In the last installment of Act Locally (May 23), high school teacher Jim Hartman recommended that readers consider driving electric vehicles. Wishing to explore this, I spoke to several friends who drive electric cars. Hearing their experiences might help readers decide if electric vehicles are the correct choice for them or not.
I begin with my own admission: For decades, I have made an effort to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, first sub-compacts, then hybrids. But as my lifestyle includes long-distance trips that exceed the 100-300 mile charging range of electric cars, a fuel-efficient (40 mpg) hybrid van currently is the right compromise for me.
But this is not the case for everyone.
Kathleen Hering’s Chevy Spark is tiny and cute as a bug. At the time this former nurse retired to Ashland in 2014, she was driving a Toyota RAV4. Wanting her driving habits to reflect her commitment to social activism, she decided to lease an all-electric vehicle for errands around town. She now shares ownership of her old SUV with a friend, and uses it only for long-distance trips. “The Spark is fun to drive. It’s got good zip. Around Ashland and Medford, it’s fine — no problems. Mechanically, it’s a breeze—no maintenance.”
For Kathleen, the advantage to leasing (rather than buying) an electric car is that she can decide to purchase the one she has, or trade it in for a newer, more technologically advanced model, when her lease contract is up. For her, the car’s biggest disadvantage is needing to recharge. While the average charging range for a Spark is 100 miles, actual mileage can vary in response to outside temperature, driving speed, and whether one is ascending or descending hills. Given this unpredictability, she tends to stick close to home, where she can plug in to her own charging station. She has calculated this adds roughly $10 per month to her electric bill.
“When you go downhill, the battery recharges itself,” explains retail clerk S.P., who similarly leases her Chevy Bolt. However, she admits driving uphill to her house can put a real strain on the battery power. For S.P., the cost of installing a home charger was prohibitive; instead she recharges at the local Safeway. “I actually love the car. It does everything I wanted it to do — keeping in mind that meant just using it for errands.” With a range of 268 miles, S.P. comfortably drives as far away as Jacksonville. However, she and her husband have also retained their SUV for long-distance trips.
Architect and philanthropist Barry Thalden has no issue traveling all the way to Portland in his Tesla. With a charging range of roughly 240 miles, Barry and his wife, Katherine, simply stop for a meal and a charge-up somewhere en route. “You’ve got to eat, don’t you?” A committed environmentalist, known for designing cutting edge, energy-efficient buildings since the 1970s, Barry saw purchasing a higher-priced Tesla as a way to support a budding industry. “We bought it because we knew it was the car of the future. I think in roughly 20 years’ time, manufacturers won’t be able to sell gas-powered vehicles anymore.”
His car has many pluses: great power going uphill, free re-charging at multiple Tesla outlets, and no need for major repairs (as it simply doesn’t have many of the replaceable parts needed to run gas-powered cars). Barry’s favorite feature is that Tesla sends automatic upgrades to the car’s computer at night, making his vehicle’s system identical to newer models.
This week’s one point of action is to opt for low-carbon emitting transportation: Walk, if at all possible. Ride a bike, if your knees will let you. Take public transportation, if that is convenient. And, most importantly, consciously choose the type of vehicle you drive, with a thought to how much gas you are using.
Ashland resident, author and anthropologist Nina Egert has been a lay environmentalist since the early 1970s.