Disney World is cheering on Drive Electric Orlando. (Photo: Walt Disney)
Every year, 56 million people visit Orlando, Florida. I know, I thought it was a typo, too, but it’s true — the place is a magnet not only for Americans itching to part with “Disney Dollars” but also hordes of foreigners attracted to the theme parks.
The Electrification Coalition (EC), which set the lofty goal of having 75 percent of all travel be “electric miles” by 2040, got to thinking about this and decided to make Orlando a test market for electrifying tourist destinations. In Drive Electric Orlando, it’s joined by Enterprise Holdings (the rental car giant), Sabre Holdings (travel agents) and Nissan (the Leaf electric car) on an ambitious plan to plug in the city’s hotels (27 have installed chargers) and destinations (Sea World, Walt Disney World, Universal).
The goal, says Sam Ori, an EC vice president, is to fully integrate plug-in cars into the Orlando tourism experience, then have them go back home and spread the word. It’s a strategic effort to overcome consumer confusion about EVs. “People don’t really know how they work, and they think that electric vehicles might not meet their driving style. But when they finally get behind the wheel, they’re blown away,” he said.
“Orlando is one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations, and also one of the largest rental car markets,” said Ori. “We quickly realized that if we could build out the infrastructure there by installing charging stations, consumers could have a high level of confidence in trying an EV. It’s also great that all of Orlando’s destinations are close together, maybe 12 to 18 miles apart, and well within the range of EVs.” Here's a closer look, on video, at how the city can benefit from being plugged in:
Ori said that metro Orlando already has 300 public charging stations (bought by the city with a federal grant), but it will have many more when the project is fully built out. Lisa Martini, a manager at Enterprise, said that the company has put 15 Nissan Leafs at Orlando International Airport. The rental price, $30 a day (including GPS), is comparable to conventional cars, she said. Customers opting for EVs should be able to charge them at virtually any major hotel in the city (including via valet parking).
Brendan Jones, director of EV infrastructure and strategy at Nissan, said it’s onboard with this plan to make EVs more mainstream, and donated 30 480-volt fast chargers (capable of charging a car like the Leaf in 30 minutes). “Driving an electric car just makes sense,” Jones said. “The average driver travels less than 30 miles a day, and the Leaf has a range of 85 miles a day. We’re helping invest in infrastructure wherever we can. We think Orlando can be a template for the whole U.S., to encourage the use of electric cars in municipalities with high rates of tourism.”
I hope it works. Obviously, to succeed the program needs cars on the ground, far beyond the 15 in the Enterprise program. The key is follow-through, and coordination, as some critics have pointed out, because initiatives like this are going to need to be closely monitored and supported for years to come. Florida hasn’t been a vanguard EV state — Texas and Tennessee are both way ahead in the Southern Tier — but this is a good start. And since Orlando visitors come from everywhere, it could bear unexpected fruit all over the country.
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