National Plug In Day celebrated the electric car in 60 cities over the weekend. Declared all but dead a short while ago, the electric car market is beginning to thrive. But can electric cars ever gain a meaningful foothold in the gas-dependent US auto industry?
Courtesy of Plug In America
It didn't generate as much attention as the Detroit auto show or, for that matter, a meeting of global oil ministers. But for fans of a technology that seemed on its death-bed a few years ago, National Plug In Day proved to be a powerful way to celebrate a remarkable recovery.
Owners of plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars gathered Sunday in 60 US cities – double last year's inaugural event – to mark the progress and draw new fans to the technology. In communities ranging from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Tucson, Ariz., to Portland, Ore., National Plug In Day offered vehicle test drives, “tailpipe-free tailgate parties” and at least one “silent and emission-free EV parade.”
It's a far cry from the situation a few years ago when activists were marching outside car dealerships to convince automakers to make plug-in cars.
“We’re so thrilled with the turnaround,” said Zan Dubin Scott, communications director for Plug In America, in a telephone interview. “In 2005, I was on a picket line, and today I’m driving an electric car.”
Due largely to rising gas prices, increased public awareness, and government subsidies, the number of electric vehicles on American roads more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2010, according to the US Energy Information Administration. When major auto companies began producing electric cars in 2010, the number of charging stations skyrocketed in response. Over the course of a year, the number of stations rose by 2,853 – a 527 percent increase –according to the EIA.
Although considerable hurdles remain for widespread acceptance, electric vehicles have driven an estimated 200 million miles on US roads, according to a study released this month by the Sierra Club, a San Francisco-based environmental organization which, along with Plug In America and the Electric Auto Association, organized this year’s event.
Here in Boston, representatives from Nissan, Ford, Toyota, Cadillac, and Mitsubishi showed off the latest models in Boston Common, and answered questions about cost, charge time, and range. Curious passersby peeked into propped-open hoods, eying space-age technology in place of the familiar gas engine.
Representatives from Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, a technical college located in Boston’s South End, were on hand to recruit students for their automotive technology program. In the past two years, the school has expanded its alternative fuel course offerings to keep up with a changing industry.