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USA: As gas prices rise, Tampa area bets on electric cars

TAMPA —
Jim Shirk is the kind of guy many in the auto industry, along with utility companies, environmentalists and the Obama administration, are relying upon to carry electric cars out of a financial “Valley of Death.”

The Tampa civil engineer looks forward to spending $40,000 to buy a plug-in, electric-powered car.

That’s the sort of attitude that will help bridge the business stage between enthusiasm by early advocates like Shirk for a pricey early generation automobile and broader acceptance by consumers to create reliable profits that keep product lines rolling.

“I only have a quarter-million miles on my Prius,” Shirk said Friday at a Progress Energy-sponsored seminar on electric vehicles in St. Petersburg. “I expect it will last another 50,000 miles at least. But then I expect to buy a Chevy Volt.”

Shirk, a Sierra Club member, doesn’t think the price of gasoline will ever go much below where it is now. He dismisses the “drill, baby, drill” mantra because he sees oil as a finite resource increasingly sought by heavily populated, formidable economic competitors like China and India.

While oil supply and price issues are likely to remain election fodder for years to come, all the major auto manufacturers are coming out with electric car models, although few observers are confident President Obama will achieve his goal of 1 million electric cars traveling U.S. highways by 2015.

Yet while the Tampa Bay area is seldom considered among leaders in environmental movements, it is regarded as a front-runner in supporting plug-in electric vehicles, officials who track industry trends nationwide say.
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