Video by Mike DeVito and Ellie McCutcheon
It seems to be a commonly held notion out there that "green" cars can't be "cool" cars - they can't accelerate fast enough, critics say, or they're otherwise just not stylish. And maybe that was true four or five years ago - hybrids were still evolving and purely electric cars were trade show models and prototypes. Things have changed. Two weeks ago over 500 people gathered down near the Capitol Building for the DC branch of National Plug In Day 2012 - a fancy name for what really amounts to a gathering of people who don't just own electric vehicles, but live the EV lifestyle. These people are enthusiastic, to say the least, and maybe that's no surprise - an increasing number of people think electric vehicles are our future, and these early adopters have just been waiting for the rest of us to show up to the party. And what a party it is - what used to be a field of drab, slow clunkers that the Top Gear boys tore into with ruthless abandon (and with wrenches when they attempted to build their own) is now a gearhead's paradise. Fun toys abound, and you don't even have to feel bad about them (from an environmental standpoint, anyway - you might still feel bad about your wallet).
Case in point: The Fisker Karma. Besides having a name that says "only the luxury class is buying me," it has the look of a high-class car. It looks a lot like an Aston Martin (James Bond's car of choice), and that's no surprise - they share the same design lineage. Except the Karma, despite having the same bells and whistles, is a hybrid. Don't look for a deal here, though - it's still at that luxury Aston Martin price. Of course, we can't all buy in at the luxury level, and it's mainstream adoption that really matters in the end. Adoption of electric vehicles has taken a while, and though the sales numbers seem to be holding steady at the moment, ultimately it's not the profit bonanza the car companies were hoping for. That's a problem - big companies that don't see a big return refocus their attention elsewhere before too long. There are a few success stories, of course - the Chevy Volt has gained traction, but the much-hailed Nissan Leaf appears to be sputtering to a stop. So what to do to move a market forward? Tesla Motors seems to think they have the answers.
You're probably already aware of the Tesla Roadster, the first all-electric car that really attempted to be a proper "supercar." It's a beautiful thing, and packs quite a punch - bring it to full speed and you're getting a ticket and a few points on your license. They're up to something new this year, though - a mainstream sedan, the Model S, which at $49,900 really isn't that far out of the affordable range for the middle class. It's a big step, and if they make it work, some people think they can save the concept of the electric car wholesale. (Later this month, check out the Planet Forward YouTube channel for the story of a California couple who took number 39 off the production line cross-country without a hitch or a single drop of gas, put together Clara Pak and yours truly.)
It's clear that big things are happening in the world of electric cars this year. That's not all, though - there are some pretty amazing little things happening too. Remember that Golden Buggy I mentioned up top? Well, it's not so much a buggy as a "BugE" - the "Extreme BugE" to be specific. See, one of the big remaining barriers to EV adoption is awareness. People need to know there are options, that they're affordable, that they're convenient. Evangelists are still very much needed at this stage, and the DC area may have one of the most outgoing and enthusiastic EV evangelists around - Charlie Garlow. The proud owner of a solar-powered Prius (which he uses to power his house on occasion), a completely electric-converted '79 Porsche (which I would love to steal, if I knew how) and his golden BugE, Charlie lives the EV lifestyle completely. By day he's a lawyer for the EPA and by night he's co-owner of The Green Commuter, a shop that specializes in electric bicycles, in Takoma Park. This summer he's going cross-country with the BugE, hoping to strike up conversations with this unique-looking vehicle and spread awareness of electric vehicles coast to coast. Ellie McCutcheon and I had the opportunity to catch up with him at NPID, and he is one entertaining guy - if anyone can get people to listen on this topic, it's him. Take a look at our piece below for just a small taste of what Charlie plans (and some great EV-themed tunes as well). While they may not be mainstream quite yet, it looks like EVs are getting there - and from the looks of it, they're doing it with a speed that many thought impossible. I certainly was - when the acceleration on the Model S almost knocked a camera out of my hand, I knew that it's no longer right to say that an EV can't be a gearhead's dream. - Mike DeVito