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The Automobile’s Future

Courtesy of Tesla Motors Roadster electric car

Photo: Courtesy of Tesla Motors

One obvious point critics of PHEV’s and electric cars make is that they still contribute emissions by taking energy from power plants. But the United States uses little oil in generating power, and even when electric cars draw energy from existing power plants—half of which are coal-fired—they cause around 35 percent less pollution than gas-powered cars. (Emissions are virtually eliminated if the electricity comes from renewable resources like wind and sunlight.) Where will all this new electricity come from?If cars are charged mainly at night, we already have enough capacity to support millions of PHEV’s and electric cars without building any new power plants.

The most talked-about new electric car, hands down, is the Tesla Roadster, for which many of the roughly 600 buyers have plunked down a $30,000 to $50,000 deposit without ever having kicked the tires or looked inside. I catch up with one of the two Roadster engineering prototypes in Chicago, where public relations director David Vespremi takes me for a spin. He once taught racecar driving, a skill I am grateful for as he darts in and out of blessedly modest traffic in Chicago. It’s a bracing experience to accelerate so quickly—the Roadster is capable of going from 0 to 60 in four seconds, with barely a sound.

The company expects to sell 800 Roadsters this year and up to 2,000 in 2008, and sales may capitalize its next, more ambitious undertaking: a new plant in Albuquerque with the capacity to build 20,000 five-passenger sedans (they’ll cost half the Roadster’s $98,000 price) per year. Phoenix Motorcars wants to set up headquarters at a factory in southern California that can turn out thousands of electric vehicles annually. It looks as if cars themselves may help pave the way to a carbon-free future. ✚

David Morris is the cofounder and vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in Minneapolis, and author of its report Driving Our Way to Energy Independence.

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