As gas prices predictably edge upward, owners of electric cars are able to smile, shrug their shoulders and feel fortunate they are not affected by the whims of oil companies.
Of course, only a small percentage of car owners in the United States have electric cars. Slightly less than 1 percent of all new car sales are electric. The number is lower in the Midwest.
“This is still truck country,” said Dathan Mullen, sales consultant at Fenton Nissan of Tiffany Springs, 9600 NW Prairie View Road, Kansas City.
“Right now it is a niche product, to be sure. It very much leans to our eco-friendly, green customer.”
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The Nissan LEAF, an all-electric car, has only been out since 2010.
On average, Mullen said, Fenton Nissan of Tiffany Springs sells between six to eight LEAFs per year. They currently have three in inventory.
“Usually, more often than not, it is single people who live downtown,” Mullen said.
“It is a good all-round car, for the price with all the features it provides. It is more of an urban car. When you get out here on the outskirts, it limits its performance.”
The electric car is still in its infancy in its evolution. Depending on driving conditions and style of driving, the LEAF gets roughly 75 miles fully charged.
It is the perfect car if your drive to work is 30 miles or less. You can drive the car to work, stop at a store after work, drive home and charge it up for the next day.
“There are three different ways you can charge,” Mullen said. You can plug it into a normal wall outlet, but it will take about 20 hours to completely recharge the batteries, he said. Or, you can have a special system installed at your home that will take 5-8 hours to recharge your car.
“And then you can go with an industrial one that a lot of corporations have and it will take less than 30 minutes to get a full charge,” he said. “There are not a whole lot of those. They are called phase three chargers.”
There are also charging stations around town.
“The great thing about the LEAF is it has an integrated system called CarWings that will let you know where charging stations are,” Mullen said. “It will help you find the most effective routes to those stations. It will help you plan your trips.
“A lot of corporations in town have charging stations. In fact, they give you preferred parking if you have an electric car.”
Thanks to a KCP&L project, it might become more convenient this summer for electric car owners to charge up. In late January, the utility announced a plan to install 1,001 public electric chargers in its Missouri and Kansas service territories - a 2,400 percent boost from the roughly 40 units now available. Each charger will be able to charge two cars at a time.
Public chargers are crucial to the success of electric cars because of “range anxiety,” the fear that a car’s battery power will be exhausted before reaching a destination.
According to a Jan. 27 article in The Star, it will cost about $20 million to build the system, to be called the Clean Charge Network. KCP&L will ask state regulators to let it to recover the cost through its rates. If regulators agree, residential customers would pay an extra $1 to $2 a year.
“An initiative like this brings electric cars more to the forefront,” Mullen said. “Once you get to the outskirts of Kansas City, you have anxiety of can you get to Wichita.
“This is exciting. It gives electric car owners more options.”
As the technology for the LEAF grows and charging up of a car gets more convenient, the interest will grow.
Mullen points to the cell phone as a perfect example of how technology has increased its use.
“Once it takes off here, it is going to be great,” Mullen said. “On average, most Americans drive 29 miles to and from work on a daily basis. The safe bet with the LEAF is if you are doing 70 miles daily, you can get by without charging your car.”
The electric car market is growing. According to ElectricCars.com, sales of plug-in electric cars grew 27 percent in 2014, rising over the 100,000 mark to 118,500. It is the third straight increase since electric cars went on sale in the U.S. in 2010.
The Nissan LEAF was the highest selling electric car in 2014, accounting for 30,200 sales.
The Chevy Volt is another electric car that has generated interest. The Volt, though, is different from the LEAF.
“Most electric cars run on batteries. The Volt does, too,” said Tom Schrader, sales consultant at McCarthy Chevrolet at 945 SE Oldham Parkway, Lee’s Summit.
“The unique thing about the Volt is the extended drive because it has a conventional (gasoline) motor in it that serves as a generator when your battery runs low. It will seamlessly switch on the motor when the battery is low. All the motor does is regenerate the electricity for the battery because the drive is purely electric. You can drive as long as you have gas in the car.”
Schrader said he has only sold four or five Volts to customers.
“I just think here in the Midwest, electric cars are kind of scary for most people because in the Midwest, the driving distance is so much further than if you lived and worked on the East Coast or the West Coast,” Schrader said.
“But the Volt is the ideal electric car for this area because it has extended drive. If I am driving from here to Iowa and my battery runs low, my motor kicks on and I keep going.”
In time, though, Schrader expects sales of electric cars will grow.
“It is going to be our future,” he said.
For one, the electric car is environmentally friendly. Emission from an electric car is zero. Also, there is no oil to change and no mufflers or catalytic converters to replace on an all-electric car.
As more people use electric cars, consumption of gasoline will decrease.
It is cheaper to run a car on electricity than gasoline. Mullen figures the yearly cost to charge an electric car is about $500.
Schrader said he has talked to a customer who bought a Volt in November, and the customer still hasn’t put any new gas in the car.
“Will he eventually? Yes,” Schrader said. “The computer monitors the octane in the gasoline and when it knows the octane starts to go bad, it calculates how much gas it has to burn off for you to put more in to bring the octane back up to optimal driving conditions.”
Despite the newness of the technology, Mullen said the LEAF is affordable. It goes anywhere from in the $20,000 range to $35,000 for a fully loaded LEAF.
“The fact is it gives you everything you want in any of our cars that are fully loaded,” Mullen said. “If you are looking for luxury, it has that aspect. If you are looking for economy, it has that aspect. It is a smart purchase … if you are trying to do something for the environment. It is also economical. The price range wouldn’t be any different from our other cars.”