On Feb. 15, several electric cars recreated the first automobile race in the U.S., held in 1895, from Chicago to Evanston.                                             RoundTable photo

Paying homage to the country’s first motor vehicle race some 118 years ago, the Chicago Auto Show retraced the race’s route between Chicago and Evanston on Feb. 15. This time, though, all of the participants  were electric cars and the event more a rally than a race.

The vehicles made a pit stop at Dawes Park about 11:30 a.m.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske, along with 50 or 60 other Evanston residents, were on hand to greet the virtually noiseless parade of environmentally friendly cars and trucks.

With appearance of more charging stations, such as the new ones being built in the public Library’s parking lot, owning an electric car is becoming more and more feasible. Newer designs now provide a plug-in-and-gasoline option, with vehicles switching to a traditional gasoline-powered engine when the battery drains.

Drivers need not sacrifice performance, either. The first car in, the astonishing Fisker Karma, can produce 403 horsepower with its electric engine, according to the Fisker of the North Shore website. Its range is about 50 miles on battery alone before the gas engine kicks in and gives drivers another 300 miles or so. Most Fiskers cost in excess of $100,000.

Other options, such as the Chevrolet Volt, are more affordable but still run to $40,000 or more. As gasoline prices continue to rise, however, the added cost of a plug-in hybrid may make more and more sense.

Retracing the path of the first car race was the idea of David Funcheon, CEO of 101 Celsius, LLC, a leading distributor and installer of solar thermal evacuated-tube systems. In 1895 the first automobile race demonstrated the superiority of the car over the horse, he said. The recreated race celebrated the superiority of the electric car over the antiquated internal combustion engine, he added.

For those braving the cold on a frigid February midmorning, the electric car movement felt like a reality. Included in the rally was a produce delivery truck currently in operation in Chicago. The truck, operated by Testa Produce, is one of two purely electric vehicles the company uses to serve customers. The size of the truck, a standard-sized box truck seen regularly on city streets, shows the versatility electric vehicles offer.

As the rally concluded and the electric cars hummed out of town toward Chicago’s Center for Green Technology, Evanstonians filed back to work or home with visions of the future dancing in their heads.