Austin Leads Charge for Plug-in Hybrids

Municipal leaders in Texas’ capital city, Austin, announced the formation of a new coalition of city governments and electric utilities united to lobby automakers to step up production of a new breed of plug-in hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles. These new vehicles would allow drivers to charge up their batteries via wall sockets overnight and make their entire round trip commutes to work the next day using only electricity—and no gas whatsoever.

Austin is leading by example, offering to purchase as many as 600 of the plug-in hybrids—still on the drawing board at automakers—for its own municipal fleet once they are available. Backers of the so-called Plug-in Partners coalition are optimistic that several of the other American cities signed on as partners—including Baltimore, Denver, Arlington and Corpus Christi in Texas, Irvine and Los Angeles in California, and Seattle and Wenatchee in Washington state—will make similar commitments to help jumpstart the market for the new vehicles.

According to industry insiders, only DaimlerChrysler is nearing completion of a production-ready plug-in hybrid model in order to meet the needs of an unidentified fleet customer. The company’s forthcoming Sprinter van can reportedly run 20 miles solely on electric power at speeds up to 75 miles per hour. Toyota, the world leader in production of hybrid cars, has no immediate plans to release a plug-in version, claiming that the technology won’t be commercially viable for at least three years. Whether or not forthcoming pressure from the Plug-in Partners speeds up that process, however, is anybody’s guess.