Cover Story: Plug-In 2011 - Electric cars are here

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - "Plug-In 2011."  Electric cars are on the streets of Charlotte.  Plug it, charge it and go.

Duke Energy is on the cutting edge introducing you to the eco-friendly technology.

We're talking about a totally different experience in car buying, owning and driving.  It's not just a pipe dream.  New cars and major changes are here.

Leaders in the electric car industry from all over the world are in the Carolinas this week.

Up to now most peoples' experience with driving anything powered by electricity has been a golf cart.  Today's electric-powered cars have as much get-up-and-go as that gas-engine sitting in your driveway.

And this week the eyes of the electric car world are on the Carolinas.

Can you even imagine being able to say this?

"Basically around town.. around Charlotte. I never use gasoline."

It's a Chevy Volt that Mike Rowand is talking about.  Duke Energy, his employer, bought 16 of the vehicles and is having employees try them out.

In the two months Rowand has had the Volt he's been to the gas station once.  And hated it.

"I was half way between Greenville on my way back to Charlotte and I had to get gas. I was hoping nobody would see me.  Here I am in a Chevy Volt at a gas station.  Hopefully nobody sees me, nobody asks any questions," said Rowand told us.

You've heard about the Volt - the plug-in electric car that goes 40 miles on a charge and after that the gas engine kicks in.  Well, it's being rolled out to dealers in the Carolinas next month.

And happens to coincide with "Plug-In 2011" a conference bringing together leaders in the electric car industry from all over the world.

It's going on this week at the Raleigh Convention Center.  It's the first time it's ever been held outside California's Silicon Valley.

"This conference will bring all of these players together and help us figure out a way to better roll out this industry to the mass public," said Addie Bradshaw, a spokesperson for Duke Energy.

Duke and Raleigh-based Progress Energy are leading the charge here.  They're basically doing the same thing they did decades ago when the electric stove, oven, refrigerator, and later heat pump came out.

Showing off the product, hoping you'll buy it.

It's not the product they're selling.  It's the power which is why they're big in the car market now.

"We're trying to insure a safe and reliable grid. We think electricity holds a lot of promise for transportation," said Rowand.

And so he asked us to get behind the wheel of the Volt.  We did.

So how is it?  Well, it's a real car.  Great pick up.  No lag time.

And what's best?  Duke Power says it takes about $1 worth of electricity to recharge a Volt, which will get you 40 miles less than what most people drive to work one-way.

You can charge the car during the day and it's ready to go that evening.

"I think people will be wanting to drive these," said Duke's Rowand.  "And what I like to say, it's just a better way to drive.  And best thing they drive right by a gas station?  That's right, that's right."

Chevy's Volt will be delivered to dealers in the Carolinas next month.

By the end of next year expect to see 6-to-10 different models of electric vehicles come out on the market.

The Volt sells for higher than a traditional sedan, about $40.000.  The price will have to come down some to be widely accepted.

The saving come in fuel: 40-miles on one dollar's worth of electricity.  After that the gas engine kicks in and it gets 40 miles to the gallon.

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