Issues

Transportation & Land Use

Local plug-in vehicle celebration demystifies electric vehicles, financial accessibility

September 23 was the second annual National Plug-In Vehicle day. For fans of electric vehicles (EVs), it was an occasion to celebrate the technology’s recent success.

Despite a prevailing “sticker shock” narrative in the media, early adopters have been enthusiastic in embracing the cars’ fuel-saving, emission-reducing qualities. Even with limited availability, there are already more than 35,000 electric vehicles on the road in the United States today, and those EVs have already been driven an estimated 200 million miles.

The day was also a chance for potential EV drivers to ask questions and kick the tires. Plug In America, one of the day’s national organizers, reported more than 10,000 prospective EV drivers attended plug-in events in 60 different cities. Here in Minnesota, the event was held at St. Paul’s Como Pavilion. The site was chosen partly due to its solar-powered charging station—one of three in the city.

According to PlugInConnect, which helped organize the St. Paul event, owners showed up with 48 plug-in vehicles and shared their experiences with over 150 attendees. Unlike in some other cities,there wasn’t much of a manufacturer and dealership presence. Most of the attendees were simply satisfied EV owners excited to show off their sweet rides. I was one of those attendees, and I was impressed by the diversity of EV owners represented at the event.

While it’s true that not everyone can afford to buy a state-of-the-art plug-in vehicle with cash up front, it’s important to note that many conventional car buyers are in the same boat. That’s why General Motors developed automotive financing back in the 1920s. Financing is especially important for clean-energy consumer technologies like EVs and rooftop photovoltaic solar arrays that tend to carry higher initial costs in exchange for lower energy costs in the long term.

Even the most ardent buyers might balk at the notion of what is, in essence, prepaying for multiple years of future fuel savings. But attractive financing allows those fuel savings to help pay for themselves on a monthly basis.

Indeed, many drivers prefer to lease— an option that improves upon financing by also shifting potential financial risks from the buyer to the seller. For example, what if newer technology makes early models “obsolete,” or a resale market fails to develop, or the warranty fails to perform? Reasonable people can differ on the wisdom of leasing versus buying—I observed a range of different opinions at the event—but it’s hard to argue against at least allowing buyers the option.

For the truly cost-conscious driver, there was another option on display last Sunday: the DIY model. One owner showed off a flashy fiberglass-paneled sports car he built from a kit, substituting motor and lead-acid batteries for the conventional drive train. Another owner explained how he converted a Ford sedan to run on lithium-ion batteries. And a number of others captured DIY-style cost savings without picking up a wrench by commissioning Minneapolis-based ReGo Electric Conversions to add plugs to their existing hybrid vehicles.

And the kids at the event? They liked the bubbles.

Photos: Ross Abbey

September 23 was the second annual National Plug-In Vehicle day. For fans of electric vehicles (EVs), it was an occasion to celebrate the technology's recent success.

Add a comment 2 comments

  1. Ralph Jacobson

    10.04.2012

    Great article, good coverage of issues that a lot of otherwise interested people wonder about.

  2. Joel

    10.24.2012

    I have to admit, I’m kind of bummed I didn’t know about this. I’ve been covering the progression of electric cars quite a bit but I’ve never really got to “kick the tires” on one. At least I know this is happening again next year. This seems like an incredibly smart idea since it’s tough to make the jump until you know someone you trust that has had some success. Thanks for making me aware of this event!