Electric cars: A thing of the future or now?

Practical models can cost less than $30,000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Electric cars and self-driving vehicles -- it sounds like the future, but Florida Senate's transportation chief says the future is now, and that could mean good things for the state.

Lawmakers could consider a bill this year that prevents Homeowners Associations and condo and apartment owners from prohibiting installations of vehicle charging stations.

"The future of vehicles absolutely have electric vehicles as part of them," said St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes, who is a self-proclaimed technology junkie.

It's no surprise he was one of the first to jump on one of the new Tesla electric cars on display for Drive Electric Florida Day at the Capitol Thursday and take it for a spin.

"It drives great," Brandes said. "This is a world-class car."

Brandes said he fully supports the growing industry, and that Florida has the opportunity to improve its own economy and add jobs by getting ahead of the curve.

"I think you're going to see the price of this technology continue to go down as the battery technology improves, and you're going to see people want to explore this a little deeper," he said.

About 12,000 electric vehicle drivers are in the state, a number Brandes predicts will balloon in the coming years.

Electric vehicle supporters said making charging stations more common from Pensacola to South Florida would be a good first step to growing the industry in the state.

"It would show leadership and innovation and that would get the word out," said Britta Gross, with General Motors.

Price point has been an issue. Higher-end electric cars can run upwards of $100,000, but more practical models can cost less than $30,000. Backers also point to the savings.

"If you're spending $300 a month on fuel maintenance and repair, you're generally looking at about $20 in an electric vehicle," said Cornelius Willingham, with Nissan.

Brandes said lawmakers can accelerate growth this upcoming session by working to implement a more electric-friendly infrastructure throughout the state.