Showing off future of fuel
• Photo gallery: 2010 First Hawaiian International Auto Show
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
On a bustling first day for the 2010 First Hawaiian International Auto Show, thousands of car lovers, swag grabbers and power window-shoppers jammed the Hawai'i Convention Center for a high-polish display of new vehicles and, perhaps, a glimpse of the not-too-distant future.
While visitors gravitated toward the familiar — truck folk on one side, high-performance sports car types on the other — all first had to pass Hawaiian Electric's centralized display dedicated to electric vehicles.
The display included a white Roadster — Tesla's $130,000 all-electric sports car — and a converted hybrid as well as informational booths for Better Place, Blue Planet Foundation, the Clean Cities Program, Hawai'i Electric Vehicle, GoSmart Technologies and the electric car advocacy group Plug In America.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand," said Plug In America president Dan Davids. "I've been doing shows like this for years and I've heard for a long time, 'My next car is going to have a plug on it.' "
Davids said the economic downturn forced the auto industry to reconsider what consumers want and to acknowledge the desire of consumers to "green their driving."
Electric car advocates see the coming year as a potentially pivotal one for American drivers with the scheduled introduction of two highly anticipated electric vehicles, the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the extended-range Chevrolet Volt, which combines electric and gasoline technologies.
"It's a major game-changer," said Davids, who uses as his everyday vehicle one of 800 all-electric Toyota Rav-4s.
Davids said state laws may need to be amended to address issues such as charging cars in condominiums and other residential complexes.
Brian Smith, co-owner of GoSmart Technologies, a Denver-based company that produces electric car chargers, said it takes time for people to get accustomed to the idea of driving a 100 percent electric vehicle.
"The average consumer wants to sort of ease into it," he said. "I think we're going to see the plug-in hybrid help people to ease into the all-electric vehicle."
GoSmart was one of four manufacturers of electric vehicle charging stations exhibiting in the HECO space.
Smith and his fellow charger manufacturers acknowledged that ongoing efforts to establish a charging infrastructure is crucial for individual, organizational and government acceptance of electric cars.
Lynn Onderko, 41, of 'Ewa Beach said she's researched electric vehicles and would consider buying one as a third family vehicle.
"For environmental reasons, mostly," she said. "I like that they produce zero emissions."
Don Nahaku of Honolulu came to the auto show just to see what was new, but he, too, said he was impressed with what he learned about electric vehicles.
He's already established his criteria for buying one:
"It has to be really cool, fast and quiet," he said, laughing.