1. Business

Electric car expo gets under way in Tampa

Published Feb. 22, 2012

NovaCharge, a national maker of electric vehicle charging stations, had only one charger in the Tampa area a year ago.

Now it has more than 200.

The electric vehicle industry, though still just a blip compared to its gas-powered competition, is growing quickly across the country. Organizers of the EV International Expo are trying to put Tampa in a position to lead the way.

The three-day conference, which will last through Thursday, is focused on informing the public about the benefits of electric vehicles.

Besides showing off some sleek electric and converted cars, industry experts at the convention will be answering questions and giving presentations in hopes of convincing potential buyers that electric cars are a viable alternative.

About a dozen electric and hybrid cars are on display, including a Chevrolet Volt, a Nissan Leaf and a converted Porsche.

"We're not pushing anyone's brand," said EV International Expo CEO Doug Mitchell. "We're bringing the whole of the technology to the public."

Electric vehicles — EVs in industry speak — are starting to gain popularity across the country, but Florida has been relatively slow to catch on, said Rob Keith, a marketing strategist with Ignition Branding who helped promote the event. He estimates that there are more charging stations in Tampa than there are electric vehicles on Tampa roads.

But Florida, with its flat terrain and warm weather, is perfect for battery-operated cars, Keith said.

With the charging stations already in place (businesses can get tax credits for "going green"), the appropriate weather and a growing population, Florida is in a position to become a leader in the electric vehicle movement.

But only if Florida consumers embrace the technology.

"The infrastructure is here; you just need to create the demand," Keith said.

One of the first steps to helping Florida reach its electric vehicle potential is to ease consumers' fears about some common misconceptions about electric cars, Keith said.

Electric cars are expensive, ranging from $35,000 to more than $100,000. But the federal government offers a $7,500 tax credit to those who buy EVs. (Electric car owners save about $1,000 annually on fuel and maintenance costs compared to gas-powered car owners.)

A single charge can fuel some electric cars for almost 80 miles. With more charging stations popping up in public parking lots and garages, drivers are not likely to get stranded, Keith said. The technology will only get better, and less expensive, with time.

"The more consumer demand there is, the more money the manufacturers will put into updating the battery and improving the experience," he said.

Still, said Christopher Mallardi, another promoter of the event, electric transportation models are still in the early stages. Industry leaders are still trying to spread the word and educate consumers.

"It's a coming wave," he said.


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