Is Houston ready for electric cars?

September 22, 2010 8:09:37 AM PDT
Mass produced electric cars are coming to Houston. The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf are just two of the cars ready to roll down our streets. But are these new cars right for you? I test drove the Nissan Leaf and it does everything your car does right now. It's fast and comfortable, but before you head down to the show room, you need to know a few things about the car.

The Nissan Leaf handles a lot like most electric cars on the market. It accelerates well in traffic and is quiet and comfortably seats four adults. Designers say that's what they wanted when building the all electric vehicle.

Paul Hawson with Nissan said, "The point of the car is really to have a real car. It just happens to be powered by electricity, you just don't notice it."

The Leaf does have some limitations. It only has a 100 mile range on a full charge, and since most commuters do not travel that far, Nissan believes the car is an acceptable alternative for Houston drivers.

The car lists for $32,000. However, you can't walk into a dealership and get one. Before you can buy one, Nissan dealers come to the homes of would-be buyers to see if the potential buyers' homes can handle the 220 volt power converter needed to supply a faster charge to their new car. If so, the converter installation will cost new Leaf owners about $2,200.

"You will have a charging box in your garage, in your car port, and it will deliver power to your car," said Keiichi Kitahara with Nissan. "Charging, if you are at completely at zero stated charge, it will take a little more than seven hours to fully charge."

Another electric option soon to hit Houston's pavement is the Chevy Volt. It will cost a whopping $40,000 yet will only go 40 miles on an electric charge. However, the volt will have a small gas engine that can go another 300 miles on a tank of gas.

Consumer Reports' Jake Fisher explained, "Electric cars hold a lot of promise. Clearly two big pluses are the ability to reduce gasoline consumption and run cleaner cars. But there's a lot to consider before you know they're right for you."

So has the City of Houston prepared for the electric car revolution? I found there are only 10 public charging stations already set up, with another 15 coming by the end of the year at libraries, parks and the airport.

Reliant Energy is also planning to build an electric car infrastructure that will add many more charging stations throughout the city. Those details will be announced in November.

The Chevy Volt is expected to be available in November and the Nissan Leaf will go on sale in December.


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