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Electric cars on display in Concord on Saturday morning

Last modified: 9/10/2015 1:17:27 AM
With a new Tesla, a redesigned Prius and a flashier Volt about to hit the market, the stars seem aligned for a surge in cars powered at least in part by electricity, even if low gasoline prices have taken away one of the field’s selling points.

“You know that some day, gas prices are going to rise again,” said Ron Leland of Webster, who is on the planning committee for the fourth annual Drive Electric Week event in Concord. “When that happens, it’s going to revamp the interest in electric vehicles. I’m confident that in the future they’re going to take over, there will be less and less gasoline powered vehicles, and more and more hybrids and electric vehicles.”

The annual show has been shifted from its previous location in front of the State House due to the Main Street construction.

It will run from 8:30 to noon Saturday in the Department of Justice parking lot, 33 Capitol St., sharing space with the weekly farmers market for those who like to mix kale with their “green” cars.

“There will be multiple car dealerships, and a lot of private owners bring their own personal vehicles with them,” said Leland, who will be bringing his electric bicycle for a two-wheel perspective.

“You can see these on TV, in articles, online and such, but it’s very different to sit in one, talk to the owners. These owners love to talk about their cars.”

The event is sponsored by the electric vehicle advocacy group Plug-In America, the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association.

Sales of plug-in vehicles, either hybrids or all-electric cars, have grown but they remain tiny. The industry observer Inside EVs reports that through June, combined U.S. sales of all plug-in vehicles was about 56,000 this year. As a comparison, that is fewer than the number of Chevrolet Impalas sold during the same period.

To look at it another way, Toyota reported selling 57,000 Priuses in this country in the first six months of the year, but just 2,890 of them were the plug-in version.

The biggest seller globally is the Nissan Leaf, a relatively inexpensive all-electric four seater that has sold almost 200,000 cars since it launched in 2011. In the U.S. its sales has been neck-and-neck with the upscale Tesla Roadster for the past few years at about 1,500 to 2,000 cars a month. A new Leaf design is expected in the next year or so.

Even if sales aren’t exploding, the number of different plug-in vehicles for sale has.

“There’s a really large growth in the variety of vehicles you can get – types and cost ranges,” Leland said.

Car companies from BMW to Mercedes to Fiat now sell electric cars, although some are so-called compliance models, sold in tiny numbers in select markets to meet emissions requirements.

A major concern for all-electric vehicles is “range anxiety,” or the fear of running out of battery power without finding a public charging station. The number of public car-charging stations has not grown much in the past year. In the Concord area, a half-dozen are available at car dealerships and a few hotels, plus Tesla’s high-powered chargers at the Hooksett Rest Area.

Electric-vehicle owners say this shortage is less of a concern than it may seem, however, since most battery charging is done at home, an option that isn’t available to gasoline-powered cars, as batteries become more efficient and capable of going further on a single charge.

The use of electricity for travel is not limited to cars. Interest in electric buses and even electric heavy-duty trucks is on the rise, and in June the first flight over the English Channel was made by an experimental electric aircraft.

Several models of electric motorcycles are sold in the U.S., although they remain a very niche market, and more than a dozen models of bicycles are sold with battery-powered motors to help with pedaling are now sold.

Leland went further: He built his electric bicycle himself, out of a kit, and uses it to commute to work a couple of days a week.

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


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