Thursday, August 26, 2010

Do San Antonians Dream of Electric Cars?

Source:  San Antonio Express-News
In an earlier post I described the Mayor's Green Jobs Council's charge to influence Toyota to build electric cars at their south side San Antonio plant.  This isn't just a wild leap, the federal government is encouraging green innovations with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  The Obama administration even has an Electric Car Czar, David Sandalow. 

I was talking to a planner I know the other day and he thought that getting Toyota to build electric cars was a pipe dream because they would never be popular enough to justify the cost of building them.  Who would buy such an expensive vehicle?  I pointed out that I never really thought I would see Prius hybrids in SA, but they are all over the place.  We were lucky enough recently to buy a used Prius from a neighbor, not easy to do because most people hang on to them, and now I see them everywhere.

The type of electic car David Sandalow is promoting is actually a hybrid, but it has a special plug in battery that allows him to charge his car at night from a regular outlet in his garage.  This makes it so that instead of the 48 mpg a regular Prius gets, his car gets 80 mpg!  My planner friend also said the batteries would be prohibitvely expensive.  Well, he's right about that, they cost about $30,000 a piece, but with government subsidies they plan to have the cost down to $10,000 by 2015.  Uh oh, I just said the bad word (subsidies).  But all transportation in the US is backed by government subsidies, without them we wouldn't have the National Highway System, AMTRACK, bus systems, or airports. 

The City of San Antonio has plans to put electric charging stations in at all city-owned parking garages, libraries and the airport.  It will be awhile before all these charging stations are installed and the cost of an electric vehicle is expensive for now.

For most people, there will be substantial upfront costs: $32,780 to $40,000 for the car plus a few thousand dollars to install a special 240-volt charging station in their home that can cut down on charging time. Some of these costs can be offset by tax credits and rebates later.
A homeowner will need to get a permit from the city to add a charging station and hire an electric contractor to install it. Many makers of the charging stations haven't yet set prices, but the devices are expected to cost $2,000 to $3,000.
 Just like the Prius took awhile to take hold in SA, electric cars won't be on every street corner at first, but when the electric infrastructure is installed and people become accustomed to charging their cars, I expect electric cars will be as popular as the Prius.

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