Hybrids, Electric Cars Becoming More Viable

Government credits, new dealerships, and why they look like that.

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    Watching an SUV traveling behind a Smart car whose brake lights have just lit up on a busy Dallas highway is enough to speed the heart rate a little. But soon drivers of our regional vehicle of choice – the monster SUV – will have to pay even more attention to little newcomers. Conditions are becoming favorable enough to make more people consider purchasing weird looking cars.

    Despite the idea’s many detractors, the high volume of sales at Green Vehicles of Dallas would indicate that people are finding them financially beneficial and a viable alternative to traditional transportation.

    "The demand far outweighs the production right now," said Dennis Wheeler, the owner with the delightfully apropos name.

    For this reason, he doesn’t have a physical car lot. "Our business is going to be demonstrators and giving test drives, and people will be just ordering their cars with us delivering them to the client," he said. They will also take reservations online and hold test drive events as more cars become available.

    He dismisses as "speculative" the objection that the cost of upkeep and repair will make them ultimately more costly than fossil-fueled cars. While most dealerships make most of their profit on maintenance and accessories, he said that with electric cars there is so little maintenance necessary that the only parts he carries are things like windshield wipers and light bulbs.

    Currently the only cars available are not legal on roads with a speed limit over 35 mph, but by summer the manufacturer will offer one that can go up to 75 mph.

    Further enticing North Texans toward new technology, even amid a financial crisis, is Gov. Rick Perry’s proposal made during his Jan. 27 State of the State address which allows for $5,000 to the first wave of buyers of new plug-in hybrid cars. A potential federal tax credit of $7,500 would further stimulate the market.

    Defraying the cost to such a degree helps nullify the argument that only the wealthy could afford the new economical technology. The cars typically run from the $35,000 to $40,000 range.

    Whether the tax credits will apply to all-electric vehicles will depend on how they’re structured, according to Chelsea Sexton, the former executive director of the electric vehicle advocacy group Plug In America.

    Though hybrid car sales are flagging along with the rest of the auto industry, Enterprise Rent-a-Car has more than doubled its fleet, adding 5,000 new vehicles. Hybrid cars are now available for rent in Dallas, and the company has recently opened two all-hybrid car lots in Austin.

    As far as to why they have to look so weird, it’s a combination of the symbolic turning of a page in technology and necessity -- they have to be light and ultra-aerodynamic to increase efficiency. 

    Holly is a writer from Dallas who also blogs for Examiner.com.