The car of the future, local experts say, will be electric
Relics of the auto industry’s colorful, curvaceous, gas-chugging past are displayed on Reno’s streets and parking lots this week for Hot August Nights. They represent America’s car culture history. But what is its future? Local experts tend to think that whatever the auto future holds, it’s going to be electric.
“I really believe that children now, their children will be just astonished that we didn’t plug in our cars,” says Bob Tregilus of the Electric Auto Association of Northern Nevada and co-host of the This Week in Energy podcast.
While some have dismissed electric vehicles as a pipe dream, it’s hard to ignore that every major auto manufacturer now has a plug-in vehicle in the works. “Two of the last holdouts just committed to building electric drive transportation—Toyota and most recently Honda,” says Tregilus.
The first mass-market, plug-in electric vehicles, the $41,000 Chevy Volt and $32,780 Nissan Leaf, will be on the market at the end of the year. The Volt and Leaf also carry eight-year, 100,000-mile warranties, putting to rest some fears of a replace-it-every-couple-of-years battery.
Bud Difatta of Reno Honda says sales of the hybrid Honda Civic have been pretty steady, though local interest in hybrids has been moderate. “There was a lot more interest with our little mini gas crunch a couple of years ago,” he says. “Everyone is more concerned about gas prices than the environment, unfortunately.”
Travis Johnson, who does electric vehicle outreach for NV Energy, thinks EVs will end up being the most cost-effective option someday. “Electric vehicles are very simple,” says Johnson, who drives a hybrid Ford Escape. “They don’t have transmissions; they don’t require oil changes and a lot of the typical maintenance you’d do on a gasoline car. … As battery technology gets more affordable, they will become the lowest price option.”
Johnson says NV Energy is working on Nevada’s lackluster public charging infrastructure. Whether charging stations should be public, private or some combination is one hurdle. That said, studies show that even where public charging stations are abundant, most people charge at home. “People will learn that will work just fine for them,” says Johnson. “Until then, a handful of charging stations in the community will help ease that anxiety and get them past the hump.”
If people are strategic about when they charge their vehicles, even those without solar panels on their roofs could be powering their cars with a good chunk of renewable energy. Johnson says that between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., nearly half the energy on the grid comes from geothermal power. “If you and I are plugging our cars in, and we set the charger to come on at 1 a.m., it’s primarily geothermal energy charging that car.”
Another contender for “car of the future” could be the compressed natural gas car. In the energy bill released last week, $400 million was set aside for electric vehicles, while $4 billion was included for natural gas vehicles. Tregilus isn’t convinced that’s a good thing.
“Natural gas is really more of a bridge technology in the short-term, but if we incentivize one heavily over the other, it could dictate what we end up with as a final technology,” he says.