Electric cars are cool. Maybe not on the order of a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS, but you'll still turn people's heads if you cruise into


Nissan Bringing Electric Cars To Seattle: Update


Electric cars are cool. Maybe not on the order of a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS, but you'll still turn people's heads if you cruise into Kidd Valley, bumping a little "Ghost Ride The Whip". Which is probably one of the unsaid reasons why Mayor Greg Nickels has announced that Seattle is entering into an agreement with Nissan to bring fully electric vehicles to the Jet City by 2010.

Roll the press release...

"The vehicle will go 100 miles on a single charge and will charge in four to eight hours using a 220-volt line, similar to what's used for a dryer or hot tub. A home charging unit would be hard-wired in a garage and installed by an electrician. Nissan is also working to foster the development of quick-charging, which will fully charge the vehicle in about 26 minutes."

Guess all that is needed now is to get Ronnie and The Daytonas to come up with a catchy little tune extolling the virtues of EV's.

Car junkies keeping up on the trade publications already know that Nissan has been hyping its future-is-now electric vehicles. According to their corporate website, the car manufacturer is debuting the EV's in 2010 with a global launch date of 2012.

At first blush, this all seems pretty spiffy. Ever since this writer was a little guy, playing slot cars on the kitchen floor of our shack in White Center, the notion of having an electrically powered car has seemed like the future of transportation. Out of all the ersatz energy sources that are alternatives to gas and diesel, electricity probably has the most going for it at the moment.

There are still some practical questions which have to be answered though.

Down Payment: With the city laying off workers and on the brink of shutting down basic services, is it smart to be dumping resources into an experimental program which - lets face it - benefits a foreign corporation competing against American automakers?

So far, what the City is considering are "incentives to owning an electric car", "incentives for the construction of charging stations in Seattle" and "leasing or buying Nissan electric vehicles for the city fleet". (I'm in the process of getting the cost of the program from the Mayor's office.)

Does this mean the Mayor will retire his Lincoln Town Car?

The Juice: More important is the lack of infrastructure and the hit these vehicles are going to put on the electrical grid.

One assumes that technology will eventually create EV's which have better batteries, greater range and quicker charging times. Nor is it far-fetched to think that parking garages, restaurants and super markets will offer convenient pay-meter charging stations sometime in the future.

Where, oh where, is the juice going to come from to power these rigs? Both parties in the deal talk a heap about the region's hydropower resources. Dams on the Columbia and Snake River generate enough electricity to power not only the Northwest but enough to export as well.

Sadly, hydropower isn't infinite. It wasn't a short while ago in the early 2000's when the country was racked by electricity shortages and entire regions in the country were hit by rolling blackouts.

One or two novelty rigs rolling around First Avenue is one thing. Imagine 10,000, 20,000, 100,000 electric cars plugging into Seattle City Light every 100 miles. Multiply this out across the country and consider the consequences of 1 million, 2 million or 10 million electric vehicles on the grid.

Here in Washington, save for the Hanford Reach, there aren't any more major rivers that can be dammed. And environmentalists are trying to tear down the dams already here. In practical terms, that means either coal, natural gas or nuclear power plants have to be built to supply the demand. Solar and wind alone just ain't gonna cut it.

This isn't an insurmountable challenge. In fact, it's past time the United States started building new power plants again. Maybe if demand for electric vehicles takes off, it will cut through the red tape of mindless bureaucracy, NIMBYism and environmental lawsuits.

Kicking The Tires: One can dream of a stylish two-door, harkening back to the fabulous Datsun 240Z, reeling in BMWs and Jaguars on Aurora and blowing past them with a quiet hum and a whiff of ozone. Sadly this isn't to be. The vehicle being debuted in Seattle is a soul-crushing, five-passenger hatchback.

When will car manufacturers get it through their heads that Americans don't want hatchbacks? If you're going to debut a revolutionary new car - whether it's an electric or hybrid or flex-fuel - make it at least look revolutionary.

Sell electrics designed like the new Dodge Challenger or Ford GT. Let the public fall in love with the car. Let the public want to make love in the car. Don't trot out some trumped up Prius bean-can on wheels that looks like it rolled out of the Zastava factory.

History: Making electric cars is nothing new to Nissan. After World War 2, the company produced the Tama in 1947. Apparently it had a cruising range of 96 km with a top speed of 35 km. Speedy.

Update: The Mayor's office answered a couple of our questions and, at the moment any rate, this agreement with Nissan doesn't commit the city to any financial costs.

Addressing the concerns of electrical generation, the Mayor's office had this statement.

"City Light is already accounting for the introduction of plug-in hybrids in its strategic plan. That plan considers several scenarios up to about 10,000 vehicles and accounts for providing for that need.

Currently, Seattle City Light has surplus capacity, which it sells on the open market. Expanding use of electricity for transportation would reduce that surplus, but would not require new generation in the short term.

SCL's goal with the 5-year energy conservation plan would save enough electricity to power 50,000 cars.

By comparison, 50,000 EV's would consume less than 2% of the electricity consumed in our buildings."

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