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Science Cafe: Are electric cars the future?



Monitor staff
Monday, January 16, 2017

Technologies, like living things, have a natural life span. I’m beginning to wonder whether petroleum-powered vehicles might be nearing the end of theirs.

This idea surprises me because, until recently, I didn’t give a second thought to moving around atop metal boxes full of cancer-causing liquid that has to explode into smelly gases in order to be useful. But that system is starting to seem a little outdated because a real alternative is edging into normal life: Electric cars.

You may not think they’re a real alternative, and I can’t blame you. (Did somebody say “range anxiety”?) All the more reason to show up and discuss the issue of electric cars tonight at Science Cafe Concord, starting at 6 at The Draft Sports Bar.

As always, it’s free and open to all, of course. But show up early if you want a decent table; I suspect we’ll be crowded.

Among the panelists there to answer your questions will be Michael Mercer, the service manager of Banks Chevrolet. He was invited because the all-electric Chevy Bolt – not to be confused with the mostly electric Chevy Volt – will be for sale here soon-ish. Ordering in New Hampshire starts in March for delivery in May, says Chevrolet.

If it lives up to its promise, with a real-world range above 200 miles and a real-world price tag less than $35,000, the Bolt could normalize electric cars just as the Toyota Prius did for hybrids, something that hasn’t been accomplished by the not-enough-range Nissan Leaf or those awesome, but ridiculously expensive, Teslas.

On the other hand, if the Bolt is a disappointment in performance or sales, it could set back the whole idea of electric cars, or maybe just expose their weakness.

Mercer, who has long been an electric-car fan, is rooting for success. He says he’s seen an attitude shift occur with the Volt, which runs on electricity and uses a gasoline engine to recharge the batteries.

“When the Volt first came out, it was a lot of the tree-huggers, the odd duck that would come in,” said Mercer. “As it got out there and more people drove it, read about it, it seems to be across the board that people are interested.”

There are good reasons to be interested. Fueling at home and not having to constantly schedule annoying trips to gas stations is one of the unexpected advantages of owning an electric car, I’ve been told by such owners. And then there’s the constancy of torque from electric engines that Tesla has used to its hot-rod advantage.

“We’ve done everything we can in a fossil-burning vehicle to improve it. Electrification does that and more – including power,” said Mercer.

Science Cafe won’t be just bout Chevy’s plans, however. We will also have panelists to help answer questions you might have about the whole field, from the sweeping (are they really good for the environment?) to the up-close (batteries vs. capacitors). And whatever strikes your fancy.

For more details, visit ScienceCafeNH.org. See you there.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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