Charge It

2 12 2010

When I think of cool restaurants, Cracker Barrel is usually near the bottom of the…um…barrel. It may be quaint. Down home. Country fried. But cool it ain’t.

Until now.

Cracker Barrel just announced plans to test electric car charging units at 24 of its Tennessee stores. Pull in. Plug in. Eat in. Drive off.

The charging stations are powered by Ecotality, who has plans to install thousands of its new Blink charging stations across the country.

Access to charging stations is critical for electric cars to take off. Think about having an internal combustion engine with no gas stations nearby. No gas, no go. The thinking is, if recharging can be as easy as topping off your tank, then more people will buy electric cars.

Sure, critics will argue that electricity is not necessarily green (unless that electricity is the product of solar, wind or hydro sources). But electric cars will still leave a smaller carbon footprint than those cars burning fossil fuels, even if the electricity is produced by traditional methods (e.g., coal-burning power plants).

Naturally, there will be a charge (bad pun) for these services. Some of the stations are rapid chargers (30 minutes), while others take longer. I imagine the former will be priced like Premium Unleaded. Installing these stations in parking lots where drivers are likely to be idle for an hour or more makes perfect sense, because you weren’t planning on going anywhere anyway.

Still, the fact that it takes time to recharge batteries necessarily limits electric cars to local driving. They are not yet practical for long hauls, unless you want to stop to eat every few hours. But since most driving is done within a few miles of home, they make more sense than we might realize.

But will pickup truck-driving Texans trade in the F-350 for a Chevy Volt? I doubt any self-respecting cowboy could fit in that little car and still wear his hat. And towing your horse trailer around town is out of the question. But for those who are urban cowboys, electric cars make perfect sense.

As for Ecotality, they need to strive to install these stations throughout municipalities, not just at restaurants along the freeway. I know what they are thinking, but I just do not see these eco-friendly cars being used for longer trips any time soon. In other words, while Cracker Barrel may score “cool” points for jumping on this bandwagon, the folks they service with these stations are more likely to be locals out to lunch rather than cross-country travelers.

All this aside, I applaud Cracker Barrel and Ecotality for partnering in this endeavor, for it signals that change is afoot. More restaurants will follow Cracker Barrel’s lead, especially once they see that today’s competitive advantage will be tomorrow’s expectation. And employers, shopping malls and cities will then join the party, realizing that the parking lot of the near future will have meters and plug-ins.

And that’s something I can get all charged up about.

Dr “I’ll Have The Breakfast Special” Gerlich


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