Is there a surge for electric cars on the horizon?

Tudor Melville shows off some of the features of his 2013 Tesla Model S. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

Tudor Melville shows off some of the features of his 2013 Tesla Model S. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - Jerry Asher is one of the early adopters of the electric vehicle movement that could transform Route 66 into the Electric Highway.

They're far more efficient than "ice machines," the moniker he gives cars with internal combustion engines that spew tons of pollutants into the air each year.

And they're using "homegrown American electrons," Asher told about 30 people Saturday morning at the International Route 66 Festival symposium at Mohave County Administration Building. "We don't import electrons."

Asher, a Tucson resident who founded Plug'N All Around AZ, explained the advantages of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars.

They're convenient, they get higher gas mileage and they're good for the environment, he said. They're still priced on the high side, but they start paying for themselves immediately in gas and maintenance savings, Asher noted.

Will they replace the rumbling V8 machines that define Route 66?

Not completely, but they're setting a new standard, said Tudor Melville of the Tesla Owners Group. He brought his $100,000 Tesla for display at the festival's electric car exhibit and talked about technological advances that are shaping the industry.

Batteries are getting cheaper, lasting longer and weighing less.

"Technology is changing by the hour. It really is," Melville said. "They're working on the next generation and then they'll work on the next generation. In eight years, what is battery technology going to look like?"

Several states, including Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, are bidding on the Tesla gigafactory that will manufacture batteries and employ about 6,500 workers.

"I've got to believe battery costs will come down," Melville said. "Look at solar. It's changing every three or four years. I'm sure they're going to come out with some way to recycle batteries, grinding them up."

Tesla is coming out with a third-generation car that will sell for around $35,000, compared with today's cost of $70,000 to $100,000, he said. The company plans to expand from 105 charging stations around the country to more than 400 within the next few years.

The knock on electric cars has been that they're slow, boring and run out of power after 100 miles. They'll never be accepted by hot-rodders on Route 66.

John Wayland of Oregon changed that image with White Zombie, a Datsun 1200 that he converted into a screaming electric car that zips from 0 to 60 mph in 1.8 seconds.

"We went to an electric car show in Phoenix and crashed the party," Wayland said at the festival symposium. "We were smoking the tires and getting sideways and pretty much being disruptive. That's where we started electric drag racing."

Bob Oldfather owns 10 electric vehicles, some dating back to the turn of the century. At one time, electric cars were running "neck and neck" with gas-powered cars, he said. There were hundreds of companies experimenting with them, including a lot of carriage companies.

"There was no electricity across the country. That's what really stalled them. Then came World War I and World War II and there went our lead and copper," he said.

Economics are forcing automakers, taxi cab companies, hotels and motels and architects and engineers to incorporate electric vehicles into their business plans, said Randy Garcia of Verdek, an electric vehicle station provider.

"The economics of owning an electric vehicle are real," he said. "We've crossed the chasm and now we're in the bowling alley phase with the ball rolling down and knocking over pins that are the obstacles. Soon we'll hit the tornado phase where everyone has to have one, like flat-screen TVs. Eventually it hits Main Street and everyone has one or two."