Electric cars get own room at Twin Cities Auto Show – TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press

Posted: Saturday, March 12, 2016

One of the major draws at the Twin Cities Auto Show this year is expected to be the Porsche 918 Spyder, a mean-looking dark gray two-seater that goes from 0 to 62 mph in 2.2 seconds and costs nearly $1 million — likely making it the priciest auto by far at the event.

The Spyder is also an electric car.

It is the main attraction in the show’s first-ever electric-car room, a sign the eco-friendly vehicles are getting new respect at the auto show, the biggest event to hit the Minneapolis Convention Center every year.

“There is a lot of interest in electric cars,” said Scott Lambert, executive vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, and the man in charge of the show for the past six years.

Great River Energy, a not-for-profit electricity cooperative with 28 electric-utility members around Minnesota, sponsors and operates the electric-car room.

Electric autos are not about to outsell gas cars anytime soon, of course. And electric-car sales have even dipped a bit as gasoline prices have dropped.

But just about every major car maker has an electric-car offering. And this year, show organizers opted to de-emphasize electric-gas hybrids and turn the spotlight on pure electrics.

“We used to have a ‘green’ room,” said Lambert, “but hybrid cars are not that unique anymore. Everyone has hybrids. So we created a room full of electric cars to help explain to consumers what it is about these cars.”

This is a thrilling development for local electric-car enthusiasts, who for the past few years have volunteered to evangelize the technology at the show but said they often ended up feeling a bit marginalized.

Ralph Jenson, a Minneapolis electric-car owner, said he felt like a freak as truck owners gave the ubiquitous electric-auto display blank, quizzical or even scornful looks. “It was really weird,” said Jenson, who drives a BMW i3.

Two years ago, the show’s the electric-car presence consisted only of a Nissan Leaf sedan and a sample of a public charger, both relegated to a corner. This certainly made sense at the time. Minnesotans love their trucks and buy them at a higher rate than the rest of the country, as Lambert has said over the years.

Now, Jenson and several dozen other electric-car owners are gearing up to be docents of a sort, signing up for shifts in the electric room to answer consumer questions.

The 10-or-so cars in the room, ranging from the Spyder roadster to the golf-cart-like Volkswagen e-Golf, have one capability in common: They can plug into an electrical outlet for recharging.

Some, including the Spyder and the Chevrolet Volt, have gasoline engines but can run on electricity alone. This makes them “plug-in hybrids,” which are different from conventional hybrids, which have electric along with gas propulsion but generate electricity by other means.

Other cars in the room, such as the Nissan Leaf, are pure plug-in electric vehicles with no gas-engine components.

Attendees won’t see Teslas, though. These high-end all-electric cars, created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk, aren’t sold through traditional dealers and therefore are vehicles non grata at a dealer-focused show.

The Porsche 918 Spyder was lent to the show by its local owner, who wants to stay anonymous.

Electric cars “are the coolest cars in the world,” said David Ranallo of Great River Energy. Interest in electric cars is at an all-time high, said Ranallo, but “adoption is painfully slow.”

“We think the biggest stumbling block is awareness about how electric cars really work and how you use them,” Ranallo said. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there about limited range, when in fact electric cars work for a lot of people to drive to and from work, and to run errands.”

Charging an electric car is very affordable, added Ranallo, particularly if it is plugged in at off-peak hours. And electric-car owners can work with their utilities to ensure their power comes from renewable sources, like wind and solar.

Great River Energy runs just such an electric-car renewable-energy program, called Revolt, on behalf of its member utilities. Several of those utilities operate in the metro area, though none in the city of St. Paul.

This is all a bit astonishing to Lambert, who acknowledges he is not the biggest electric-car expert in the world. But even he knows that electric cars are not all that fantastical anymore.

“The cars are meant for mass consumption,” he said.


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