Our View: The Age of the Electric Car is coming




At the turn of the 20th Century, the presence of an automobile on the streets of Columbus was something of a sensation. Back then, automobiles were little more than a novelty and if you had asked citizens whether automobiles would ever become the primary source of transportation, you would have likely encountered some skepticism.


There were serious questions about automobile costs, reliability, availability and infrastructure. On the plus side, there was no Horse Lobby determined to impede the industry's growth.


With the advent of Henry Ford's Model T, along with his famous assembly-line production, sales of automobiles boomed in the 1920s. In 1920, there were 8 million autos registered in the U.S. By the end of the decade, there were 23 million (in a population of 123 million). The Age of the Automobile had arrived.



Last week, in Columbus, we may have witnessed another moment that had folks gawking a bit in downtown Columbus. Near the Tennessee Williams Home, the first public free-standing electric car charging station was installed.


As it was at the turn of the last century with the first commercially available cars, the electric car has been around, in one form or another, as long as the gas-powered car. In fact, some of the earliest automobiles ran on battery power.


But it was not until Toyota introduced its first hybrid gas/electric car in 1997, that electric cars were ever seriously considered an option. Much in the way that Ford boosted the auto industry in the 1920, Tesla has given the electric car industry a major boost in this century.


Today, electric car sales represent about 2.1 percent of all automobile sales. Obviously, the Age of the Electric Car has not yet arrived.


But it's coming.


As it was with the first autos in the 20th Century, the success of the electric car industry will rely on a number of factors. Access to charging stations, like gas stations 100 years ago, is one factor. So, too, is reliability and cost.


As more and more auto manufacturers embrace the march toward battery power, today's electric cars continue to improve their range. While many electric models have a range of only about 100 miles on a single charge, Tesla's long-range models can go over 300 miles before needing a charge; Audi's forthcoming all-electric model claims a range of over 200 miles.


That amount of range is enough for the average driver to run errands, commute to work and make short trips, but road trips in most electric cars remain impractical.


Tesla has built a network of more than 14,000 Supercharger stations which charge their cars in less than an hour. Most other manufacturers have much slower charging technology that takes up to eight hours.


As it is with all new technology, though, those charging times will get shorter and shorter as technology is improved.


As it was with Ford's early cars, one of the biggest obstacles is cost. Ford's production methods made cars affordable for average Americans. It appears the same may soon be true of the electric car. The cost of batteries has fallen by 80 percent since 2001 and since the battery represents about half of the total cost of an electric car, it's likely that electric cars will become an affordable option for car-buyers.


The biggest obstacle is likely to be the oil industry, which is obviously threatened by the emergence of the electric-car industry. The oil industry is a powerful lobbying presence in Congress, so the path will not be an easy one for the electric car industry.


Mississippi lawmakers implemented a surcharge of $75 for hybrids and $150 for electric cars last year. Thirteen other states have passed similar legislation.


Short-sighted as that is, it isn't likely to be much of a deterrent.


As we also consider the effects of climate change, the electric car's zero emissions is looking better and better.


Still, the bottom line is the same as it was a century ago. When electric cars reach an acceptable threshold for recharging, cost, availability and reliability, the Age of the Electric Car will be at hand.


Until then, we applaud Columbus Light and Water for their recently-installed charger, and we applaud Starkville Utilities for their planned charger. Both show forward thinking.




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