The Car of the Future – the Push for Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids

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The history of the electric car is a long and troubled one. General Motors famously experimented with – and subsequently abandoned – the all electric car a few decades ago. And in fact some of the earliest horseless carriages used electricity as a power source. The story of GM’s previous electric car debacle was chronicled in the documentary entitled “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, but the history of the current push for plug in cars is still being written.

Several mainline manufacturers, including General Motors, have both plug-in electric and hybrid models in their pipelines as do several startup companies with no prior experience in the world of automobile manufacturing. One of these startups, Tesla motors, has been generating a lot of buzz with their sporty – if expensive – entry into the all electric market. The Tesla roadster does run on electricity but it is no glorified golf cart. This high end sports car boasts acceleration faster than that of a Porsche, and both well heeled drivers and Hollywood celebrities have been lining up to take this exciting vehicle out for a spin. Passing all car inspections with flying colors and receiving Consumer Reports’ highest rating, Tesla is sure making waves on every front in the domestic car market and international one as well.

While the Tesla roadster is unlikely to become a mainstay in American garages, General Motors hopes the Chevy Volt will play an instrumental role in the comeback of this classic American nameplate. With a price tag of $40,000 the Chevy Volt is a bit pricy for its class, but the $7,500 Federal tax credit will help trim the price significantly. In addition many states have proposed tax credits of their own, and those combined tax credits could make the Chevy Volt an affordable alternative in this age of rising gasoline prices and shrinking petroleum reserves.

Even so General Motors plans to start small with their first electric car in decades, with a production run of just 10,000 in 2010 and between 30,000 and 60,000 the following year. But the good news for fans of electric vehicles is that the specially designed plant where the Volt will be assembled is capable of producing some 200,000 vehicles annually.

In addition to the Chevy Volt and the aforementioned Tesla roadster sports car there may be another entry in the electric car market soon. While nothing is definite at this point, Chinese automaker BYD has expressed an interest in the American marketplace. Specifically the Chinese car maker is investigating the possibility of bringing its F3DM model electric car, with a range of 60 miles on all electric power, to the American market. With its much lower price tag of $20,000 this Chinese electric car could provide real competition to the Chevy Volt, especially since it too would be eligible for the $7,500 alternative transportation tax credit as well as any applicable state tax breaks.

No matter what future electric cars look like or which companies make them, there has certainly been a strong push for alternatives forms of transportation. The current administration has expressed a real interest in moving beyond the internal combustion engine and the imported gasoline that fuels it, and they have made significant steps toward making that dream a reality. Car maintenance costs are rising every year, leaving many folks wondering when electric cars will become mainstream. In states such as Washington and Oregon, many local car inspection agencies and services are gearing up for changes in the DEQ standards that will bring further changes to the way cars are tested for pollution and exhaust fumes.

For instance, President Obama has provided plenty of support for makers of electric vehicles and plug in hybrids in the recently passed $787 billion Federal stimulus package. And the Department of Energy has provided support as well in the form of a $25 billion aid package known as the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program. President Obama has made no secret of his desire for cleaner and greener cars, and his administration has thus far invested heavily in trying to create a post-petroleum future for transportation.