Last year, the sale of electric cars in this country was up more than 80%, but a non-profit called Generation 180 wants to push the pace and is sponsoring four events around Virginia where drivers can try an electric ride.
Three years ago I got to try an electric car made by Nissan during a trip to Estonia. That country wanted to show off an extensive network of charging stations, and I was happy to help, but the experience was more of an adventure than I expected.
I picked the car up at 5 in the morning, and there was no one there to explain to me how it worked. Unfortunately, the instructions were in Estonian!
A guy passing by helped me figure out how to start the car, and all went well until a few hours into the trip the car informed me it was running low on juice. I called my host, and she helped me find a charging station, but – again – I was baffled by instructions for plugging in.
Those issues aside, the car was fine, and once I understood the need to plan longer trips, I could see the appeal. Now, the car is even better according to Susan Kruse with the Charlottesville Climate Collaborative.
“This particular car will take you up to 235 miles on a charge," she explains, "and there are all sorts of great solutions out there -- apps you can get for your phone, websites you can visit that will show you where all the charging stations are.”
The basic model can be charged overnight – an option Kruse likes because, "You can actually set this car to charge at midnight when the cleanest forms of energy are online. This car has the equivalent emissions of a car that gets over 100 miles per gallon."
If you shell out for a fancier model – one that retails for about $40,000 -- you can charge the battery in less than an hour, and you won’t spend much of anything on maintenance according to Pete Borches, co-owner of Colonial Nissan.
"There is no transmission. There is no engine. There’s no oil in this vehicle," he explains. "I think the number is somewhere north of 400 parts that don’t exist in this vehicle that exist in a combustion engine vehicle."
Borches sat beside me during a test drive, extolling the virtues of this car from the start.
" So you turn the vehicle on and wait for the engine roar," he says. I press the button, and there is complete silence. "Okay," he says with a smile. "It’s on."
In addition to being quiet, the car is helpful, briefing me before the trip begins. Borches studies the screen.
"We’ve got 73% of the battery left," he concludes. "We’ve got 178 miles left, and so now we’re in drive, and then to go to reverse is simply over and up."
It comes with all the features you’d expect in a high-end – heated seats and steering wheel, a great sound system, satellite radio and climate control. The ride is comfortable, and Borches tells me the car is potentially fast.
"Since we’re sitting by the courthouse I wouldn’t recommend flooring it," he jokes, "but if you do pop the gas down really quickly it’ll put your head back in the headrest!"
And in case I’m not yet sold, Borches adds that the car qualifies for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. He and other electric vehicle proponents will be showing their cars and offering test drives in Richmond, Charlottesville, Roanoke and Fairfax this month.
Nate McFarland, with the sponsoring group Generation 180, thinks the country could be approaching a tipping point for electric vehicles.
"EVs actually do save time and money now," he contends. "I also think people are realizing that they are better for your air quality, and maybe most important people are realizing that this is one of the most impactful ways they can be part of the transition to clean energy."
And, of course, many car makers do now offer an electric option. Last year’s top seller was Tesla with more than half of the plug-in market. The Toyota Prius Prime was next, followed by GM’s Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt. This year, Hyudai, Mitsubishi, Ford, Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar are also selling EVs, but UVA Professor Mike Lenox warns that even if all vehicles sold today were electric, it would take at least 20 years to completely decarbonize the auto industry as the nation gets rid of more than a billion gasoline and diesel-burning cars.
Electrify Your Ride VA’s first round of events is taking place from September 14 to 22 in coordination with National Drive Electric Week.