HOUSTON — As car enthusiasts streamed past sparkling SUVs and sleek coupes at the Houston Auto Show on Wednesday, some found themselves sitting in electric cars without even knowing it.
Electric vehicle options have grown, making the cars less of a novelty than in years past and more a part of the normal vehicle mix — a situation applauded by energy company representatives at the show.
At least eight car models on display during this week’s show at Reliant Center are available in plug-in electrics, including four that weren’t available a year ago.
Electric power: Houston’s growing alternative-fuel fleet among nation’s largest
Small business owner Moses Nevorez spent several minutes admiring a black Cadillac ELR coupe from its passenger seat without noticing that it was an extended-range electric car like its more-familiar General Motors cousin, the Chevrolet Volt.
“What I saw was just a Cadillac Coupe,” said Nevorez, 50. “That’s what attracted me.”
His reaction, upon learning that the vehicle could go 37 miles on electricity before dipping into gasoline reserves: “Even better.”
At an energy panel Wednesday afternoon, representatives from CenterPoint Energy, NRG Energy and Royal Dutch Shell said their companies have committed to advancing greater adoption of alternative fuel vehicles, and that consumers’ desire for fuel efficiency may encourage them to consider electric cars.
“This is a huge new market for an electricity generation company,” said Jack Cannata, director of marketing for NRG’s eVgo electric vehicle charging program.
Electric cars have significant potential to expand the market for electricity, but also to benefit the overall grid and energy system, said David Owen, manager of CenterPoint Energy’s clean air technologies program.
Because more than 80 percent of electric vehicle charging occurs at owners’ homes, Owen said, CenterPoint is working on a system that would help coordinate vehicle charging overnight, when power is cheaper, he said.
CenterPoint — which distributes electricity and natural gas in the Houston area — also is promoting natural gas as an alternative vehicle fuel, said Chris Lallier, senior sales representative for the company’s gas marketing division.
But, as has been the case so far, most early adopters of natural gas vehicles will be fleets that use large quantities of fuel and can develop their own stations for refilling natural gas tanks, he said.
Neil Golightly, vice president of communications for Shell Americas, said Shell is making progress on liquid fuels that could work as replacements for gasoline. But those research efforts are part of the company’s overall goal of supporting alternative transportation energy, including electricity, Golightly said.
Among the new electric cars at the Houston Auto Show were the Cadillac ELR, the BMW i3 and the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.
Also on display were Ford’s C-Max, Fusion and Focus, all available in plug-in versions; the Toyota Prius Plug-in; and the Nissan Leaf.
The Leaf, set up alongside a mock-up of an NRG charging port, was one of the main attractions in the Nissan section of the show.
Steven Steglich, of Porter, said he started asking about the Leaf because of the $600 monthly fuel bill for his pickup truck.
“I was paying more for the fuel than I was for insurance and the car payments,” said Steglich, 28, a chemical plant worker.
Running on rays: Ford to unveil solar hybrid concept car
Others were intrigued by a Nissan partnership with NRG that offers new Leaf buyers free charging for a year.
Megan Oatis, 25, a student from Huntsville, said her family is “not really environmentally conscious, but cost conscious,” and she’s looking to cut down on her husband’s commuting costs.
But the vehicle, although economically attractive, didn’t have enough juice for Hans Richter, owner of Texas German Auto Haus, a repair shop.
“I like it for the concept,” Richter said. “I don’t see myself in it. I need more power.”
His preference — Tesla Motors’ speedy electric luxury cars, which aren’t on display at the show.
“I recommend you test drive a Tesla,” Richter said.
Also on FuelFix: