Honestly, I’m not that much of a car person.
But when I was in the parking lot of the Niagara Power Vista on Thursday, my heart started beating faster when a woman demonstrated how her Tesla car would come when it was called with just a click on her key fob. It’s called “summoning.”
I saw it happen when I was getting into another Tesla to take a test drive, following a demonstration held for employees of New York State Power Authority in advance of a similar event open to the public on Saturday.
A woman clicked her key fob and another Tesla pulled forward silently and slowly, like a well-trained dog. I hadn’t even driven the Tesla yet, and I thought of a saying the kids use today: “Mind blown.” Mine was.
It was an episode of “The Jetsons” come to life. This was my first glimpse of such a crazy thing. Apparently self-driving cars drive better and more carefully than real drivers.
But I wasn’t there to learn about the very cool Teslas and self-driving cars, although that was part of the deal. The exhibition I was visiting was part of a state program called Evolve NY, designed to encourage drivers to choose electric cars.
Chris Alan, publisher of Electric Car Insider, who travels the U.S. to help educate the public about electric cars, was fresh from the Evolve NY booth at the New York State Fair. He and his staff have been brought in by New York Power Authority to lead such events in conjunction with state efforts to open minds about electric cars.
“The emission reductions are directly related to reducing air pollution,” said Lielle Berman, senior project coordinator for sustainability for NYPA. “In New York state we have very ambitious emissions reductions targets that Governor Cuomo has set. We have to reduce overall emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and by 85 percent by 2050 and we have to generate all our electricity from renewable sources by 2040.”
To do that, more drivers have to embrace the idea of electric cars, many of which, like the Tesla, come with sexy enhancements like the ability to self-drive.
Enhancements aside, the electric cars are about cleaning up our dirty air.
“Not addressing climate change is a lot more expensive than addressing it,” Berman told me. And there are so many consumer benefits, she said, in the way of cost savings, convenience, greater life cycle and an increasing number of charging stations throughout the state and the nation. The public simply needs to know more. Hence, Saturday’s event where a variety of electric cars will be available to test drive.
I asked about how some people worry about charging cars, which might run out of juice in the middle of a cross-country drive and Berman suggested people compare it to cell phone use. “We don’t worry about our phones dying so much because we charge them when we sleep, and for an electric vehicle, we’re going to charge it when we’re idle.”
The Power Authority offers free charging stations to employees who own electric cars. And the state is building out a fast-charging network throughout New York as more drivers get on board.
Depending on the car, an electric engine can get 200 to 300 miles per charge, with a Tesla Model S getting the most thus far, up to 370 miles per charge. The state already has a fast-charging network, with stations about 50 miles apart on thruways for ease of use, leading the way for other states.
While I was there, I chatted with several people, including car owners so enthusiastic about electric cars that they are allowing their automobiles to be driven by visitors on Saturday.
I drove with Mark Robertson of Rochester, who shared both his passion for the environment and for his Tesla. The car, complete with what appears to be a large computer screen on the dash that fills you in on everything you want to know about driving, moves a bit like an electric golf cart. You lift your foot off the gas and it immediately slows nearly to a stop. Once you get used to that, it drives like a dream with super-responsive steering. He told me it can be programed to self-drive, simply by downloading the program onto the onboard computer. Robertson’s car is not self-driving yet, as he has not purchased auto-pilot, but I’m told his Tesla would have alerted me anyway if I got too close to pedestrians or other cars.
“This car does not let you do anything unsafe,” Robertson told me proudly. Tesla cars are the safest cars on the road, he said, adding, “They’re built like tanks.”
So it’s clear that electric cars can be cool, like all new technology, but the important thing is they are also environmentally responsible, said Chris Alan, the aforementioned publisher of Electric Car Insider, who is coordinating the event for the state.
“When you realize people have COPD because of car pollution and your car is part of that and that we all bear some responsibility for that, when that registers and you know you can opt out of that and you can drive a car that does not pollute, that’s a big deal for a lot of people,” Alan told me.
I didn’t have a chance to drive the other cars, as I arrived late to the event. But those who would like their own test drive of a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Bolt/Chevy Volt, which is half-hybrid, half-battery, can attend the Electric Vehicle Ride & Drive event being held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of the Power Vista, and they can see for themselves. Visit electriccarguestdrive.com/lewiston to register.