Ditching the Pump, Plugging In

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The country is in the midst of the largest rollout ever of electric cars and the infrastructure needed to support them, as officials hope the country begins to ditch the pump and, instead, plug in.

"This is the technology of the future when it comes to automobiles," David Sandolow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, told ABC News.

The goal is to put more than 13,000 electric-drive vehicles and 20,000 chargers in more than 20 cities across the country in the next few years.

As part of the rollout, ECOtality North America was awarded a $99.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to embark on an the EV project to help electrify the country.

Officially launched on Oct. 1, 2009 and lasting approximately 36 months, the project will deploy nearly 15,000 charging stations in 16 cities in six states (Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Tennessee and Texas) and the District of Columbia. Nissan North America and General Motors/Chevrolet are partners in the EV Project.

Smaller projects also are going up around the country. Better Place, a company that builds battery-swapping stations to replace car batteries in less time than it takes to fill your tank up with gas, is in the planning stages to roll out infrastructure in the states of California and Hawaii.

President Obama has set a goal of having a million EVs on the road by 2015. Right now, buyers can enjoy a $7,500 federal tax credit if they buy one.

"This is the first time that electric vehicles have been rolled out to the mass market to Americans in showrooms for purchase," Sandalow told ABC News.

The Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced gas/electric hybrid vehicle, going global back in 2001. But now, a new generation of EVs soon will hit showrooms, including the Chevy Volt, another hybrid, and the Nissan Leaf, which runs entirely on electricity.

They work almost like a cell phone with batteries that take just a few hours to juice up using charging stations that officials hope to make as commonplace as gas stations, envisioning these devices lining our highways and garages.

Right now, most batteries will let motorists travel at least 40 miles, and some automakers claim theirs last a few hundred miles. But capacity is sure to improve with time and technology

The average driver travels less than 40 miles per day.

"For the majority of drivers, they can drive this car to work and back home every day and do what they need to, and be on all-EV," Stephen Martin, a Chevy Volt specialist, told ABC News.

Car rental giant Hertz has jumped on board, adding EVs to its rental fleet and car-sharing programs to give drivers a taste of what's to come.

"We think we can be the bridge between a lack of knowledge and that ultimate buying decision," Richard Broome, senior vice president of Hertz, told ABC News

But officials say one of the real advantages to electric cars is fuel economy. Gas prices are projected to reach $5 a gallon in the near future. But with an electric car, the equivalent cost is about 60 cents a gallon, a huge difference. Drivers can save thousands a year in fuel savings.

It will take time, of course, for the novelty of EVs to wear off and for Americans to change their gas-guzzling ways. But advocates say there are plenty of benefits to making the switch, including cutting pollution and creating jobs.

"Electric cars are patriotic, they help us get off foreign oil, they're quiet, they're fast and they're cheap to drive," Sandalow told ABC News. "These cars have a tremendous future, and the next two years are going to be the kickoff."