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Electric Cars Hit the Streets in Raleigh

One of the first Crystal Red Chevy Volts arrives in North Carolina.
Leoneda Inge

If you are in downtown Raleigh this week you may see some small, brightly painted cars on the road that look out of place.   They’re likely electric cars on display for the national electric car conference – “Plug-In 2011.”  But there are also some sporty electric cars on display that will make your head turn in disbelief.  It’s a sign of the times and just how far the industry has come. 

“Plug-In 2011” organizers blocked off a stretch of Cabarrus Street outside the Raleigh Convention Center to show off a line of electric cars – ready for a test drive.  There were several, including the Nissan Leaf – the Mitsubishi I-E-V – the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid not even on the road yet – and the Ford Plug-In Hybrid Escape.  But one of the longest lines was for a ride in a Crystal Red Chevy Volt.  After proving I had a valid driver’s license and signing a form claiming ALL responsibility if something bad happened – I hopped in.  Stacey Riley of Chevrolet tagged along.

Stacey Riely:  "And what we’ll do, we’re going to get the vehicle started so the air will start. So we put the foot on the brake and press the power button."

Where’s the power button?

Riley:  "Right here for you.   It will go through several of the screens here so now you can feel the air is actually rotating now."

That sigh of relief was for the air conditioning – any air conditioning.  There is also a “power flow” button – so you can see a chart that shows the battery power usage – it’s about two-thirds full.   The Chevy Volt can run on an electric charge for just under 40 miles before switching over to gasoline.  It gets rave reviews.

Riley:  "I would like to mention that this is a high efficiency Bose sound system.  Smaller components, it’s lighter weight and uses 50-percent less energy.  And I’ll crank it up for you."

Inge:  "I love this song."

Come on I’m in radio – gotta check the sound system!  Jeff Barghout is the Director of Transportation Initiatives for Advanced Energy based in Raleigh.  The non-profit is instrumental in helping to install electric vehicle charging stations across the Triangle.  Barghout says this is a pivotal time in the history of the electric car.

Jeff Barghout:  "Back in the 90s the EV 1 and different cars, and those technologies weren’t quite there, the batteries were expensive and the range wasn’t right and there weren’t communized standards for how you charge and things along those lines."

But now it’s 2011.

Barghout: " And I think it will be interesting looking to see the conversation change from people saying, why would you drive that odd electric vehicle in to, why would you drive that slow, smelly gas car that you have to spend all that time in a gas station."
As much as consumers complain about the fluctuating price of gasoline – they’re not totally sold on electric vehicles.  For example, what if you run out of charge and can’t find a plug? And the price-tag could be discouraging.  The Chevy Volt costs close to $40-thousand-dollars.  The Nissan Leaf – about $32-thousand dollars.   No one is officially saying how much the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid will cost.  But let’s not forget the 75-hundred dollar rebate for going electric.

Clay Perry:  "Right now – demand is far out-stripping the availability of these vehicles."
Clay Perry is a spokesman for the Electric Power Research Institute in Washington D.C.   He says this year’s “Plug-In” conference is on the east coast for the first time because the public needs to be educated.

Perry:  "Well, I don’t know the specifics of the demand in the southeast – I do know that the president has set a goal that we should have at least a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.  That is a very ambitious goal it’s going to be a stretch for the manufacturers to build the cars that fast."

Inge:  "So I’ll be making a left. "

Riley:  "A right, making a right here, and this will take us right back to the convention center.   And we’ll get a nice little acceleration there on Martin Luther."

My drive was smooth, and quiet.   Just like in the Prius Plug-In Hybrid I drove earlier.  They’re electric – they’re all quiet.

“Plug-In 2011” runs through Thursday. Tonight – the public is invited to come see for themselves.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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