Of course, electric cars have been driving Los Angeles streets in large numbers since 2003. The Toyota Prius is a type of electric vehicle (EV), a "hybrid." Despite a price tag of about $36,000, Toyota says that by December 2009, it had sold over 800,000 Priuses in the U.S., many of those in L.A.
The Prius engine is powered by both electricity from a battery and by burning gas in its internal combustion engine. Thus the name "hybrid." The battery is charged whenever the driver puts a foot on the brake. Braking triggers a mechanism that generates electricity and stores it in the car's battery. In 2009, the Toyota Prius was rated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the most fuel-efficient car on the road, averaging 50 miles per gallon.
The Big Leap Forward - Plug-in Electric Vehicles
A plug-in electric vehicle (EV) can be plugged into a regular electrical outlet or special charger to charge the battery. It is currently not possible for drivers of a Prius to charge the battery by plugging into anything, only by stepping on the brakes. There is a big change coming in 2011 when the new plug-in electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, are fully launched.
The Nissan Leaf, at about $33,000, began Los Angeles deliveries in December 2010. The Chevy Volt at about $40,000, will begin deliveries early in 2011. While these prices may seem high, they're effectively lowered by government tax and rebate incentives.
President Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union speech, set an objective of 1,000,000 EVs on the road in the U.S. by 2015, four years from now. The Administration's goals, of course, are to reduce our dependence on oil, deal with air pollution and climate change, and create new, green jobs in car manufacturing. The federal government gives a tax credit of up to $7,500 to buyers of the Leaf and Volt.
Many states are also offering incentives. For example, California, on a first-come-first-served basis, has limited funds available to give electric car buyers up to $5,000 as a rebate on purchase. These incentives can lower the effective price of electric cars so that they're competitive with similar gas-burning cars, especially when considering the savings on fuel year in and year out.
The Leaf had a waiting list of 40,000 buyers when it started delivery in late December 2010. One website that maintains an unofficial waiting list for the Chevy Volt, hit 50,000 worldwide in September 2009. Several other car companies are developing EV models. By 2012, there will likely be a dozen different EVs for sale in the U.S., including a plug-in version of the Prius.
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