Muscle cars of tomorrow? Electric cars could be the hot ride in coming years

For most Americans raised in the age of Detroit’s heyday, the purr and powerful rumble of a gasoline-powered 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge, a 1968 Ford Mustang Boss 429, Chevy’s Camaro, Pontiac’s Firebird or the Dodge Charger, till resonate deep in our souls.
The Beach Boys captured America’s love affair with their cars in the 1950s and ’60s with top 40 songs like “Mustang Sally,” “409” and “Little Deuce Coupe.” It was a time for cruising the strip, revving up engines and gassing up on 30 cent a gallon gas (yep, the average price per gallon in 1968 was 34 cents.)
Nowhere in that American psyche of the day were we imagining a quiet riding, sleek vehicle powered by batteries charged by electricity via a standard outlet at home.
Fifty-five years later, we are — though the idea of the Chevy Volt replacing the muscle cars of the 1960s stretches the imagination.
Nonetheless, it is a new era and Tesla’s Model 3, unveiled just last week, has caused a buzz in the automotive world. More than 200,000 Americans lined up at Tesla dealerships in just four days to put down $1,000 deposits for the arrival of the new car — due to hit the retail market in 2017.
What’s the big deal? Mainly the price has dropped from what had been out of reach at $100,000-plus, to a more modest $35,000.
As importantly, Tesla’s Model 3, and Chevrolet’s new Volt, have dramatically upped the distance the cars get on a single-charge — from 70-115 miles to 250-plus miles. For commuters, getting above the 200-mile mark appears to spell the relief they needed to feel comfortable out on their hour-long commutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The trend is exciting, and other automakers are getting in on the action. Ford has an electric car in development, General Motors has the Bolt, Toyota’s new plug-in Prius Prime has excited plenty of interest, and Nissan has its popular Leaf. With all the new development, the electric car market is getting large enough to move beyond the fringe.
And then there is this: The new Tesla can knock you back in your seat when you stomp on the, errr, foot pedal. The car will hit 0-60 mph in under four seconds, not as fast as a Daytona 500 racecar, but quick enough.
Oh, and there’s the part about saving the world from climate change. It emits no carbon dioxide or other pollutants from burning fossil fuels. That’s no small deal in a world increasingly confronted by climate-related disasters.
But that’s not all. Charging stations around the nation are sprouting up everywhere. Rural Vermont is a case in point.
Green Mountain Power has expanded its network of charging stations to 38, and there are now more than 122 charging stations throughout the state — including four in Middlebury, making the drive up and down the state’s Western Corridor easily accessible. And the charging stations themselves can now complete an 80-percent charge on the battery in 25 minutes, meaning that in a new Tesla Model 3, a driver can go another 200 miles after a 25-minute charge — just time enough to complete a business meeting, do some shopping downtown or grab a quick cup of coffee and hit the road again.
(See accompanying story on Page 24 about charging stations, charging your electric vehicle at home, and how much it costs to fill-er-up on electricity.)
But before we get ahead of ourselves, electric car sales aren’t exactly booming.
Last year automakers sold fewer than 400,000 electric and hybrid vehicles in the U.S., even as the overall market soared to record sales of 17.5 million vehicles. Sales of trucks and SUVs attributed to most of the gains (spurred on by lower gasoline prices of late), which means America hasn’t yet given up on its love affair with a big, powerful engine tucked under the hood.
Low gas prices have worked against sales of electric cars, as has the ability of automakers to improve fuel efficiency in their gas-powered vehicles, but there is still plenty of pressure to keep the electric car movement pressing forward. Automakers must reach federal mandates that require overall fleet fuel efficiency to be at 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and many automakers are counting on their electric cars or hybrids to help meet that goal.
With lower prices now in the mid-$30,000 range and batteries that power cars past 250 miles per charge, the industry seems poised for steady gains in the year ahead — even if the purr and roar of the classic 409 is a distant memory.
See also: Explaining charging stations for EV’s, debunking myths.

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