Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Yes Virginia—The Electric Car Is Coming

Chevy Volt

As I have spent the last two weeks preparing for the Detroit Auto Show, which starts this Sunday, it's become clearer than ever to me the electric car is coming and coming fast.

It's not just because of the test drive I took in the Chevy Volt on Wednesday. No, the reason is because I see just how charged up and how much money auto makers are spending developing these cars.

As I have said for some time, all of the auto companies are working on building a line of electric vehicles. Some have clearly been more public and enthusiastic than others, but that is changing.

What was once an interesting exercise in preparing for the day when Americans are ready to go electric on the road, has turned into a land grab, with everyone racing to be first with "THE" mass market electric car people will clamor to buy. In other words, everyone wants the next Prius. They want "THE" model that will become synonymous with owning an electric car, just as Prius became "THE" hybrid to own.

So what's changed? Why do many auto makers now see light at the end of the electric car tunnel?

First, battery technology is advancing so quickly that these cars are delivering the power and performance buyers will demand. As I told you after driving the Volt on Wednesday, this car moves. I have had a similar experience with other electric prototypes I've driven recently.

Second, The publicity behind the Volt is creating anticipation with the public for electric cars. Sure, GM is hoping that when people finally go electric in the next 4-6 years they will look for a Volt, but in a broader context the "Volt-talk" has people warming to the idea of plugging in their car at night.

Finally, as I and other auto journalists drive electric prototypes, the word is spreading that these future models are not weird science projects. Forget the Jetsons and think about the every day family sedan. That's what's coming.

We're not quite to the electric car age, and yes there are still many hurdles to clear, but get ready because it's coming.

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Questions?  Comments?