ORLANDO – If electric cars sound like something out of science fiction books or maybe an episode of “The Jetsons” cartoons, consider this: in 2009, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty signed on to be a host city for not just electric vehicles, but a series of public rechargers for the folks who decide to be among the first to drive one.
Known as Project Get Ready: Central Florida, and launched by the Orange County Environmental Protection Division, it’s a project funded by Nissan, which is bringing the Nissan Leaf electric hybrid to the city this year.
“Nissan was going around looking for cities that would be progressive enough to do this, and Orlando said yes,” said Mark Thomason, business development director for Palmer Electric of Winter Park.
Orlando is the only city in Florida to sign on to Project Get Ready, Thomason said, meaning local residents will get the first chance to test electric hybrid vehicles. As part of the auto manufacturer’s agreement, 4,600 chargers will be deployed in nine cities, and they must be made publicly accessible, Thomason said.
And if an electric, battery-operated vehicle sounds odd or impractical, Thomason noted that anyone who has struggled with an overheated car or one that’s low on oil should keep in mind how low maintenance electric hybrids are.
“There’s no oil, no radiator, no exhaust system,” he said. “All those things that require maintenance are gone.”
If that sounds tempting, Thomason said it gets even better.
“There’s four great things about an electric vehicle,” he said. “The first thing is speed. You start it up and you just go. It’s more fun.
“The second big thing is it’s cleaner,” he added. “Electricity over time is getting cleaner.”
Third, rising gas prices – currently above $3 a gallon – will make these cars seem even more appealing in the near future, he added.
“The thing that’s really going to change people’s minds is gas prices,” he said. “We’ll see $4 a gallon gas this year — at least, that’s my projection.”
Electric chargers, on average, are four times cheaper than fueling up at the gas pumps, he said.
“The last big thing is energy independence,” he said. “We get 60 percent of our oil from somebody else. You’ll never have to go to a gas station, you’ll never have to pump fuel again.”
Thomason gave a presentation on electric vehicles on Wednesday during the monthly meeting of the Building and Office Manager’s Association’s Orlando chapter, held at the Sorosis Club in downtown Orlando.
There are four kinds of electric vehicles being manufactured now, he said. They include the Hybrid Electric Vehicle, the Plug-In Hybrid – which can go for five to 20 miles on batteries alone – the Extended Range Hybrid – which Thomason called “the smartest hybrid design, an electric car with an onboard generator” – and the Battery Electric Vehicle.
“It’s like a golf cart with air conditioning,” he said. “Only, they go much faster. They move right away.”
The Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus, Fisher Kama luxury car and mid-sized Chevy Volt are among the hybrids being built right now, he said.
“The Nissan Leaf is actually hitting the streets right now,” he said. “You’ll be able to rent this car at Hertz and other car rental agencies.”
Motorists who opt to buy a hybrid will get a $7,500 tax credit toward the purchase, Thomason said, and “Everyone who gets a car will get a level one charger. It’s a small circuit that charges six miles an hour. Most of the chargers will be used at home, but you can also do it at school or at work.”
To make the concept even more accessible, “There will be free rechargers on the highway,” making it easy for those who forgot to recharge the night before, he said.
“You don’t need to do it all day,” he said. “And you can find rechargers on your Iphone. They’ll show you where they’re at.”
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