Electric Car Explosion Coming to U.S.

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As I perused the bountiful wares of Rexville Grocery in rural Washington State last week, I was surprised to see a sign in their front window advertising an electric-vehicle charging station.

The small market and community center (which, at this time of year, offers delectable pies with berries plucked right from the surrounding farmlands) sits in the heart of the fertile Skagit Valley, about 60 miles (about 97 kilometers) from Seattle.

The concept of a country-store charging station spurred me to look into how mainstream electric cars—already popular in Europe— are faring in the U.S.

Hybrids have long been hot, of course—for instance, much has been made recently of the newly released third-generation Prius, which features integrated solar-powered technology.

For electric vehicles, it seems they are just on the cusp of going mainstream. I found the handy Plug-in Vehicle Tracker on Plug-In America’s Web site, which maintains a list of most companies developing new electric vehicles.

According to the tracker, only two electric cars are now widely available in the U.S.: Commuter Cars’s tiny Tango T600 EV, a two-passenger commuter car that sells for about U.S. $108,000, and the Tesla Roadster, which also carries a $100,000-plus price tag.

There’s apparently a healthy electric car demand among the high-end crowd: Just today, Tesla opened its first East Coast dealership in New York City.

But one of most affordable cars in the pipeline seems to be TH!NK city, a compact electric car that can travel up to 112 miles (about 180 kilometers) on a single charge. It will have recyclable plastic body panels and a fully recyclable interior for a low carbon footprint.

It’s produced by Think, a Norwegian car manufacturer that announced it would begin building a manufacturing plant in the U.S. this year, with a starting annual capacity of about 16,000 cars.

“The U.S. is quickly overtaking Europe as an attractive market for [electric vehicles], and is an ideal location to engineer and build EVs,” Think CEO Richard Canny said in a statement.

A limited number of model and demonstration TH!NK cars will be available in 2010 (no starting price is listed on their Web site), but the Gas 2.0 blog says it won’t be until 2011 that we’ll be able to get one.

But if the plug-in tracker is any indication, we’re going to be inundated with electric vehicles by 2013, including several new Chrysler models, Chevrolet’s Volt PHEV, the Ford Focus EV, and more.

So go find that charging station near you.

Christine Dell’Amore

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Related:

–How green is your road trip?

–Have an eco-savvy summer with these tips.

Photograph courtesy Think

Human Journey

Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.