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Journal Star : Electric vehicle drivers happy to avoid gas pump

Electric vehicle drivers happy to avoid gas pumpSTEVE TARTER06/08/2013 11:46 AM

PEORIA – Electric cars may be dropping in price and adding features, but Peoria isn’t getting a big charge out of them just yet.

Area car dealers add that, while few in number, buyers of electric models are enthusiastic about a gas-free experience.

Electric cars represent a very small part of the auto business right now. While 1.4 million new vehicles were sold nationally in May, the highest total in six years, only about 8,000 of them were electric-powered vehicles.

“Right now, electric car buyers are your early adopters. I’m stocking one (electric) car at a time,” said John Warren, sales manager for Rebbec Motor Co. in El Paso, where the Chevrolet Volt is available.

At Green Chevrolet in Peoria, owner Jeff Green said his dealership sells an average of one Volt a month. “But there’s 100 percent customer satisfaction among buyers,” he said.

Uftring Nissan, a Peoria dealership that offers the Leaf, an electric model that just dropped its lease price to $199 a month (with $2,000 down), usually just has one model on hand at a time, said salesman Tim Puentes.

“Sales (of electric cars) will take awhile,” said Puentes, who drives a Leaf each day from his home in Washington to the Uftring dealership on Allen Road.

The issue of range anxiety – the motorist’s concern of being stranded without power – can be eased by charging the car each night, he said.

Mike Murphy said his Ford dealership in Morton is just gearing up for electric cars. “We’re working behind the scenes, getting training, putting in a charging station,” he said in expectation of delivery of vehicles like Ford’s electric Focus model.

Mike Miller, who owns the Mitsubishi dealership in Peoria, admits that he hasn’t made sales of Mitsubishi’s electric “i” car a priority. “We haven’t embraced it as much as we could. We probably haven’t sold 10 since it came out last year. I don’t know if the infrastructure (in Peoria) is ready,” he said.

But Miller points down the road to Bloomington-Normal where another Mitsubishi dealer “may be number-one in the country when it comes to electric cars,” he said.

O’Brien Mitsubishi in Normal even offered a limited number of leases on its electric model for only $69 a month earlier this year, said salesman Bill Denowsky.

While that deal is no longer available, the price of other electric models continues to shrink. After Nissan recently dropped the Leaf price, Honda cut the cost of a three-year lease on a Fit EV model from $389 a month to $259 with no down payment, while throwing in a 240-volt EV home charging station.

Drivers need to look at what they spend on gas to compute what the cost of an electric car really is, said Green. “Eighty-three percent of drivers travel less than 40 miles a day. Those people would put no fuel at all into a Volt ,” he said.

But the gas savings is just one advantage that electric car owners enjoy, said Green. “There’s also the pick-up. When they press down on the electric pedal, it’s incredibly quick. There’s a lot of torque,” he said.

Volt owners enjoy another benefit, said Green. “When they sit in the driver’s seat, they’ve got more technology in front of them than any car we’ve got,” he said.

Cabler Bergschneider, a Peoria dentist with an interest in cars (you’ll find Car and Driver and Motor Trend among the magazines in his waiting room) said he’s owned his Volt for a year and a half. “I’ve put 15,000 miles on the car and the dial says my mileage is 171 miles per gallon. I would exceed that, but I’ve taken it on several 350-400 mile trips,” he said.

“For 99 percent of my driving, you won’t see the gas engine run,” said Bergschneider, referring to the Volt’s use of a gas-powered generator to power the electric motor, as needed.

Sheldon Schafer, planetarium director at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, has owned his Mitsubishi “i” car for 14 months. “I’m a proselytizer for electric cars. I know the upside and the downside,” he said.

The upside is that electric cars benefit the environment, said Schafer, who’s been a Green Party congressional candidate. “I charge at night when demand is down,” he said, noting that the electricity cost amounts to about $10 a month.

The downside is that one’s range is limited to about 60 miles in the summer and about 35 miles on a cold winter day, he said. “You have to know your range and buy a car that matches,” said Schafer.

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com. Follow his blog, Minding Business, on pjstar.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter

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