Once a project or cause makes its way into the pages of a president's annual address to the nation, it usually becomes kind of a big deal.
So with President Obama teeing up a renewed emphasis on electric and hybrid cars in last month's State of the Union speech, it was no surprise that each of the major automakers came strongly out of the gate with fuel-efficient models at this year's Washington Auto Show, held in Washington, D.C., from Jan. 28 to Feb. 6.
Within minutes after the show's opening on Public Policy Day, head honchos from General Motors (NYSE: GM ) , Ford (NYSE: F ) , Toyota (NYSE: TM ) , and even BMW (OTC: BAMXF.PK) had begun touting their latest and greatest ideas.
When you're walking around the showroom floor, eyeing all of the shiny, perfectly coiffed new cars, trucks, and SUVs – not to mention the Advanced Technology SuperHighway – it's easy to buy in. Why not? There's little argument that a lessened dependence on petroleum-based automobiles is a good thing.
But is it realistic? Not someday -- but soon?
Toyota surely seems to think so. Heralding its family of Priuses as the wave of the future, company Vice President James Colon was proud to tout each member of the Prius clan, from the original hybrid model to the new electric vehicle.
Colon wasn't alone. Ford's representatives debuted the new all-electric Ford Focus, which just that morning had been named Green Car Journal's Vision Award. General Motors' reps touted the Chevy Volt, which took center stage for the second year in a row. And BMW, while clearly sticking to what it does best – muscly, sexy vroom-vroom cars that suck the gas right out of the pump – even made some concessions to cleaner petrol-based cars, adding more miles to the gallon in many of its vehicles.
All of this is fine and well, and as an admitted tree-hugger, I confess that I want very badly to get swept up in all the Electric Boogaloo. But I'm just not sure it's reasonable. My husband and I are a one-car family, carpooling hither and yon with not even a garage in which to park our car. (There's only street parking around our DC-area townhome.)
Sure, we commute the two miles to work by car (well within electric-car range), but we do love a nice long road trip from time to time, not to mention simply setting out for parts unknown on a Saturday afternoon. Where are the electric filling stations between here and our family in Florida or Indiana? More broadly, where is the electric infrastructure that is needed for these snazzy new cars?
The automakers would argue that it's coming; that if you build the car, the infrastructure will populate itself in short order. But I've got little faith in the notion that electric filling stations will be on my block anytime soon. And I'm in what would presumably be one of the top markets in the country! (Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA ) surely seems to think so – the company has opened a showroom in Washington, D.C., and it's presumably eagerly awaiting throngs of buyers for its all-electric, and extremely good-looking, Roadster.)
I have high hopes for alternative energy and new ways of getting from Point A to Point B. I want to embody the pioneer spirit and rush right out to purchase a Volt, a Focus, or a new Prius. But though it may pain Thomas Edison to hear it, I'm just not sure America is ready for the switch to electricity. And until the automakers put longer-lasting batteries under the hood, and provide would-be road trippers with a little bit of confidence, I'm not sure the technology is fully in place, either.
Want to follow the major automakers as they foray further into the Electric Era? Add them to your watchlist!
- Add Ford to My Watchlist.
- Add Toyota to My Watchlist.
- Add GM to My Watchlist.
- Add Tesla to My Watchlist.
What do you think about the electric car – or the president's push toward energy efficiency? Chime in via the comments box below.