By Jim Motavalli
12:40 PM EDT, May 8, 2013
If electric cars are to succeed, they need to be more visible. Only approximately 50,000 were sold nationwide last year, and that means that, everywhere but California, they're still pretty much under the radar. I've long believed that car buyers are motivated by emotions and what their neighbors do, so it would be nice if the Jones' next door were driving electric.
Some of them are, and the idea of using a battery vehicle for commuting is slowly gaining acceptance. But it's slow. New Canaan-based dealer Leo Karl III tells me that sales of the Chevrolet Volt have hit a plateau recently. Nissan reduced the price and added features to jolt sales, now the rest of the market needs a boost. Hey, what about some kind of a competition? They say that if you "race on Sunday, you'll sell on Monday."
Gentlemen (and gentlewomen), start your engines (or, motors). Even though I grew up in town, there are parts of Westport I've never seen before. But I saw them last week, as a navigator on the Westport Electric Car Club's EV Road Rally. More than 30 Volts, Leafs, Model S, Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Ford C-Max Energi and Smart Electric Drives took part in the rather leisurely rally, which wound through leafy lanes and along Westport's historic and moneyed Gold Coast.
I was partnered with the aforementioned Leo Karl III in his Volt, and we had the good fortune to come in second. The winner was Bruce Becker, a Westport architect, driving his beloved BMW ActiveE. Becker tells me he's through with gas cars, even using his EV for trips to New Haven and Hartford. His daily commute is only eight miles, so no strain on his battery range. The BMW was the star, but the placings didn't matter. Everybody had a nice time, and the point was made that EVs could be both fun and practical.
The idea for the rally came from club president Leo Cirino, and from members such as Robin Tauck, who had taken her Tesla (one of two she owns now) to the 2011 CO2 Rally in New York City. I was there, too, driving a Nissan Leaf. Midtown Manhattan is a long way from Westport, but the point is the same — showing off the cars and what they can do. "I was really delighted at how our rally turned out," Tauck said. "It was a huge group effort with many unknowns." Some 33 cars were entered, including many last-minute entries.
After a stop at Fairfield's Earth Day, the rally concluded at the Blu Parrot Restaurant just off I-95. In a bittersweet coda, the Parrot closed just days later, proving the fragility of all human enterprise. And speaking of codas, electric car company Coda Automotive declared bankruptcy the same week, after selling just 100 cars. Fisker is, undoubtedly, close behind.
Not all electric car companies will make it. EVs aren't going to take over the roads tomorrow. But events like this help them grab a foothold they're not likely to relinquish.
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