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Alternative-fuel show touts environment, economy
Manufacturers and suppliers of alternative fuel vehicles descend on downtown Gainesville during the fourth annual Alternative Fueled Vehicles Roadshow.

The shiny, new hoods and doors were open for visitors to check out Wednesday, but this wasn’t some ordinary car lot.

Vendors were showcasing vehicles that operate on “alternative fuels,” such as electricity, propane and natural gas, in the parking lot outside the Brenau Downtown Center, as part of Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols’ fourth annual Alternative Fueled Vehicles Roadshow.

Patrick Ceska of Gainesville said he decided to check out the event out of curiosity.

His family owns a Toyota Prius, a popular hybrid passenger car, and is interested in the all-electric Nissan Leaf.
“I guess the limitations with one of these things is how far you can go (on a charge),” Ceska said.

Echols, a Bogart Republican, has teamed with Clean Cities Georgia for a statewide tour of the vehicles, featuring presentations on “the economics and practicality of implementing alternative-fueled transportation solutions.”

“Most people in the Atlanta area have grown accustomed to the emissions stickers they have to put on their cars and we tend to forget that the reason we do that is we were out of (air quality) attainment with the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Echols, while seated in a Porsche hybrid car featured at the event.

“We have pollution problems that other cities ... don’t have, so it’s my vision one day to not have the stickers anymore.”

Echols started developing the idea for the show after he bought and started driving a natural gas car.

“I realized how inconvenient it is to drive an alternative fuel car that doesn’t run on anything else,” he said. “It was that experience where I began to think, ‘Are there any other alternative fuels and how do they work?’”

“There’s a lot going on in this industry and this field,” state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, told an audience during a program inside the Downtown Center. “We need to be mindful of it. We need to be making investments for ourselves and our future ... not only for the economy, but for the ecology.”

Tax credits and incentives may help spark interest in such vehicles, but they’re probably not “the long-range answer,” Miller said.

“We need an investment that’s going to pay dividends in the future.”

Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr., a Clarkesville Republican, said he believes Georgia is embracing the “technology revolution, not only in alternative-fueled vehicles but in providing energy for the people (of Georgia).”

A recently released study by Diesel Technology Forum bears that out, to some extent.

The study shows Georgia ranking No. 1 among states nationwide in fastest growth of all hybrid passenger vehicles in 2012-2013.

The analysis was based on data that include the registration statistics of all passenger vehicles compiled by R.L. Polk and Co. in all 50 states and the District of Columbia through Dec. 31. The study covers both hybrid vehicles, which run on gas and electricity, and clean-diesel vehicles.

In other results, Georgia ranked No. 10 among states having the most hybrid passenger vehicles, or 76,168, registered in 2013. California had the most, with 698,560.

But then, California is the most populated state in the country, with 38 million people. Georgia, with nearly 10 million people, is the ninth most populated state.

In an earlier interview, Stephen McDonald, Internet sales manager at Hayes Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Oakwood, said he believes interest in hybrids has dropped over the years.

“Like with anything else, they’re no longer shiny and new,” he said. “It’s kind of gotten out of the spotlight.”

Also, people are getting used to higher gas prices, which helped kick-start the move toward the more fuel-efficient hybrid market, McDonald said.

Echols said he believes that, in the future, hybrids will be favored over alternative-fueled vehicles “because of how versatile they are.”

“You don’t ever have to worry about going somewhere to charge up or buy alternative fuel ... (and yet) they have allowed people to basically double the gas mileage on their cars,” he said.

The Roadshow’s next stop is today at the Columbus Convention Center.