NWA EDITORIAL: Doubters will come and go, but electric vehicles are here to stay

What about electric cars and I-95?

When winter weather conditions and wrecks early this month left travelers of Virginia's Interstate 95 stuck in a traffic jam for more than 24 hours, doubters of electrical vehicles piled on.

Widely shared social media posts raised the question: What if all those vehicles stuck on the highway in cold temperature were electric vehicles? With gas vehicles, at least someone can bring a can of gas to fill the tank, right? What are they going to do for electric vehicles, run a long extension cord?

Let's acknowledge that 24 hours in a car in a traffic jam in bone-chilling weather is a recipe for disaster in all kinds of vehicles. Plenty of gas-powered vehicles ran dry. Neither type is immune to the challenges of an unexpected disaster.

But electric vehicles aren't the looming disaster their detractors would have you believe. For example, PolitiFact interviewed industry researchers who noted the gas vehicles must run their engines to keep their heaters working. When standing still in traffic, electric vehicles aren't using power for their engines and they can use their stored electricity to efficiently warm seats, rather than an entire cabin, in an emergency.

Today, it is easier to deliver gas to someone on a highway than to bring a charging station there, but that's changing. Companies are developing rapid chargers that can be used for roadside assistance.

The folks operating electric vehicles know there are limits -- today. But the naysayers seem to be suggesting the entire exercise is pointless, that because there are unsolved challenges today, that will always be the case. We're just glad those folks weren't in charge of NASA's space program.

We noted the other day that Van Buren-based USA Truck Inc. has agreed to buy 10 battery-electric trucks, with an option for 90 more, in its pursuit of reducing emissions. The trucks are designed for short and medium hauls with a range of 350 miles on a 120-minute charge, according to truck maker Nikola's website.

Those sorts of announcement are coming with more and more frequency, as companies recognize technological advances can get them past barriers real and conjured.

Some advocates of electric vehicles suggest they aren't so far removed from autonomous vehicles that, based on their massive consumption of data about road conditions and weather, would have never gotten tangled up in the I-95 mess to begin with by way of avoidance.

The questions about electric vehicles on I-95 are good questions, the kind researchers continue to ponder and experiment with. They become bad questions only when people use them to promote short-sighted evaluations of the worthiness of electric vehicles. A few decades ago, people doubted the usefulness of gasoline-powered cars, too, and doubted they would ever replace horses and buggies. Last we checked, we don't see many of those around anymore.

Three cheers for the skeptics, however, for they are fuel for the curious. It's the curious ones who will drive the future.

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