Orlando tourism industry plugs into electric car experience

Thu Sep 5, 2013 7:48pm EDT
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Promoters of electric cars are hoping to entice a few of Orlando's 56 million annual visitors to rent one at the airport and plug in at strategically placed charging stations at tourist hotels, theme parks and the convention center.

The goal of Drive Electric Orlando, which officially kicked off on Thursday with 15 Nissan Leaf cars, is to encourage broader adoption of electric vehicles by providing visitors with what amounts to an extended test drive during their stay.

"The best way is to get someone behind the wheel to drive it," said Sam Ori, vice president of the Electrification Coalition, a not-for-profit group of business leaders interested in developing an electric transportation system.

Electric cars have been slow to catch on around the nation in part because of sparce supportive infrastructure such as charging stations in some areas as well as consumer concerns about cars' limited distances on a single charge and the wait times for recharging.

The Orlando initiative is the first in the nation to exclusively target tourists, according to Ashley White, spokeswoman for the Coalition, which sponsored the plan.

Orlando is one of the world's largest rental car markets, thanks to Walt Disney World, other major tourist attractions, and the Orange County Convention Center, which is United States' second-largest convention center and helps draw 10 million business travelers a year.

The initiative will start with 15 electric cars available through Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and charging stations at 26 hotels. Nissan Motor Co donated 30 fast chargers to be installed at key locations, including 480-volt chargers capable of recharging a car in 30 minutes.

All three major theme parks - Disney, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando - have committed to installing recharging stations, White said.   Continued...

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (L) and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs (R) are silhouetted during the announcement of the Drive Electric Orlando program at the Peabody Orlando Hotel in Orlando, Florida, September 5, 2013. The initiative is promoting electric car rentals starting with 15 cars available to rent with 26 partner hotels with charging stations while area theme parks have committed to building charging stations. REUTERS/David Manning