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Madison's Green Drive Expo puts spotlight on electric cars
Thomas Content
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Chelsea Sexton - Plugged In

When automakers shelved plans for electric vehicles and destroyed them rather than allowing consumers to own them, Chelsea Sexton left General Motors and took up the "EV" cause.

Sexton became known for her activism in the 2006 movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?" The film includes footage of experimental plug-ins being crushed after automakers stopped leasing the vehicles.

Sexton, an advisor to the group Plug In America, comes to Wisconsin this week to address hybrid enthusiasts and people curious about electric vehicles during the Green Drive Expo in Madison.

In an interview Tuesday, Sexton said the industry has come a long way, with Nissan and Chevrolet poised to introduce all-electric cars late this year.

"We're going to see a lot of skinned knees along the way and lessons learned, and that kind of thing," she said. "But the best part is the sheer variety of vehicles that are coming, and they're no longer dependent on one or two manufacturers. There are dozens of plug-ins and electric cars that are shown at every auto show now."

Sexton will also get her first chance in years to be behind the wheel of one of those early electric vehicles, called EV1s - the University of Wisconsin-Madison's hybrid vehicle team has one of the EV1s that never got crushed. The team routinely tears down and rebuilds hybrids and will have its EV1 at the expo.

The event, now in its fifth year, will feature plug-in hybrids made by Toyota Motor Corp. and a fuel-cell vehicle also making its Wisconsin debut, said expo founder Eric Powers.

"Toyota will be letting people test-drive the Prius plug-in hybrid," Powers said. "This is the first time they'll be in Wisconsin."

Ford Motor Co. will have an electric Focus sedan and an Escape plug-in hybrid. And for those who want to check out the most expensive electric car around, some all-electric Tesla Roadsters will be there as well.

Also present at the expo: Madison Gas & Electric Co., which last year was awarded a federal stimulus grant that will fund installation of charging stations for plug-in hybrids around Madison. MG&E will be talking with hybrid owners and those interested in buying plug-ins about the types of public places where consumers would like to see charging stations installed, according to Powers.

Powers said he expects attendance of at least 8,000 during the weekend.

"The reality is with gas being under $3, it doesn't always put these things to the forefront of people's minds, even though there are these amazing vehicles coming out," he said.

But automakers continue to tout the fuel economy of their vehicles in their advertising, and electric vehicles to be sold by Nissan and Chevrolet are due out late this year.

Sexton said consumers are more concerned about being vulnerable to volatile gas prices than they are about the price at the pump. "Moving toward hybrid and plug-in vehicles eases that vulnerability in people's minds. It creates self-sufficiency if I can plug it in in my own garage and not have to worry about gas prices."

The BP oil spill is also stirring awareness, she said.

"It's driving a climate politically in which policies that were already wanted and in the works can actually have a chance of passing," Sexton said.

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