I do a radio show on WPKN (listener-supported, 89.5) Radio in Bridgeport, and I'm celebrating my 40th anniversary on the air this year. In that time I've had frequent occasion to talk to the Connecticut public during call-in shows, and I think I've gotten a pretty good sense of where people are at in regards to the cars they drive.
In Connecticut, we're nowhere near as car-obsessed as our friends in California, but the Nutmeg State (so named for the Yankee peddlers who sold carved pieces of wood as the then-treasured spice) is very entrepreneurial. Gustave Whitehead flew over Bridgeport, and Pope, Columbia, Locomobile and Trumbull are four early cars that were built in Connecticut. Our car production history didn't survive the 1920s, but if Colonel Albert Pope hadn't stuck with the electric car despite declining market share, Hartford might have become the Motor City instead of Detroit.
We're not going back to building cars, but we have a future in clean tech. Last week, I stood with Governor Dannel Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch in a restored brownfield in Bridgeport, where a zero-emission fuel-cell power plant is rising. This hydrogen-powered installation (the largest in North America) can provide electricity for 15,000 homes in Connecticut.
It's proof of the fuel cell's scalability that it can also power cars, and the first commercial hydrogen cars will be on the road in 2014 and 2015 (initially priced around $100,000). The Bridgeport cells—all 14.9 megawatts of them, in five units—are being built in Connecticut by Fuel Cell Energy of Danbury.
Connecticut fuel-cell and hydrogen companies include FCE, Proton Onsite, Avalence and (until late last year) United Technologies. We have hosted one of the few fleets of fuel-cell cars, Toyota Highlanders based at Proton in Wallingford. I say all of this to point out that the state is once more in the center of a technological revolution, as we were when the horseless carriage was the new kid on the block.
Back to the radio station. The folks on WPKN's "Car Bob Show" carried busloads of passionate listeners down to the New York International Auto Show in March. People call in about all kinds of arcane things. There's a real breadth of knowledge and interest in all things automotive out there in radioland. Did you know that the Locomobile was built only blocks from WPKN's base in the South End of Bridgeport?
No, I don't think Connecticut will succeed Michigan as a center of auto manufacturing, but it has a toehold in tomorrow's technology and is likely to become a parts supplier of note. At the Bridgeport event, Dan Esty, the state environmental commissioner, said that renewable energy investment in Connecticut is up 10-fold since Malloy took office.