Green

The curious story of electric cars and Texas

When people think of Texas, there are always certain stereotypes that come up — cowboys, twangs, conservative politics, boots, guns, and big, gas-guzzling trucks.

While some stereotypes are rooted in truth, Texas can surprise you. Like when people actually visit a major city and realize that most Texans are neither cowboys nor all heavily accented. Or when a former Texas oilman becomes a champion for clean energy.

Even with these things in mind, I’m still sometimes surprised by how much Texas differs from my idea of it. The latest surprise involves electric cars. According to a Pike Research report, Dallas and Houston are expected to be in the top six “early adopter” cities for electric cars in the U.S. by 2017 (see chart below).

They’re joined by two obvious contenders, the Los Angeles and New York areas, which are expected to lead the nation in electric car adoption. Coming in at a distant third is the Chicago area, and Philadelphia is also on the list.

The projects are based in part on hybrid ownership and manufacturer rollouts. While you do see Priuses around here, Texas isn’t on the initial release list for the Nissan Leaf, though it will be one of the first cities in which the Ford Focus Electric will be launched later this year.

Power plant company NRG, which owns major Texas electricity retailers Green Mountain Energy and Reliant, is investing $10 million in a privately funded electric car charging network in Houston called evGO, which offers monthly plans that allow drivers to charge at stations that will be placed all over the city. CEO David Crane made the argument to VentureBeat last year about why Texas is a good market for electric cars, even despite the urban sprawl and gas prices that are usually on the low side of the national average.

As our editorial partners at Green Car Reports pointed out, though, Texas has two faces: On one hand, it could be a leader in electric car adoption. On the other hand, as John Voelcker writes, “There’ll always be Texas” when he argues that gas guzzlers will never go away. He points out that Chevrolet Suburbans used to sell half their annual production in Texas alone.

Still, if reports are right, times are a-changing. And if electric cars can catch on in places like Texas and Pennsylvania, then there’s a good chance they can eventually be embraced in other places too.

In fact, I’m writing this from the patio of a coffee shop in Houston, which faces a small parking lot. In this lot right now, I count three compact to mid-size sedans, four SUVs (and whaddya know, one of them’s a Suburban) and one big, honkin’ truck.

But … a white Toyota Prius just whizzed down the street. One of the SUVs just left. And in its place parked another Prius.

[Top image via Flickr/aechempati]