt power. This leads to the classic chicken or egg problem: to have electric cars you must have recharging stations. But, to make recharging stations financially viable, you must first have enough battery-driven autos on the road.

This dilemma is quickly fading away, however, thanks to federal subsidies that encourage business owners to install recharging stations. Shaped like old-fashioned gas pumps, these units are popping up at restaurants, banks, convenience stores, and thousands of other locations from coast to coast. Soon it may be possible to drive cross-country in a battery-powered car, with no trouble finding a place to plug in.

Sign # 3: Electric vehicles have a devoted tribe
In the past, the word “tribe” evoked images of scantily-clad natives chasing Indiana Jones through the jungle. But these days it describes a group of people who share a common love for a product or idea. Like Apple computers and iPhones, electric vehicles are supported by a fiercely loyal tribe that’s growing by leaps and bounds.

These people tend to be well-educated, economically affluent, and tied directly into emerging social and economic trends. They’re like an army of volunteer salespeople, spreading the word about Tesla and similar carmakers. Most important, they’re winning new converts every day.

Does all this mean that electric vehicles are the wave of the future? It’s too early to tell for sure. Competing technologies like fuel cells and clean diesel have their proponents, and even good old-fashioned gas-driven vehicles are getting more efficient all the time. But, if current developments continue, someday soon you may pull into your local fuel station for a few kilowatts before hitting the highway. Time will tell.




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