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Electric Cars: Is The U.S. Really Ready For Them?

Wednesday, 23 Jul 2008 | 9:00 AM ET
Electric Car Prototype
Project Better Place
Electric Car Prototype

In the last two days we've seen a slew of news reports about the development of electric cars that show just how much interest is building for the next generation of "clean cars."

Whether it's GM working with electric utility companies or Nissanteaming up with the state of Tennessee to push a network of re-charging stations around the state the message is the same: electric cars are coming and we better be ready.

Don't laugh, but I think the bigger question right now is not whether the automakers will deliver the electric cars, but if we as a country will be ready. The nation's power grid is sorely in need of being updated. In many areas it's pushed to the limit, especially during high use times like the summer months. Remember a few years ago when there were rolling brownouts in California? Now just imagine if thousands of people are plugging in their cars to re-charge. You get the idea. We are headed towards a potential problem with power grids being over-taxed.

It's a smart move for the automakers to start working now with the government and utility companies developing that infrastructure. When electric cars are ready to take off, the automakers do not want potential buyers to say, "Well, how will I re-charge my car if I'm on a road trip?"

The transition from gas to fuel cells to electricity will carry enough hurdles that we shouldn't make things tougher by not having the infrastructure needed. Heck, look at how slow it is to get gas stations to put in ethanol pumps. If those owners are slow to add ethanol, you see why Hydrogen has a steep hill to climb. Will re-charging stations face the same resistance?

This is not my way of saying that I don't think electric cars will work. Having seen what I've seen with the Chevy Volt I am more convinced than ever before that the technology we need to power these cars will be ready. And over time it should only get better. Now let's make sure the grid, the government, and the company's needed to support electric cars are ready for their arrival.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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