How Many Tweets Does It Take to Make Electric Cars Cool?

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How Many Tweets Does It Take to Make Electric Cars Cool?

We've been hearing about the elusive electric car for quite some time now, and it appears to always be just around the corner.

Now, with Chevrolet's Volt and the Nissan Leaf nearing production in the final months of 2010, it seems that electric vehicle (EV) enthusiasts, technology pioneers and environmentally conscious consumers might finally have their way.

But if your inner skeptic is having doubts about whether the electric vehicle movement is simply a fad, or whether electricity will truly become a dominant fuel for vehicle propulsion, keep reading.

In less than 140 characters: The electric car is here to stay.

The Chevy Volt.So why this time -- after so many years of automakers testing the waters and then backing away citing insufficient market demand -- are electric vehicles finally going into production for the masses?

From a technical standpoint, simultaneous breakthroughs in battery chemistry, vehicle design, software and mobile connectivity have made the development of consumer-ready electric cars possible.

Meanwhile, government stimuli and an ambitious White House target of 1 million grid-enabled vehicles on the road by 2015 have created significant incentives for new investments in R&D and manufacturing capacity for electric vehicles. The flow of funds has encouraged startups and traditional OEMs alike.

Also, from a behavioral standpoint, hybrid technology, popularized by the Honda Insight and the ubiquitous Toyota Prius, has helped overcome barriers to acceptance of alternative propulsion generally.

Despite all of these advancements, absent of social media, the slew of electric vehicles slated for production in the next two to three years may still be relegated to the fascinations of Hollywood (remember the bubble cars in Woody Allen's 1973 flick, "Sleeper"?)

Aided by virtual tools like Facebook and Twitter, the electric vehicle community has matured from a few hundred activists into a mainstream movement, with a wide support base and expanded influence on the media, government, and major global automakers. The sheer numbers and frenzy of online activity are impressive.

But, don't take my word for it. Ask the tens of thousands of individuals who are following, friending, liking and tweeting the song of the electric car across the globe, revealing a real initial market.

As of August 2008, more than two years before the first saleable Chevrolet Volt was scheduled to roll off the assembly line in Michigan, an unofficial handraiser list amassed by New York area EV buff Dr. Lyle Dennis had already surpassed 30,000 individuals (it's now up to 52,000 intenders, with representation from every U.S. state and 97 countries).

Seeing the level of interest inspired by the Volt, other automakers -- including former pure-electric skeptics Honda and Toyota --quickly began developing their own electric vehicle programs.

By June 2010, Nissan had a total of 130,000 intenders on its official list for the electric Leaf, significantly higher than the initial production volume.The Nissan Leaf

To prove the power of social media to influence major companies, in July 2010 a strong surge in online activity surrounding a Volt pricing announcement contributed to GM's decision to expand production for the 2012 model year by 50 percent.

In an interview with GM-Volt.com, Volt spokesperson Rob Peterson noted that "on the first day of the pricing announcement over 70,000 people visited GetMyVolt.com … [and] over 25,000 people added their names to the Volt enthusiast list," reinforcing "the need to increase production."

Top image and photo of Nissan Leaf, courtesy of Nissan. Chevy Volt photo courtesy of Chevy.