By Tony Regan, Tribune Brand Publishing
Imagine what it would be like to drive hundreds of miles — from Florida to New York, for example - and not burn a single drop of gasoline.
Your first pit stop would be at the half-way point, at a shopping mall in a small town – not to shop, but to "refuel," for free. After 20 - 30 minutes, your vehicle would be powered up and you’d be back on your way.
The vision to create a car that runs on little to no gasoline has been a quest for engineers and enthusiasts for years, but now this dream is a reality for many people.
In 2012, Florida ranked second in the U.S. for electric vehicle sales and fourth for number of charging stations — with Orlando having the highest number of charging stations in the state.
For Orlando residents, the future is already here.
“While we may not be in the top 10 yet in market share for electric vehicles, our numbers continue to climb every day and our EV customers are some of our most engaged customers,” reports Jennifer S. Szaro, Orlando Utilities Commission’s renewable energy manager. “Just this week, I received three emails from EV customers asking for updates on new locations for charging stations in our area. They are also not shy about letting us know when they get ‘ICED’ — when an internal combustion engine (vehicle) parks in one of our EV spaces. They even send me photos! It’s like having our very own EV parking patrol.”
Electric vehicles make a lot of sense, Szaro says. “In an urban area like Orlando, most drivers commute less than 40 miles round trip each day,” she explains. “EVs can easily meet this need at a fraction of the cost you would otherwise pay for a gas-powered vehicle. Most people don’t realize that EVs cost one-third to operate when compared with traditional gasoline engines — and have zero emissions.”
For example, she points out that a Nissan LEAF costs roughly 3 cents per mile to operate (including maintenance costs) versus more than 10 cents per mile for a Toyota Camry. “There are no oil changes, no fuel filters, no timing belts and no reasons to stop at a gas station unless you want to grab a quick snack,” Szaro points out. The only major maintenance issue for EVs is the battery pack, for which most manufacturers provide an eight-year warranty.
Tips on selecting an electric vehicle
According to Szaro, there are two key factors to consider when buying an electric vehicle: commuting distance and operating budget. “If your commute is greater than 80 miles per day, you may still be able to go all-electric if you have workplace charging,” she says. “Otherwise, consider a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt or Ford Fusion. Both offer the option to use gasoline as a backup fuel when you can’t plug in.”
For those trying to save money on operating costs over the life of the vehicle, Szaro says the Nissan LEAF is an excellent choice. “After the tax credit, you can obtain a brand-new vehicle for less than $25,000 and lease rates can be less than $200 per month,” she says.
Types of electric vehicles
Plug-in Electric Vehicle (PEV)
How about a car that never needs an oil change or a gas station? The latest generation of PEVs run completely on electricity stored and replenished within the vehicle's batteries and electric motor. Though the initial purchase of a PEV can be pricey, the cost for fuel is virtually zero, as are the emissions. Larry Chanin, president of the social club Florida Tesla Enthusiasts, points out several benefits to owning a plug-in including: extra room for cargo due to fewer parts and components, convenient charging stations also known as “Supercharger Stations” located at malls, hotels and other locations, zero expense for gas, and minimal maintenance.
“The power company is the only emission factor. I save a lot of money not paying for gasoline at all,” Chanin says. “(My car) has also been tested to be very safe and has plenty of space and storage — though the level of infrastructure for this car (requires) a slightly more planned route.”
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
This is fast becoming the most popular EV car on the road according to enthusiasts. The plug-in hybrid combines two modes of propulsion in one vehicle - a battery powered electric motor that can be plugged in and recharged, and a gasoline engine. Fuel efficiency and miles per gallon depend on the ratio of gas vs. electric miles used on the road.
Orlando resident Jason Bowles drives a 2012 hybrid and enjoys efficiency and convenience in abundance. He especially appreciates the free electric car charging stations in Orlando, Winter Park and Sanford, fewer visits to the gas station, and much less wear and tear on his car.
“There is much less maintenance. Since most of the driving we do is done with the electric motor, we still have not needed to change the oil yet,” Bowles says. “Tire rotations, that's it.”
Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)
The best-known version of an earth-friendly car over the past couple of years is the hybrid that runs on gas and electric battery power. However unlike PHEV's, HEV's do not need to plug-in to recharge. Instead, the only refueling takes place at the gas pump. Some hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, can generate additional power from its braking system.
Nate DeVan bought his first HEV in 2013. “I get great mileage. The Prius gets 30-50 miles per gallon, depending, compared to 18-24 from my Jeep or Trailblazer.”
More and more versions of eco-cars continue to appear or reappear on the road, some prevailing more than others with a proven track record.
The Road Ahead
Orland Utilities Commission is spreading the word that there are more reasons now than ever to consider purchasing an electric car. One incentive is OUC’s expanding network of charging stations.
“Most customers feel that we have done an excellent job supporting them with our EV charging station efforts, but we do have certain areas that get very heavy usage and customers have requested more units in those areas,” Szaro says. “We also receive many requests from EV owners to install workplace charging, as well as charging stations outside multi-unit dwellings. These are areas we plan to expand into in the near future.”