How Jay Leno Might Usher in the Electric Car Revolution

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more infamous gearhead than former Tonight Show host Jay Leno. With an upcoming prime-time talk show that will presumably pay him in the tens of millions, Leno has been able to furnish one of America’s most famous garages. And with a little help from NBC, he could be looking to jumpstart the emergence of the electric car in the United States.

While Leno’s monster garage undoubtedly features its share of gas-guzzling masses of pig iron, the comedian and late-night host has been fond of electric models for some time. In fact, his collection features three antique electric models, including a Baker Electric dating back almost 100 years. Originally marketed to women as an alternative-energy vehicle at the turn of the century, Leno’s model still runs silently almost 100 years after rolling off the assembly line. With his upcoming Jay Leno Show, he is looking to bring that appreciation for green cars to television this fall.

While most of the details surrounding the Jay Leno Show remain shrouded in network-television mystery, Leno has revealed the idea for a recurring segment entitled the Green Car Challenge. The segment will feature Hollywood celebrities racing one another in electric vehicles. No word on a track or prizes, but word is that Tom Cruise has already asked about taking some practice runs before competing in the challenge. The concept was apparently inspired by a celebrity segment Leno volunteered for on the popular BBC Series Top Gear. With an opportunity to showcase cutting-edge electric vehicles to an absolutely massive prime-time audience, Leno has a unique opportunity to start bringing alternative energy cars to the mass market.

As a partner in the venture, NBC, whose parent company is General Electric, has a mixed history of green initiatives. In a large-scale Earth Week promotion last year, the network introduced environmentally-conscious storylines into a number of shows. A contestant on the Biggest Loser won a hybrid SUV while a couple on the soap opera Days of Our Lives had a fictional green wedding. But the green message was muddied somewhat when Today Show host Matt Lauer was whisked around the world on a private jet as part of the recurring Where in the World is Matt Lauer segment. The travel burnt massive amounts of jet fuel, drawing some ire from environmental watchdogs, eventually forcing NBC to cancel the segment. Now a push from Leno could potentially usher in the green car revolution that countless auto executives, including Tata CEO Ratan Tata, believe is long overdue.

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