Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hybrids add buzz to St. Louis Auto Show

Hybrids add buzz to St. Louis Auto Show 

Sure, those sleek, sporty Corvettes drew second looks and the row of Camaros were magnets for muscle-car aficionados who strolled through Chevrolet's display space at the St. Louis Auto Show. But just as many car enthusiasts — if not more — gathered midday Thursday around the $41,000 Chevy Volt, the automaker's new entry into the electric car market. With a $7,500 federal tax credit, the car begins to approach affordability for consumers looking to shed their own oil dependence.
"It's been overwhelming," said Tricia Opper, a Chevrolet product specialist.
Within the next year or so, St. Louis can expect to see at least two electric vehicles — the Volt and the Nissan Leaf, which has a suggested list price of $25,280 to $26,580 after the tax credit. Chevrolet and Nissan have 2011 models of their electric cars on display at the auto show.
Attendees can get behind the wheel of a Volt — or a handful of hybrids — this week at the EcoCity area inside America's Center. EcoCity features a small track and other environmental-friendly booths.
Larry Kinder of Lily Pad EV of Overland Park, Kan., said his company is the Kansas and Missouri distributor of Coulomb Electric Vehicle Charging Stations, which the company hopes will serve future electric car owners.
"These charging stations will just become furniture in parking lots, along the street, on light poles, shopping centers, theaters, restaurants, in parking garages," Kinder said. "Everybody will charge at home at night. They'll drive to work, plug in. Drive to shopping centers, plug in. And off they go."
Kinder, who is on a list to get one of the first Nissan Leafs in Kansas City, possibly by this summer, said the demand for electric cars is being fed by an auto industry trying to claw its way out of a slump and the heavier emphasis on sustainability and oil independence.
Other automakers are getting their electrics to market, too, he said. An electric Ford Focus will debut later this year, and Toyota will have a plug-in Prius and Rav4.
Karl Brauer, senior analyst said the rush to meet higher fuel-efficiency requirements has spawned research and development in electric and hybrid cars. Soaring gas prices woke people up as well, Brauer said in an telephone interview. Despite the noise around hybrids and electrics, he said, domestic sales of perennial favorite trucks and SUVs have surged dramatically in the past six months.
Ron Jackson of unincorporated St. Louis County drove the Chevy Volt two laps around the EcoCity track and was impressed with the ride. But he won't likely buy one.
"There are only two reasons I wouldn't do it," Jackson said "It's very expensive. You start in at $41,000 before you do anything to it. And the second thing is I am a Harley rider, and I tow my Harley. You cannot tow with it."
Nissan officials were busy answering consumer questions about the 2011 Leaf on Thursday during the first day of the show. Most wanted to know about the charging system and the battery range, said Aric Shimkus, a Nissan representative, who predicted the Leaf will begin appearing in St. Louis by early 2012.
The distance a car can roam before recharging its lithium ion battery varies, he said, and can reach 130 miles.
Chris Adelmann, executive vice president of the St. Louis Auto Dealers Association and the auto show, said eco-friendly driving is a distinct industry trend.
"Is the market out there right now in St Louis? No," Adelmann said. "Because they don't have the charging stations set up yet. Now they are working on getting those put in businesses and stuff like that so people can start buying cars like the Volt and the Nissan Leaf and some of the others that are coming out."
About 400,000 people attend the auto show each year, Adelmann said, and he expects attendance to exceed that this year with the first year of the EcoCity.
He predicted many will want to see the 2011 Bugatti Veyron on display. The $2.5 million supersport is capable of reaching a top speed of 267 mph.
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