The automotive industry is talking about a major shift to electric and gas-electric hybrid vehicles over the next 20 years.
To see if drivers are ready for the potential change, we went to an area called The Electric Zone at the Car & Truck Show underway in downtown Milwaukee.
The zone is a first floor hallway in the Wisconsin Center, containing a half-dozen plug-in electric or hybrid vehicles. Just like at the rest of the show, or at an auto dealer, people get behind the wheel, look under the hood and slam doors.
With only about 1% of Wisconsin drivers using electric vehicles, or EV, The Electric Zone is a place to educate more of the public, and for them to share first impressions. By and large, on the day we visited, those impressions were: "we're not buying yet."
After looking at a Tesla sedan, a man who gave his name as Steve, said he and his family want something larger. "If there were electric options in a mid-size SUV with three rows [of seats], we'd be interested," he said.
Doug Herzog thinks electric vehicles are a great idea, and he's encouraging his son to buy one. But the elder Herzog isn't in the market right now.
"I just retired. I just bought an RV. So, not buying yet. But my next vehicle, I really will consider it. The environmental consciousness is awesome," Herzog said.
A visitor who gave her name as Lisa also isn't buying yet. But she hopes EV will bring environmental gains. "So just the possibility with fuel emissions and everything else with the world. Try and save it," Lisa said.
Lisa's referring to the presumed environmental benefits of switching from gasoline-powered vehicles, and opting for ones that can be re-charged with electricity coming from a power plant that has to meet pollution regulations. Or, as some EV owners are already doing, recharging from solar panels on the roof of homes. Since transportation is now the sector contributing the most greenhouse gases, cleaner cars may be a key route to reducing the harm of climate change.
An Electric Zone visitor, who gave his name as Charlie, predicts EV will grow. But before he buys, Charlie wants more charging stations, so people can be confident about plugging in.
"The distance [per charge] in the cars — the maximum distance — is going up. But it's not really feasible for most people yet. But at some point, you'll be able to fill up your car in five minutes, instead of thirty," Charlie said.
At this time, the charging stations thought to be fastest are called Level 3. You can get a 200 mile charge, but it takes one to two hours.
Lorrie Lisek of the group Wisconsin Clean Cities, says the public caution about going electric doesn't bother her. Clean Cities, operated through the U.S. Department of Energy, is sponsoring The Electric Zone. Lisek believes carmakers are about to provide more EV options.
"I see a lot of the manufacturers are coming on board. We're supposed to have 22 new models that are coming out next year. All different types, trucks, everything. It's really going to be making an impact," Lisek said.
But just to keep The Electric Zone in perspective, a walk through the rest of the Greater Milwaukee International Car & Truck Show indicates maybe where most of the industry is today. There are dozens of gas-fueled sedans and SUVs. And at the Chevrolet display, a company employee was hawking a sports car, the 2020 Corvette Stingray.
"It is next generation, as well. No matter who you are when you get into a Corvette, you truly are a superhero," the salesperson told onlookers.
According to the Department of Energy website fueleconomy.gov, that Corvette gets 19 miles per gallon when combining city and highway driving.
And over by the big selection of light and heavy duty pickup trucks, a woman who gave her name as Melissa says she still wants huge vehicle weight.
"Pickups, due to the winter, the snow, I prefer trucks for that — less chance of you sliding. You get through the snow easier," Melissa said.
Melissa said she hadn't heard that Tesla is rolling out an electric-powered pickup truck. She says she'll have to see it, to believe it.
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