But the question today is identical to the one posed in the late ’90s, when GM tested its EV1 on enthusiastic drivers in California: Will this latest bid for the electric car energize the nation or fizzle out beyond state borders?
Dozens of electric car startups are popping up, boasting futuristic names like the Obvio 828e, Aptera’s Typ-1e, and Myers Motors’ NmG (No More Gas). Even the big names are weighing in, from
Toyota’s plug-in hybrid Prius and Mitsubishi’s MiEV Sport Air to Mercedes Benz’s BlueZERO and GM’s much-touted Volt, whose revolutionary propulsion system will use a super-light lithium-ion battery with a gas-fueled engine to recharge the battery – not propel the car – when the car goes beyond its 40-mile range.
But the electric vehicle, which first appeared in the mid-1800s and outnumbered gas cars until Ford became a household name, faces an uphill battle for mainstream adoption, even if gas prices return to nearly $5 a gallon. The issue is not the motor, it’s the battery.
Like most electric vehicles today, Benson’s Porsche hauls around heavy, lead-acid batteries – 16 of them – that take hours to charge and only get him a 40-mile range. (The Volt’s lithium batteries are lighter but far more expensive.) This limited range is no problem for Benson, who commutes to work 20 miles each way, charging up at work or at home. But range is a major consideration for anyone who wants to drive farther without having to own two cars.