by Tom Porter
MPBN news story
After dying out in the 1990s, the electric car is back: That was the message being delivered in downtown Portland this morning. Car dealers, environmental advocates, the energy industry and government officials were all represented at a news conference next to one of Portland’s busiest traffic routes.
Maine 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree touts electric cars in Portland today, in front of her own Chevy Volt.
With the speakers sometimes having to raise their voices to be heard above the traffic, Steve Linnell couldn’t resist taking at least one crack against the noisy combustion engine. “Electric vehicles are a lot quieter than those vehicles that are behind me,” he said.
Linnell is director of transportation and energy planning with the Greater Portland Council of Governments. He runs a program known as Maine Clean Communities, part of a nationwide partnership between government and industry to reduce petroleum consumption in the transportation sector. “The United States imports 60 percent of the petroleum it uses, and two-thirds of that goes into transportation,” he said.
Linnell’s group is currently involved in a planning exercise with 10 other states in the Northeast and about 13 other coalitions that aims to remove the barriers to the development of the electric car.
In addition to being quieter and cleaner than regular cars, Marc Lausier says they’re also a lot cheaper. He drives a Nissan LEAF, which can go about 100 miles on a fully-charged battery.
“The electric motor is 90 percent efficient, so the electric use is minimal,” he says. “And I just mentioned driving the car 1,000 miles ended up costing me $32, so if you if you translate that to 10,000 miles a year, that’s $320 to drive 10,000 miles–very inexpensive.”
Tom Porter: “What’s it like performance-wise? Is it harder in the winter?”
Marc Lausier: “The cold weather was an issue with the batteries, but this car has got a cold-weather package: It has a battery-warmer, so that’s sort of a non-issue now.”
Lausier’s is an all-electric vehicle, meaning it’s entirely battery-powered. So, as long he remembers to plug it in every night, he can go a 100 miles a day in it.
But it’s not cheap–even with a $7,500 federal tax credit thrown in, the Nissan LEAF is still pushing $30,000. Other models are known as hybrids, which are battery-powered, but also have an internal combustion engine, fueled by gasoline. Some of them–such as the Prius–use the engine to charge the battery. Others–the plug-in hybrids–only employ the combustion engine when the battery runs out of juice.
This is the type used by Democratic Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “I rarely get to bring my car to a press conference,” she said. “This is actually my Chevy Volt, right behind. I’ve been thrilled to have it. I’ve driven this car for over a year.”
And in that time she says she’s consumed less than 100 gallons of gasoline. “First time I was up around Gardiner, Maine, and had driven it long enough that it actually needed gas, and it took me quite a while at the gas station at actually figure out where the gas outlet was because it was first time I’d ever put gas in the car,” she said.
“Electric cars aren’t for everyone, they’re still a little pricey,” says Adam Lee, owner of Lee Auto Malls. “They still have a omewhat limited range on the pure electrics.”
But, says Lee, if your daily commute is not more than 80 or so miles, the electric car is a good alternative, and will only become more appealing as time goes by. “In the near future I think we’ll start to see prices drop and the range increase dramatically.”
Monday’s event was timed to draw attention to the state premiere on Tuesday night of a movie called Revenge of the Electric Car. It’s directed by Chris Paine, who also made the award-winning 2006 documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”
Jamie Page Deaton is managing editor at U.S. News Autos. She says despite renewed interest in electric cars, most consumers are still not on board. “We’re seeing a resurgence in the technology of electric cars, with a lot of car companies putting those cars on the road,” she says. “What we’re not seeing a resurgence is in consumer interest in electric cars.”
She says electric and hybrid vehicles make up less than 2 percent of the cars on the road, and that number is falling. Over the long-term, though, she says the outlook is good, as prices come down and the travel range of electric cars increases.
Another factor is the support of the Obama administration, which has set a goal of having a million electric cars on the roads by 2015. “There will be more electric cars on the road, there’s no doubt about that,” Page Deaton says. “Car companies are pushing it and eventually consumers will catch on.”
But right now, she says they’re just not catching on as quickly as the carmakers and the federal government would like.