What do Texans know about electric cars? Quite a bit it turns out.
I spent Friday and Saturday in Austin at their Climate Protection Conference and Expo. Fellow Plug In America board member, Marc Geller, and I set up our booth and spent two days talking non-stop to Texans about plug-in cars and renewable energy. We also spoke on two panels, Marc spoke about the cars themselves and I spoke on a panel about charging infrastructure.
Having grown up in San Antonio, I remember how conservative Texans were in general, so I fully expected to encounter some push back on our positions regarding EVs. On the contrary, with one notable exception*, everyone we met was as hungry for EVs as we were. The only difference was that they had not yet learned about the coming plug-ins. It was our job to inform them. Once told of the auto industry's rapid move toward electrification, you could feel their excitement grow.
I was struck with the pervasive desire to quash our addiction to oil and replace it with a healthy reliance on renewable energy. The demand for plug-ins is not just on the two coasts, Americans everywhere want them.
My previous statements, that the market for plug-ins is much larger than the automakers think, were borne out in our conversations with these Texans. To a person, they were desperate to move away from oil. Granted, we were in Austin, the most liberal city in the state, but not everyone at the conference was from Austin. We met people from San Antonio, Dallas and Houston and they were all the same. They couldn't wait for the opportunity to drive on electricity.
"We can now see a clear path to having thousands -- even hundreds of thousands -- of zero-emission vehicles on Texas roads in the next several years," said Jason Few, president of Houston-based Reliant Energy. The local utility, Austin Energy, has been a leader in wind energy with the nation's highest percentage of wind in a municipal utility grid mix. Their understanding of the benefits from plug-in cars goes back many years to the inception of their Plug In Partners program. Using that strong west Texas wind and the plentiful sunshine to replace the 60% foreign oil in every gallon of gas makes sense to everybody.
The only downside here is that most Texans are going to have to wait a bit longer to get the cars because the GM Volt roll out will be limited to California, at least for the first few months, and Nissan's announced plans for the Leaf are mostly for a West Coast roll out with some cars going to Arizona and Tennessee. I recently heard that Nissan has agreed to supply Houston with a few Leafs from the initial manufacturing run. This is a good idea since Texans are hot for EVs. Marc and I told them repeatedly to contact their local GM and Nissan Dealers in Austin and request they get them as soon as possible. From a marketing viewpoint, getting these cars in the hands of outspoken early adopters will go a long way toward preparing the ground for others. Word of mouth will be strong.
I think the nervousness from the OEMs about the market for plug-ins is misplaced. What we're seeing in Texas and elsewhere seems to be prevalent. I honestly think their problem will be keeping up with demand.
I want to personally thank Chad Schwitters of Seattle, Brett Conrad of Santa Monica and Peter van Deventer of the Netherlands for their generous contributions to help defray the costs of my trip. Our membership continues to grow, allowing Plug In America to further educate info-hungry drivers on the benefits of going electric and preparing them for the change.
Also, thanks to Renee Nguyen of Texas Is Hot for taking the picture of our booth at the top. And Marc Geller gets credit for the picture below.
* The notable exception mentioned above is my very own brother, Harrel, who lives a short drive from Austin. He drove up to see me on his motorcycle, instead of his giant SUV. I took that as a good sign:~)
I'll consider my work done when he is driving on electricity.