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Post oil: Boom in electric car sales fuel gas-free dreams (VIDEO)

More than a dozen new plug-in electric car models will hit the market by 2012, offering drivers a true post oil experience.

By Staff writer / October 9, 2011

Austin, Texas resident and Nissan Leaf owner Dale Bulla(r.) poses for a photo with his wife, Pat.

Mark Clayton/The Christian Science Monitor

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Austin, Texas

With about 1 billion cars and light trucks on the road worldwide – and more than a quarter of them in the United States – more oil is consumed by internal-combustion engines used in transportation than in any other human activity. The private car itself is the most significant source of rising energy consumption for transportation.

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However, some drivers are making a break from the pack. They want their private cars, but not the gasoline-gulping internal-combustion engine. They're plug-in electric vehicle owners, pioneers of an emerging, nearly gas-free dream. They've gone "post-oil," even while experts continue to debate when petroleum reserves will run dry (the extremes range from two decades to never).

"It's a different mind-set altogether," says Dale Bulla, a retired teacher in Austin, Texas, who has not bought a drop of gasoline since he purchased his Nissan Leaf in April. "[A] big weight is off me. I just don't have to think very much at all about oil or gasoline anymore. It feels good."

The mind-set is catching on. Global sales of plug-in vehicles are starting gradually, but expected rapid growth will push annual sales to 1.3 million vehicles by 2017, says John Gartner, an analyst with Pike Research in Boulder, Colo. He expects 2012 to be the first big year with a quarter million plug-in vehicles sold worldwide. At least a dozen new plug-in models from 10 automakers will hit showrooms in 2012.

Pumping a clean jobs agenda and greater energy independence, President Obama wants to put 1 million plug-in vehicles on US roads by 2015.

US plug-in sales will be just 61,000 next year, rising to 303,000 by 2017, according to Pike Research estimates. And Mr. Obama's goal, says Mr. Gartner, probably won't be achieved until 2016. Long-term growth projections by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggest dramatic growth: 5.8 million plug-in vehicles on US roads by 2020. The Institute's "high" scenario shows those numbers could soar to 12 million by 2020 and 65 million by 2030.

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