By A.W. "Bill" Dahlberg
Southern Company Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer
When I took my parents 1947 Ford station wagon for a spin in the yard at age 14, I did it for one reason: I loved cars. The
Ford a woody, for those who remember the wood-bodied cars of the era represented power and freedom, two
things a teenager desperately craves.
But power had its price. I drove the car too fast, digging up the lawn in the process. I spent the rest of the weekend trying to
repair the mess with a rake, without much success. Dad wasnt pleased.
My love of cars has never ended. There was my first car a 49 Plymouth and, later, my used 51 Ford, painted
buckskin brown like the new 55 models in the showroom. Today, my love is my classic red 66 Corvette.
Its too bad that Americans image of the automobile isnt quite as romantic anymore. Too often these days, a car is just a
tool for running errands and getting to work. The aura has been dimmed somewhat by congested freeways, traffic noise,
pollution problems, and the high costs of fuel and maintenance.
But cars can be fun again as well as powerful and environmentally friendly if more of them start running on electricity.
I know, I know. A lot of people think electric car means poking along the interstate in some little box that looks like a golf
cart, as the gasoline-powered cars blow by and big trucks threaten to crush you like a beer can.
So try this image instead: Youre sitting at a red light. A white 1955 Thunderbird pulls alongside. Its fully loaded wire
wheels, continental kit for the spare tire, removable hard top with the 56 porthole window upgrade.
You think the Thunderbirds engine has died because you cant hear a thing. The light changes. Theres a whispering hum,
and in 10 seconds the T-birds going 60 mph. Its not a fantasy. That car is sitting in the Electric Vehicle Research Center in
Atlanta, a facility operated by Georgia Power. The technicians working there have to be careful not to pull it out of the
garage too quickly. Otherwise they leave tire marks on the concrete floor.
From the outside, theres no way to tell the electric T-bird from a gasoline-powered model. Under the hood, theres a big
blue box marked Westinghouse, makers of the 125-horsepower AC electric motor. Instead of a gear shift inside, there
are four buttons on the dash: one for drive, one for reverse, one for neutral, and one for off. At 4,200 pounds, its only
slightly heavier than a conventional Thunderbird.
Then theres the red Consulier convertible, an electric sports car we began testing in 1993. At electric car demonstrations,
people stand in line to drive the low, sleek two-seater, which some people say looks like a Ferrari.
Were testing more traditional vehicles, too, from electric Geo Prizm sedans to electric minivans and converted pickup
Youll see more and more electric cars on the road in coming years. Right now, batteries allow a car to travel 70 to 100
miles between charges, making them suitable commuter vehicles. Battery range will improve dramatically in the next few
years. The Southern Company, Georgia Powers parent firm, has committed to buying several hundred electric cars for fleet
use by the year 2000.
As electric vehicles are mass-produced, the price of electric cars will come down, allowing them to compete more
effectively in the marketplace with gasoline-powered vehicles. And the simpler electric motors may become even less
expensive over time. At that point, we might be back where we were in the 50s and 60s, when cars were more affordable
and enjoyable, with no one worrying about pollution and noise.
Who knows? Someday soon, maybe a 14-year-old will gaze longingly through the showroom window at the latest electric
sports car. Of course, hell probably have to make do by driving the electric family car around the yard, tearing up the lawn
in the process.