From economy models to luxury cars, electric vehicles (EVs) claimed their place alongside the usual displays of horsepower at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Almost all major automakers exhibited at least one gas-electric or full-electric vehicle.
No longer just a niche product for “super-green” consumers, alternative-fuel cars now offer the same features, much of the power and all of the slick design of conventional cars. Even Joel Klassen, an internal combustion engine devotee and graphic designer on Western’s Public Affairs staff, was impressed. “The first hybrids looked more like science experiments,” he admitted. “There wasn’t much about them to excite car enthusiasts, but some of these designs are as good-looking as anything at the show. The all-electric Tesla Model S is the world’s first premium electric sedan. It won high acclaim as Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year,” Klassen added.
Pictures taken by Klassen, who makes an annual pilgrimage to Detroit in January to attend the event, show the range of what is available in EVs. The Mercedes Benz Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, named one of the greenest cars of 2014 by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, is the smallest, shortest plug-in electric car sold in the U.S., and the least expensive.
There are no shortage of options for those who like a flashier ride, from the Tesla to the high-performance, gas-electric Porsche 918 Spyder. Another big hit at the show was the handsome BMW i3 electric compact city car, with a range of up to 100 miles. The manufacturer claims it can sprint from 0 to 60 miles per hour in seven seconds—faster than many traditional gasoline vehicles on the market.
The EcoCar2 stood in contrast to all the glamor and gadgetry, as if to remind attendees that solid engineering must come first. The Department of Energy and General Motors are sponsoring a three-year challenge in which college students compete to reduce the environmental impact of a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. The project is intended to advance the technology that will make EVs more efficient and affordable, and to train the workforce that will design and build tomorrow’s electricity-powered fleet.
Even as the combustion engine continued to dominate the International Auto Show, the message from the auto industry to the utility industry is clear. The market for electric vehicles is growing and it is offering more options to appeal to more consumers. Utilities must prepare for the challenge and opportunity of meeting this new demand.