Here’s what the future looks like (and yes, Doc Brown, we’ll still need roads in 2015)

Last night, I saw “Back to the Future” for the first time in many a year. And I had to smile at the end. In 1985, it was still credible that we’d have flying cars in 2015. The shocking thing is that that leaves us only four years now. Well, at least it doesn’t take laying down much infrastructure, so I suppose it is conceivable (especially if we’re fueled by a Mr. Fusion).

But today, I saw something that is more likely to be our future — a plug-in electric car. In routine use.

I was visiting Mike Couick over at the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina in Cayce. As it happens, we were talking about sustainable energy (ADCO is working with the Central Midlands Council of Governments and a couple of private partners on a project for local governments). And when we walked outside after the interview, there was some right in front of us.

This Nissan Leaf belongs to ECSC, and is used to drive around the state on co-op business, which surprised me — I assumed it was for local use. How does it manage that sort of range? Mike said all the co-ops have charging stations.

Very cool, I thought.

Mike reminded me that this was really sort of retro, since the original automobiles were electric, before the internal combustion engine decided to eat the world (my wording, not his).

With that in mind, I can’t wait to get back to the future and drive one of these myself. And I’ll pass on the gullwing doors, Mr. DeLorean.

27 thoughts on “Here’s what the future looks like (and yes, Doc Brown, we’ll still need roads in 2015)

  1. Mark Stewart

    Efficiency goes right out the window when you have to wait at someone’s office for 2-4 hours until you have the electric charge to get back home.

    Electric cars are city cars. They will have their uses; I’m just not so sure what kind of rational sense they make in a state like SC – except for commuting.

    I thought that by now we would have seen fleets of natural gas powered semis – with big tanks slung under the trailers – roaming the interstates.

  2. Doug Ross


    What’s the cost per mile for the electric car? $35K for a tiny car with limited range seems pretty steep. How many people who work for ECSC would buy one themselves?

    Let’s not forget the $7500 tax break the owners get for purchasing the cars. Talk about manipulating the market for political purposes.

  3. Brad

    But you see, Doug, this is perfect. It’s a shared ride.

    I think it would be awesome to have a car I could go use when I needed for work purposes, and which I didn’t have to own and maintain.

    That’s actually the biggest obstacle for many of us to taking public transit (in areas that have decent public transit, unlike here): OK, it gets you to work. But what do you do when you have to go somewhere during the working day?

    Of course, I’d prefer subways, but in a pinch, I’ll take a convenient car at my disposal.

  4. Steven Davis

    Or we could just go with a proven technology and go with high-efficient diesels like they do in Europe and get a vehicle you can actually leave town with. All these are are $35,000 golf carts.

  5. Steven Davis

    From Nissan’s website:
    “a fully charged new battery has a range of 138 – 62 miles.”

    62 miles on a full charge… and only $35,000. Where do I sign?

  6. Tim

    I am probably in the Doug camp on this. I would support the basic research to perfect technology, but tax credits and deductions are part of our problem.

    And for the most part, people who live within 3 miles of their work could get by with a nice golf cart.

  7. bud

    Once the heavily subsidized cost of oil is added to the actual price of gasoline electric cars are much more competitive. With economies of scale they will become even more competitive. Battery prices and range continue to decline. Charging times likewise will decline. This is certainly a part of our transportation future given the virutal certainty that gasoline prices will soar. Check out todays oil price. West Texas Intermediate is once again trading above $100/barrel. That electric car looks mighty efficient compared to a vehicle that can only run on $7/gallon gasoline.

  8. Doug Ross


    What would you call a $7500 tax credit for purchasing a vehicle? It’s an artificial device to influence the market to buy a product it wouldn’t buy at the actual cost.

    Tax credits have all sorts of unintended consequences. The “cash for clunkers” scam eliminated a whole bunch of inventory of low priced used cars from the market… thus raising the price of the remaining supply. Try and find a cheap car for a kid these days.

    I know you abhor simplicity but supply and demand is pretty basic theory.

  9. Steven Davis

    “Check out todays oil price. West Texas Intermediate is once again trading above $100/barrel. That electric car looks mighty efficient compared to a vehicle that can only run on $7/gallon gasoline.”

    So how does this explain the price of gasoline going down at the pump? I saw $2.97 on the way into work this morning.

  10. Brad

    Last night, I watched some of “Demolition Man” on Netflix (y’all can tell I really have highbrow film tastes, I’m sure). And what were they driving in that particular Brave New World? Electric cars, they appeared to be — going by the silence. But then Stallone explodes one by sticking a sort of futuristic cattle prod down what looks like a fuel port. So… hydrogen, maybe (a character said what it was, but I missed it, and Netflix is a bear, trying to rewind to something specific.)

    Anyway, this was set in 2032. We can do that, can’t we?

    Fun movie, anyway, with Stallone and Snipes and Denis Leary chewing up the scenery, and young Sandra Bullock just oozing cute all over the place. Decent effects, too.

  11. Brad

    Another highly relevant, sci-fi-related digression…

    When I hear a Nissan Leaf referred to, I thing of Wash’s last line in “Serenity” (SPOILER ALERT: Don’t follow the link unless you’ve seen the movie.):

    I am a leaf on the wind!

  12. bud

    Stephen has pointed out an interesting paradox, rising oil prices but falling gasoline price at the pump. How can that be? What seems to be happening is that West Texas Intermediate has been underpriced on the international market because of some local dynamics. Other oil futures have traded at significantly more than WTI for some time now but WTI is closing that gap.

    The decline in gasoline price is fairly normal this time of year due to lower demand and a cheaper price for winter grade fuel. Come March, if not before, gasoline prices will head back up again.

  13. Burl Burlingame

    With electric cars, YOU are responsible for providing your vehicle’s power supply, not a multi-national corporation.

    I assume that Doug is also in favor of eliminating subsidies and tax breaks to petrochemical companies. Or in the logical extension, any use of taxpayer dollars used to promote a safer, cleaner, healthier environment for citizens. Such as police/fire/rescue.

  14. Mark Stewart


    We use coal over here – lot’s of dirty, polluting coal. But we have cheap power!

    Maybe everyone in SC should go electric?

  15. Brad

    It’s interesting looking at electricity from the perspective of the co-ops.

    Couick was talking yesterday about how electricity first came to rural areas in South Carolina back in the days of the New Deal.

    First, there would be one lightbulb in the kitchen of the farmhouse, and another in the barn. That stretched the hours that a farmer could work. Then, the farmer’s wife would connect an iron to the one fixture in the kitchen…

    Next thing you know, they’ve got electric milking machines, and we’re off on the path to where we are today…

  16. Steven Davis

    Did an “electricity” cost the equivalent of that farmer’s yearly income? $35,000 is probably above the average household income in SC.

    Now if they want to make $8,000 electric cars that’d be a better start, they could even put little bag holders on them so they could be used on weekends on the golf course.

  17. Mark Stewart

    … which is what? A reliance on cheap coal and an unwillingness to address efficiency in our built environment and transportation systems?

    Not surprisingly, it often appears that people in SC would rather save a buck today than look into the future to a three dollar pay-off (I’ll avoid referencing the $2 bill).

  18. bud

    Actually Burl very little oil is now used to generate electricity. There is slow progress being made in generating renewable, clean electricity from wind and solar. Perhaps 2.5% of US electricity comes from those sources. A long way to go for sure but still with a bit of a push from increased prices from fossil fuels and that figure can only increase. Switching to electric cars can only be a step formward. The naysayers will forget their condescending comments in a few years. And we’ll all be better off for it.

  19. Burl Burlingame

    I’m not sure that Steven understands that electric cars aren’t the same as golf carts. But then, where I live, gas has cost more than $4/gal for the last half-decade, and people really do use golf carts for neighborhood transportation.

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