Cover Story: Car of tomorrow

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Imagine this.  We're less than a year away from plugging in our cars - right next to our smart phones and laptops.

And Charlotte will be leading the charge.

If you're planning a trip this weekend, you've probably already figured out how much you'll spend for gas.  But new technology could make those fuel stops a thing of the past.

Meet the Tesla Roadster.  It's fast, sleek and a big part of a plan to introduce the Queen City to a cleaner future.

These cars cost about $120,000, that's a bit much for the average budget!  But it represents what's coming down the road.  Though it's a car that costs more that most people's first homes, it is the first all electric car made in the U.S. that's available right now on the market.

To see it, it looks like a typical sports car.  A sleek look.  Leather seats.  Sexy interior.

But open a door.  Pop the hood.  And check out the trunk.  And the sports car you thought it was.. isn't.

What is it?

"This is a 2010 Tesla Roadster."

Duke Energy is leasing the $120k American-made car (for sale to the public right now) to test how the car of tomorrow (an electric-plug in) will work into Duke's future electricity plans.

Not to mention it's an awesome ride.  And Duke plans to show off it to the public to generate excitement about E.V.'s (electric vehicles).

Greg Efthimiou is with Duke Energy.  He says, "These cars can accelerate very rapidly. They have much higher torque than your average car. The get up and go is absolutely terrific in these vehicles."

Not all the electric cars that are coming to market, the Chevy Volt (later this year available in Charlotte) and the Nissan Leaf (coming to Charlotte next spring) will have the same ump as the Tesla but the first out of the gate has to blow the doors off our thinking about electric cars.

Tom Shiel with Duke says, "Peoples' mindset is going to change. Right now if we need gas we can pull into any corner gas station and fill up. Peoples' paradigm is going to change because we're not going to be doing that in the future."

We decided to take them up on the offer to try it out.  7,000 lithium ion batteries (the size of a cell phone battery) power the Tesla.  And it'll run 250 miles on a single charge.

But turn the thing up.  And the zero-to-60 in less than four seconds will take your breath away.

So we decided to enjoy the ride around town.

Duke Energy says it's been working with automakers in unprecedented fashion so that when E.V.s come to market there will be a fuel supply available.

Neither side wants any glitches.

"What we need to do is overcome the range anxiety that people who drive electric cars might have. They need to know that they can get from Point A to Point B and not worry about getting stuck in between," says Efthimiou.

Coming next spring on Tryon Street - charging stations.  And at home the ability to plug in the car with a regular 120-plug or a 240-plug which leads to a quicker charge.

"It's not science fiction anymore. Here it is right before your eyes," says Shiel.

For the utility Duke Energy says electric vehicles won't put that much more demand on its system.

By 2020 Duke plans to have its entire fleet of vehicles either all-electric or hybrid.

Transportation is a big part of our carbon footprint.  Take out cars, the experts say and our carbon footprint could be reduced by 40-percent, not to mention they say it would eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.

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