Are electric cars practical in Minnesota?

The Tesla Model S electric car
The Tesla Model S electric car was on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich.
Stan Honda | AFP/Getty Images 2010

The 43rd annual Twin Cities Auto Show opens this weekend, and the setup will include a brand new feature: A room dedicated entirely to electric vehicles.

As electric car technology continues to evolve, many Minnesotan residents are wondering if the vehicles are practical for a state with cold weather and long distances between urban areas.

Jukka Kukkonen, founder of PlugInConnection, and Jack Nerad, an executive editorial director at Kelley Blue Book, joined MPR News host Tom Weber to discuss the reality — and the future — of electric cars.

"The major problem is, of course, range," Nerad said, acknowledging that battery life is still a concern for consumers. "What do you do when you run out of electricity? If you're in a pure electric car, you sit there and call a tow truck."

Kukkonen said the rapidly evolving technology could help ease concerns. For example, he said, Nissan increased the range of its Leaf model by 47 percent in just four years.

A Nissan Leaf protoype
The Nissan Leaf prototype electric car debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich.
Bryan Mitchell | Getty Images file

A growing number of charging stations could also help. Kukkonen said he drove his Leaf to Duluth and back last week "without any problems." With charging stations in Forest Lake, White Bear Lake, Pine City and other Minnesota towns, there are opportunities to refill the car's battery.

For those concerned about using electricity derived from coal or other "dirty" sources, Kukkonen said technology is continuing to evolve there as well, with more renewable energy options in development.

"The grid is getting cleaner all the time, whereas oil is just getting dirtier."

For the full discussion on electric cars in Minnesota, use the audio player above.