If the movement toward hybrid gas-electric and all-electric cars becomes truly mainstream, as appears to be on the verge of happening within a few years, it will be due partly to the proselytizing fervor of people like Roger Imes, who along with his wife, Chris, owns Lorien Herbs & Natural Foods, at 1102 S. Perry.
The Imes own a 2007 LX 2.2 Zenn electric car, sold by the Zenn Motor Co., of Toronto, Ontario, and use it for all of their business needs and most of their personal inner-city driving. They bought the three-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback from a dealer in Ohio over the Internet, and Roger Imes says, "We enjoy living within the limitations of our minimal impact Zenn. In fact, we have shaped our everyday lives to fit within the limited range of 15 to 20 miles between a six-hour charge. In short, we love driving it, and we hardly drive anything else anymore."
He says he and his wife plan to install solar panels on the Zenn's roof at some point for charging purposes. "That way we can have close to a zero impact on our planet and yet we can still get around town."
Imes stopped by our offices a couple of months ago to chat about the Zenn (the name stands for zero emission, no noise) and electric cars in general, and to take me for a brief spin. Due to the Zenn's limited range and speed, it isn't able to serve all of a typical consumer's automotive needs, but Imes asserts that it's "the tip of the iceberg" of what's to come.
He points to a Web site called pluginamerica.org, that showson a plug-in vehicle tracker updated monthlya stunningly large and wide-ranging collection of highway-capable all-electric and gas-electric hybrid vehicles that manufacturers have developed and expect to begin marketing over the next several years.
The real positive for consumers, Imes asserts, is that electric vehicles cost less to build than combustion-engine vehicles, and those costs will come down further as sales volumes rise. The big business upheaval with electric vehicles, he predicts, will be a sharp reduction in the need for conventional service work, since there will be no oil changes, mufflers to replace, or coolant to worry about.
"EVs have a small number of moving parts that can go wrong, and so many folks now involved with car parts and repairs may be looking for something else to do," Imes says.
His personal prediction is that within 10 years most vehicles on American roads will have some component of electric propulsionthat is, they'll be either hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or full-electric vehicles. To many, his timetable might seem wildly optimistic, but clearly the industry transition already has been sweeping enough to make the popular 2006 documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" seem pass.
Here in the Northwest, the Portland Business Journal reported a couple of months ago that two Oregon companies are entering the high-stakes world of electric car manufacturing, boosting the state's effort "to become the Detroit of electric car manufacturing." Also, a Swiss battery maker announced it had chosen Portland as its U.S. headquarters to develop its rechargeable zinc battery technology for electric vehicles.
To be sure, there will be a lot of tire spinning and backsliding before the industry gains firm traction. A consultant quoted by the Portland Business Journal predicted it will take until 2030 for electric cars to account for 10 percent of global auto production. Locally, an electric car dealership that started up in nearby Post Falls two years ago already has shut down. Despite the challenges ahead, particularly related to improving battery technology, there's an undeniable sense that the era of the electric car finally has arrived.
If you need convincing, just ask Roger.
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