Sacramento’s history with electric cars is almost as historic as its history with railroads. Starting in the early 1890s, Sacramentans began to ride electric street cars to get around town. Steam-powered trolley cars were used a decade earlier in places like Germany, Australia and New Zealand. The first cable cars on tracks debuted in San Francisco in the 1870s. The first electric street cars in America began to appear about six years before they arrived in Sacramento. An electric rail within Sacramento that ran from Chico to Oakland called the Sacramento Northern Railway served residents from the early 1900s to the 1960s. It was kind of like light rail. Then for awhile electric cars disappeared from local pop culture.
Part of the explanation as to why electric cars didn’t take over by the 1990s is explained in the film Who Killed the Electric Car? Basically, the oil establishment and automakers simply were stuck on oil and wanted to keep it the status quo, despite a growing appetite for electric cars that corresponded with rising gas prices. California even passed laws that required automakers to offer electric cars, although those laws were overturned with the help of oil and auto industry lobbyists. Another problem was that the technology simply was not efficient for individual car owners. Yet, electric rail systems seemed to always make economic sense from the early days of modern mass transportation. Sacramento Regional Transit began in 1973 and introduced the current electric light rail system in 1987.
Now in the 21st century a renewed interest in electric cars is developing in the "Emerald City." Even though electric car development is still not where consumers want it to be in terms of quality and price, there have been major advancements in the past five years, as the latest SacTV.com video about the future of electric cars in Sacramento examines. The most talked about affordable hybrid developments have come from car makers such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford and GM. Tesla Motors from Silicon Valley has been a pioneer in top rated electric vehicles, but they still cost over $60,000, which isn’t in line with affordability for most Sacramentans. The U.S. Department of Energy announced in 2012, though, that they want to see $10,000 electric cars within ten years.
Racing to beat this deadline is a new company in Sacramento called K1 Speed, which celebrated its grand opening this past January. The entertainment center, located on Bradshaw Road near Folsom Boulevard, replaced the indoor raceway’s gas go karts with emissions-free electric go karts. That means you can now enjoy indoor go kart racing without breathing in unhealthy exhaust. K1 has 16 other facilities around the nation using electric powered karts that can reach maximum speeds of about 45 miles per hour. After visiting the facility last week, I am convinced that electric cars are here to stay regardless of price or battery issues. K1 is simply a fun place for all ages, introducing Sacramento culture to the fun side of green energy.
The biggest problem with green energy so far is that it hasn’t made much of a mark in pop culture until now. Many people do not become familiar with technology unless it’s constantly talked about in major media. But the more we see the enertainment world turn green, the more our culture will accelerate toward better energy efficiency and take an interest in the green revolution. What’s interesting about K1 Speed is that it’s also set up with a second floor of conference rooms, which are ideal for business meetings and conventions. Having meetings at a green facility is another way to support the green revolution.
The price of electric cars will eventually come down the way computer prices and solar panels have sharply dropped over the years. You can already buy small electric karts for under $500 or golf kart size vehicles for under $15,000. The main development that will attract more electric car buyers will be stronger batteries and more charging stations up and down the state as the electric car revolution develops. A decade ago automobile experts said the electric car was hundreds of years away from mainstream popularity, but now the thinking is closer to a decade away. It will be interesting to see how sped up this timeline will be five years from now. According to SMUD DIrector Bill Slaton in an interview with KVIE Channel 6, the cost of recharging an electric car from a SMUD charging station will be closer to the equivalent of $1 per gallon than the current cost of gasoline, which is around $4 per gallon.