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North Hills Monthly

Electric Cars Still Attractive to Owners Despite Lower Sales

Jan 29, 2016 05:22PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine
By Jim Lachimia

Joe Jackson had been intrigued by electric cars for a few years before he bought his first—a 2014 Prius Plugin Hybrid. Like any good consumer, he did his homework beforehand.

“I saw someone driving a Honda Insight, which was one of the original all-electric cars, when I was on a trip to California,” Jackson said. “After that I started learning about the technology, and it seemed like a much more efficient and cool way to power a car. I always liked the idea of using less gas.”

 
He still has the Prius, but these days also owns a Tesla Model S. The former runs on electric, but also has a gas tank for those times when the battery is low. The latter is a higher-end sedan that’s all electric. Jackson, who lives in McCandless Township and works in information technology at Carnegie-Mellon University, only buys gas for the Prius once every month or so.

He enjoys owning both cars but is more impressed with the Tesla than the smallish Prius. “The Tesla Model S has really great range. I can drive it 240 miles or so between charges,” Jackson said. “It’s a big car. It’s roomy enough for a family. Plus, it has tremendous pick-up. When you’re leaving red lights, it really feels snappy. And those scary entrance ramps we have around Pittsburgh to get onto the parkways, those are a lot better with an electric car.”

Another North Hills resident who is a fan of electric cars is Megan Patrick, a pediatric speech therapist at Laughlin Children’s Center in Sewickley and a resident of Reserve Township. Her husband, Stephen Patrick, works at P&W BMW on Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh. That led to Megan owning and driving an electric car called the BMW i3.

“It’s a BMW, so it drives like a BMW,” she said. “I love it. Plus, I don’t have to put gas in my car anymore. I just charge it every night or every other night, depending upon how much I use it. I just plug it into the wall, into a regular outlet. You can get a special outlet installed that will charge a little bit faster. But with the extent I drive, back and forth to work and normal errands, I’m fine with a regular wall outlet.”

Though Jackson and Patrick, and no doubt others, sing the praises of such cars, electric vehicles remain a niche market. In fact, according to InsideEVs.com, sales in the United States were actually down in 2015 (116,548) compared to the previous year (123,049). 

John Putzier, the executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association, believes falling gas prices were partially responsible for the drop-off. “Electric cars aren’t a hot commodity when gas prices are as low as they are,” he said. “When people are looking at a horizon with $2 gas for as long as we can see, there’s really no compelling reason to buy an electric vehicle. In our industry, we’ll sell anything that will sell. We’ll sell mopeds if people want to buy them. But the pure EV is a very narrow market, and it’s getting even narrower with the price of gas.”

Putzier also cited what he called ‘range anxiety’ as one of the primary reasons that the vast majority of car buyers shy away from EVs and stick with good ol’ gasoline-powered automobiles. “If you want to take a vacation to Florida, you’re certainly not going to get there in an EV, unless you’re willing to stop for six hours to recharge on the way down; that’s what I mean by range anxiety,” he said. “If it’s just a commuter car for urbanites or a second vehicle for jaunts, that’s fine. But an EV isn’t a practical vehicle for all purposes.”

The Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and BMW i3—in that order—were the top-selling EVs in the country last year. But Putzier doesn’t believe EVs in general are as popular as some people let on.  

“There’s a lot of misinformation in the marketplace about the popularity of EVs, but saying it doesn’t make it so,” Putzier said. “I challenge you to find a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt on your way home tonight.”

But that doesn’t mean the folks who drive them aren’t enjoying the experience. “I’ve been a big fan of electric cars for a long time,” Jackson said. “They have full power no matter what speed you’re driving. Gasoline engines aren’t like that. My Tesla Model S is a fantastic car; it’s the dream car I’d been waiting for.”

“I really like the BMW i3. It’s a great car,” Patrick added. “Plus I don’t have to go out of my way to find a gas station. I just go home. As long as I remember to charge it, I’m good to go.”