Zipping along in the silent interior of a new electric car offers you the ability to imagine what it would be like to fly — very quickly — through space.

For John Cook, who owns a 2015 electric car, it’s the ability to shift quickly from slow to fast that makes up much of the appeal of electric vehicles.

“Electric cars will take over the world not because of the positive impact on the environment — which is a good cause — but because of the acceleration,” the Santa Fe resident said at a charging station at the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe mall.

“It’s the most comfortable ride I’ve ever had,” he said of his Tesla Model 3 electric car — sort of like a mid-size luxury brand.

Not far away, dozens of electric car owners and enthusiasts attended an electric car show Saturday hosted by a number of green-friendly groups at Santa Fe Place mall. For many of these people, speed, autonomy and calming silence were key to their decision to buy a plug-in vehicle.

They say the nation — or at least the state — is on the cusp of the long-awaited electric car wave that has been promised but never fully realized.

“It’s an answer to an existential crisis: If you burn it, we breathe it,” said Albuquerque resident Mike Adams, who bought a new electric car in March. “We have to stop fossil fuel burning. This is much cheaper in the long run, better for the environment, and it will last a long time.”

The cost up front is significant: If you want a new electric car, the cheapest ones currently sell for somewhere in the $35,000 range. Adams paid $53,000 for his. But it requires almost no maintenance, he said, because it has 100 times less moving parts.

“Just tires, windshield wipers and windshield wiper fluid,” he said.

He figures he spends, at most, $10 a month for charging costs for regular runs.

He said his vehicle can go about 325 miles before it requires charging. Finding charging sites is easy, thanks to a computer display screen he has in the car that shows him just where they are. For example, he quickly lays out a planned road trip from Albuquerque to Dallas and discoverers he can charge up in Tucumcari before crossing into Texas, where he can find stations in Childress, Denton and finally, Dallas.

There are still some isolated spots in the United States where there are no charging spots, so electric car owners have to be vigilant when it comes to traveling far. But electric car owners at Saturday’s show said that for the most part, you can go from coast to coast with some good planning.

The question is, will a possible electric car revolution ever take place, particularly in New Mexico, where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order committing the state to follow the goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce pollution, battle climate change and protect natural resources?

Brian Dear, president and founder of the Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico and owner of a 2013 electric car, thinks it could happen within a decade — if the state’s leaders get behind the notion of allowing electric car companies like Tesla to operate in the state. State law currently prohibits Tesla from selling directly to the public as a licensed dealer in New Mexico. As a result, local Tesla owners have to drive to El Paso or Denver for service or rely on a mobile service unit that conducts house calls.

Dear helped push for a law to change this during this year’s 60-day legislative session, but the bill made it through just one committee before it stalled and died. Dear said oil and gas industry advocates, as well as traditional auto dealers, fought against the bill.

But Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, said in an email the potential for electric cars is significant.

“The transportation sector is a fast-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico,” she said. “As New Mexico looks to de-carbonize our electricity sector under the Energy Transition Act and expand electric vehicles across the state, we can have a direct impact on climate change.”

Dear said he’d like to see the state run a fleet of electric cars for its business operations; at least one state electric car was showcased at Saturday’s event. Dear said electric cars would not kill off the auto manufacturing business but help it to adjust to producing “cleaner, emission-free cars.”

Some states are moving more quickly to a transition. According to data compiled by Veloz, a nonprofit electric-car advocacy group, sales of electric cars in California increased from just under 97,000 in 2017 to nearly 178,000 in 2018.

In New Mexico, with a far smaller population, that rise is modest. According to the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, electric car sales went up from 74 in 2016 to 180 in 2018. Department spokeswoman Susan Torres said officials are working with the state’s Motor Vehicle Division to come up with an accurate current figure.

The cars are easy to drive, but you have to adjust your mindset away from the way you learned to drive a gas-fueled vehicle. Starting an electric car requires nothing more than stepping on the brake. It steers and handles much like any other vehicle, but the newer models have an auto-steer function that actually allows the car’s computerized system to stay within the traffic lines and speed limit on the road.

The technology is not perfect, Adams and Dear acknowledged. Adams said if his car hits a road with no traffic lines, it gets confused. It will send him a signal via his display board that says, “I don’t know where I am, take control.”

Safety also is an issue. Recent media reports have cited stories of drivers falling asleep at the wheel of an electric car. Both Adams and Dear note that happens with drivers in traditional vehicles as well, and Adams said his car’s display board will send him visual and audio signals to make sure he’s paying attention, even if he turns the auto-steer driving over to the car.

But even as more people seem to be plugging in to the electric car movement — a 2018 Volvo/Harris poll said 74 percent of respondents said they think electric cars will be the road vehicle of the future — questions remain. Consumer Reports recently said it wants U.S. safety regulators to provide more information to the public on crash investigations involving Tesla’s auto-steer system.

That request came two years after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said crash rates for Tesla electric cars had decreased by about 40 percent once the company installed self-driving technology in its vehicles. But when the Maryland-based Quality Control Systems, which helps companies reduce risk factors through data, reviewed public records requests about the administration’s research methods, it said the report findings were inconclusive.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recently upped its interest in the safety of electric cars and is investigating at least two self-steer crashes in Florida.

Such concerns were not on the minds of those checking out the electric cars at Saturday’s show. At age 9, Dylan Shandler said he already knows he wants to own an electric car when he gets old enough to drive.

“They’re just cool,” he said as he got behind the wheel of one at the show.

No, he didn’t start it.

Dylan’s brother, Noah, 12, agreed.

“The best thing is, you don’t have to use gas,” Noah Shandler said. “And they go really fast.”

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General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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