SF Auto Show: Electric cars not an easy sell with cheap gas prices

A dazzling array of electric cars is this year’s stars of the San Francisco International Car Show, at Moscone Center, where attendees are taking to the streets in them.

Though there's an explosion of electric offerings, but they still have a long road to go before they're mainstream.

With the sole exception of a Tesla, Pacific Gas & Electric gathered many electric and plug-in hybrid cars so those attending the San Francisco International Auto Show could experience the cars for themselves.

"Most people are very surprised to see all the electric cars that are available," says Allyson Gaarder of the Center for Sustainable Energy.

"From multiple manufacturers. It's not just one manufacturer that's doing it. It's interactive," adds Kevin Diamond the SF International Auto Show Director.

At this very moment, there are 16 fully electric vehicles already on the market with more coming.  There are also 10 plug-in hybrids with a lot more coming. And, there are also, already on the market, four hydrogen fuel cells.

The chance to actually drive them on city streets was a hit today as it will be again tomorrow, final day of the electric test drive opportunity.

"I was actually quite impressed.  It's incredibly smooth acceleration and would be handy to drive around town, says show attendee Doug Anderson who drove a Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Even at today’s lower gas prices, electric is still a steal. "Customers charge off peak, over night, they can charge their vehicle at a dollar a gallon equivalent," says PG&E's Jason King.

Honda is showing it's all new, zero emission, and compressed hydrogen gas fuel cell with a 366 mile range. Like Toyota's Murai, these cars emit fresh water as exhaust, no pollution at all. The Honda is called the Clarity.

"It's available in December.  It's lease only. $370 a month, $2,500 down.  Now here are the fuel incentives: a $15,000 fuel card, 20,000 miles per year," Wesley Murphy, a Honda Fuel Cell expert.

The danger to all of this, according to critics is the Trump Administration.

They say he's oil industry friendly and may be unwilling to extend the necessary rebates needed to grow the population of alternative energy vehicles. 

"The rebate and also the HOV lane access are huge reasons why people go electric. I've talked to people, that they got their car because of the rebate," says Ms. Gaarder of the Center For Sustainable Energy.

But, electrics have yet to fully capture consumers' imaginations. "Even in California, it's only a tiny share of all the vehicles that are sold, says Severin Borenstein, UC Haas School of Business Energy Institute economist, who also says the reason for that is cheap gasoline.

"When oil prices are down in the 40 to 50 dollar range, it's a lot harder to justify electric vehicles than there they are in the $100, $120 a barrel range," says Professor Borenstein.

The auto show runs through the weekend including Thanksgiving Day.

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