Slipping into the Aptera 2e, one gets the feeling of sneaking into the future. The arctic white, aerodynamic two-seater three-wheeler glides along the streets of downtown almost silently.
It's only a prototype (the turning and braking are still a little iffy), but the electric car's 2011 release suggests that that electric plug-in vehicles are not the whim of a Jetsons sequence, but are becoming an institutionalized standard.
What's going to propel the proliferation of electric vehicles in the coming months is the advent of the electric charging station. With stations slated to appear in 2011 in downtown and strategic suburban areas, Houston is positioning itself to become the nation's leader in President Obama's initiative to put one million electric vehicles on the roads by 2015.
Energy company NRG is installing the nation's first privately funded, comprehensive electric vehicle "ecosystem" in Houston, to be extended to the entire Texas triangle later in the year. Dubbed eVgo, the plan offers fueling packages for electric car owners to charge at public "fast charging" stations along major freeways, in key shopping and business districts, at popular retailers and in multi-family community and workplace parking areas across Harris County (a vague map of the projected stations is available here).
Thursday afternoon at the George R. Brown Convention Center, president and CEO of NRG Energy David Crane declared that 150 stations will be installed in Houston by the end of 2011.
"That will solve the key question of range confidence," he said, "which we believe is the key limiting factor to electric vehicles' wide acceptance."
NRG is putting more than $10 million into the public charging station initiative. The service comes with a flat monthly fee, which means no more worrying over fluctuating gasoline prices — access will be unlimited for a plan priced between $49 and $89, fixed for three years. Once installed, consumers will be able to charge their car with 30 miles worth of energy in 10 minutes. The public system will complement at-home chargers, where electric car owners can fully reboot their vehicles overnight (during which the zero-emissions vehicles will draw upon West Texas' clean wind turbines).
The car industry is answering Houston's call for a new generation of plug-in vehicles. Other than the Aptera, there's the new Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Tesla Roadster, Think City and new fully electric versions of the Toyota Prius and Smart Car, all of which were on display at Thursday's launch event at the George R. Brown.
"I'm already on the list to get a Leaf," city director of sustainability Laura Spanjian tells CultureMap. She aims to be zipping about town in her electric car by spring of next year.
NRG has already culled business partners like Best Buy, Walgreens, H-E-B and Spec's to host charging stations. The impact of the eVgo revolution includes the withdrawal of millions of dollars to foreign oil providers while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the cost of vehicle ownership for Houstonians.
Remarked David Strickland, administrator of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "The Houston model is a foundation to help teach American consumers and drivers and give them the confidence to know that they can have an electric vehicle just like they have a regular vehicle, with no range anxiety that they'll be unable to refill their vehicle."
It may come as a surprise that Houston businesses are relinquishing their petroleum-dependent habits, but it's also de rigueur that the city would lead the pack in energy innovation. And with eVgo, a clean, electric car future is not so far away.
Watch Annise Parker's address at Thursday's eVgo launch: