Make us your home page
Instagram
On Business

We need electric cars sooner, not later

There's nothing I'd like better than to commute to work, thumb my nose at conventional gas stations and tool around the Tampa Bay area in a "real" car — not some lame golf cart — running on rechargeable battery power.

If you believe the "buzz" of all the electric vehicle introductions and promises coming out of the Detroit Auto Show now under way, you'd think we're only a year or two away from electric paradise — and a significant step closer to energy independence.

Alas, we're not even close. But it's about time the auto industry started focusing on developing electric vehicles people might afford and want to buy. Detroit's emerging from a Rip Van Winkle nap lasting 20 years when its most progressive mandate was to lobby against higher fuel-efficiency standards.

Now nearly every major automaker has either revealed electric cars or plans to build them. They better do something. New auto sales fell off a cliff last year, dropping 25.6 percent in the Tampa Bay area in 2008 from 2007.

Now a cynic might think automakers cobbled together last-minute press events at the Detroit Auto Show to show a skeptical Congress there really is an electric vehicle agenda. Even if a truly price-competitive, distance-worthy electric automobile is years away.

But I want an electric vehicle, for many reasons, so personal hope springs eternal. The Detroit Auto Show does not even open to the public until this weekend, but the industry and automotive press have been churning press releases and news reports out all week. Most of it is about plug-in vehicles.

Until now, the Chevy Volt's received the most attention. More important, GM just announced it will build lithium-ion batteries for its Volt right there in Michigan. Economically devastated Michigan glommed onto this notion so we're already hearing names like "Lithium Valley" (like Silicon Valley, get it?) or "Electric Avenue" to reflect the state's wish to become the battery capital of America.

But the Detroit show this week is awash in competition. Here's just a sample:

• Ford plans to join with Canadian parts supplier Magna International to offer a battery-powered car about the size of the Ford Focus by 2011 that can travel up to 100 miles per charge.

• Toyota, a hybrid leader with its Prius models, unveiled the tiny FTEV — Future Toyota Electric Vehicle — with plans to start selling it in this country in 2012.

• The Smart Fortwo has an electric version that could start shipping by 2010.

Big hurdles remain. Despite Detroit going hat in hand to Washington in search of a temporary bailout, it's unclear if the industry can really do something besides reintroduce nostalgic muscle cars from the '60s and '70s.

Lower gas prices will slow consumer acceptance of high-priced electric cars, though some states are talking about raising taxes on gasoline.

And we have not even talked about infrastructure. How do you "refuel" your electric vehicle away from your home's outlet? In some places like San Jose, Calif., parking spaces exist (with outlets) that are reserved for electric cars. In Tampa, a new business called NovaCharge wants to sell similar products to recharge cars in public spaces.

It's all coming — unless Rip Van Winkle rolls over for another 20-year slumber.

We need electric cars sooner, not later 01/14/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 12:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. At Menorah Manor, planning paid off during Irma

    Nursing Homes

    ST. PETERSBURG — Doris Rosenblatt and her husband, Frank, have lived in Florida all of their lives, so they know about hurricanes.

    Raisa Collins, 9, far left, works on a craft project as Certified Nursing Assistant Shuntal Anthony holds Cassidy Merrill, 1, while pouring glue for Quanniyah Brownlee, 9, right, at Menorah Manor in St. Petersburg on Sept. 15. To help keep its patients safe during Hurricane Irma, Menorah Manor allowed employees to shelter their families and pets at the nursing home and also offered daycare through the week. The facility was able to accommodate and feed everyone who weathered the storm there. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  2. After Irma, nursing homes scramble to meet a hard deadline

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida's nursing homes and assisted-living facilities find themselves in an unfamiliar place this week — pushing back against Gov. Rick Scott's administration over new rules that require them to purchase generator capacity by Nov. 15 to keep their residents safe and comfortable in a power …

    In this Sept. 13 photo, a woman is transported from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills as patients are evacuated after a loss of air conditioning due to Hurricane Irma in Hollywood. Nine have died and patients had to be moved out of the facility, many of them on stretchers or in wheelchairs. Authorities have launched a criminal investigation to figure out what went wrong and who, if anyone, was to blame. [Amy Beth Bennett | South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP]
  3. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  4. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette

    News

    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.

  5. Another Hollywood nursing home resident dies. It's the 9th in post-Irma tragedy.

    State Roundup

    The Broward County Medical Examiner's office is investigating another death of a resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills — the ninth blamed on the failure of a cooling system that became a stifling deathtrap three days after Irma hit.

    Carlos Canal, pictured at 47 years old, came to Miami from Cuba in 1960. Above is his citizenship photo. [Courtesy of Lily Schwartz]