Is that an electric car?

Meet some of Maine’s EV owners

By Heather Chandler

As an EV owner since 2014, I’m often stopped when I pull into a parking space by a curious onlooker who says, “Is that an electric car?” This usually elicits a follow up, “Is there a gas back up?” and finally, “How do you like it?”

The last is my favorite, and it often elicits an exclamatory, “I LOVE it! It’s the best car I’ve ever had. I save tons of money that I used to spend on gas—even when I factor in the cost of the electricity. It’s super peppy—in fact, so much so that I tend to drive in the toned-down eco mode so that I don’t squeal out of stoplights. And there’s essentially no maintenance.”

On and on I go, with a sparkle in my eye. That’s because driving an electric car is awesome. The only drawback I’ve ever experienced is that my range is limited by the 80-90-mile average capacity of the battery in my 2014 Nissan LEAF.

That, however, is about to change with the high range electric cars that have hit the market this year. Three mass market models (Chevy Volt, Nissan LEAF and Tesla 3), available for the first time this year, get 150-300 miles to a battery charge. The Tesla 3 even offers an upgrade option that gets over 300 miles on a single charge. And these are cars with a price tag in the range of $30,000. With the rapid growth in the network of public charging stations happening now and expected to continue into the future, these models make even long-range trips well within the grasp of the norm.

But don’t just take my word for it. We profiled nine Mainers, from Portland to Mount Desert Island and Norway to Baldwin, who have found that electric cars are their chosen mode of transport.

Emily Graham

Photo: Karl Gifford

When it came time for Emily Graham to purchase a new car, she decided to invest in an all-electric model for both practical and ethical reasons. She’d read about their reliability and low maintenance costs. And she felt that having an electric car was the right choice for the planet, given the large number of miles that her family drives.

Last year, she leased a 2016 Nissan LEAF SV. What surprised her the most was how enjoyable the car is to drive. “Low maintenance costs are certainly a plus, but we didn’t expect it would be so fun to drive,” says Graham. “It handles well, is comfortable, and it’s always fun to see how many miles we can get from a charge.” That’s about 125 miles “on balmy days, when I am driving between 45-55 mph on a relatively flat road,” says Graham. However, “On the coldest days of winter, running the heat, or over hilly highway terrain going 75 mph, the range drops quite a bit. The lowest has been about 75 miles/charge.”

Graham puts an average of 350 miles a week on the car, primarily on her commute to Portland from Baldwin. She uses a Level 2 charger to recharge at home. “I charge it most evenings and never have to worry about stopping for gas on my way to or from work.” She adds that her employer is currently working to set up a charging station for visitors and employees. “I don’t really need it, but it’ll be a nice perk!”

What do you do when you want to go further than your range?
Depending on where we are going, we either stop to charge, drive our other vehicle, or rent a car. Using the ever-expanding charging network is a fun exercise in trip planning.

What do you do if you run out of charge on the road?
I never have. But if I did, Nissan covers towing for LEAF owners.

Do you own or lease?
After reviewing all the numbers, we determined that it was cheaper for us to lease and then buy the vehicle at the end of the lease than to buy outright. This is due to the $7,000 tax credit. Our income isn’t high enough to get the full credit, but Nissan got the credit when we leased, passing that savings on to us.

If you could turn any car make/model into an EV, what would it be?
I would love to see an affordable electric truck for my husband to use in his work.

Phil Coupe

Phil Coupe doesn’t make many trips to the gas station these days, since leasing his 2017 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid electric minivan. But on that rare occasion when he needs to drive further than the car’s 40-mile battery range, the gas back-up engine kicks in seamlessly. The Coupe family chose the Chrysler Pacifica over other EV models for its capacity to transport gear for their active family.

They have a Level 2 charging station attached to an exterior wall of their home. “It’s super convenient to just park and plug it in,” says Coupe. If charging at the house isn’t an option, there are upwards of 20 free public charging stations in greater Portland. And when charging in unfamiliar areas, Coupe uses the PlugShare app to find nearby public chargers.

What is your typical car usage?
My work commute is about 15 miles roundtrip. Add in grocery store trips, errands, school drop-offs and extra-curricular activities, we are probably driving 50 miles per day, or 350 miles per week (excluding the occasional long drive to Boston or New York).

Favorite thing about your car?
It enables us to use solar electricity as the “fuel” that powers 90% of our lifestyle! The vehicle dashboard has a really cool and easy-to-read display that shows how much of your driving is all-electric and how much is gas-powered.

Do you own or lease?
Lease, because I think better technology will be available in 3 years. Battery technology is rapidly progressing, meaning that new models with greater range will be coming soon. With a lease, I can use the best of what’s available today and upgrade at the end of lease. Before EVs came along, I was a “buy and hold” kind of Mainer, but now leasing makes sense.

What is your dream EV?
An all-electric four-door pick-up truck, which will probably hit the market within 5 years.

Tony Giambro

Photo: Travis Ritchie

In 2016, Tony Giambro purchased a used 2015 Kia Soul EV after hearing about its long battery range —100 miles on a full charge— and large cargo space. Most of the time he’s charging at home on a Clipper Creek Level 2 charger which he installed himself at a total cost of about $600. As an employer, he’s committed to offering workplace charging at Paris Autobarn, the business he owns and runs in South Paris. Powered by roof-top solar panels, the car chargers are very economical, and not just for Tony and his employees— he offers free solar-powered charging to the public as well.

While Giambro acknowledges that the Kia Soul makes long distance travel a bit more difficult—with its 100-mile range limitation—this will no longer be an issue when the Tesla Model 3 he has on order arrives later this year. He’s getting the long-range model, and it boasts a 310-mile range on a single battery charge.

Favorite thing about your car?
It has no tailpipe! And most of the time I charge my EV from a solar array, so I love the fact that I’m driving a zero-emissions vehicle using locally-produced and renewable energy.

What happens when you run out of electricity?
The same thing that happens when you run out of gas. I’ve never been stranded in over a year of driving my EV. But if I was, I would use the free roadside assistance that came with the car.

If you could turn any car into an EV, what would it be?
I think a Tesla Model 3 is the ideal vehicle for my needs. I’ve had one on preorder for over a year now. It should hopefully arrive by the end of the year!

What’s the biggest downside to your car?
The limited range of my Kia Soul EV makes long distance travel more difficult than is could be. But this issue won’t exist when my Tesla Model 3 arrives.

Bob Howe & Kathy Coleman

You might say that Bob Howe and Kathy Coleman have jumped into the electric car world with both feet. Bob drives a 2017 Chevy Bolt and Kathy drives a 2016 Chevy Volt. That’s not a typo, by the way. The Volt is Chevy’s hybrid-electric model, meaning it has a plug-in electric battery and a gas engine for back-up. The Bolt is Chevy’s all-electric model, released for the first time in 2017. It boasts a 238mile range on a single charge, more than doubling that of mass-market EVs that came before it. What’s most noteworthy about the Bolt is that it offers a high-range all-electric drive, with a price tag as low as $30k after the currently available $7,500 tax credit.

Kathy and Bob charge at home using the Level 1 chargers that came with their cars, as well as a Level 2 charger that Bob purchased for around $500, including the installation materials, and installed himself. Most of the electricity that powers the charging comes from solar panels on their garage.

Why did you choose the Chevy Volt?
Kathy: I had driven my husband’s first Volt (a 2013) and liked the mileage, handling, comfort and that it had an 8-gallon fuel tank.

How many miles do you typically drive in a week?
Kathy: 250 miles
Bob: 460 miles

How many miles do you get on a single charge?
Kathy: I average 65 in the summer and 45 in the winter.
Bob: It easily meets the EPA rating of 238 miles on my commute. A little less on I-95 with the a/c on. I have yet to deplete a battery.

What do you think your next car will be?
Kathy: a Volt or other hybrid-electric. I like the gas-powered backup generator.
Bob: No plans yet, but I won’t go back to gas.

If you could turn any car into an EV, what would it be?
Kathy: Volvo SUV or a small truck.
Bob: Ford Shelby Cobra.

The biggest downside to owning an EV?
Bob: None so far, but I will have to do careful route planning on a long trip. The Chevy Bolt owners’ group Facebook page has many stories about long-distance trips taken by Bolt owners and how they made it work.

Fred Garbo

In 2012, Fred Garbo of Norway purchased a Nissan LEAF, making him one of Maine’s first electric car owners. “It was the only electric car around,” says Garbo. That has certainly changed in the years since. And earlier this year, Garbo snagged a great deal on his second EV, a 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf. “It was listed on eBay for half price. And it had very low mileage.”

A solar-installer by trade, Garbo charges the cars’ batteries on a Level 2 charger, powered by a solar tracker he installed on his property. When he makes his weekly trips to Portland, he spends $1 to use the DC quick charger at Bill Dodge in Westbrook. He puts on about 12,000 miles a year. Garbo is a big fan of how inexpensive the EVs are to run, not to mention their silent and eco-friendly nature.

Tell me about your home charger?
I installed a Level 2 home charger, and I use that every night. It cost $675 for the equipment back in 2012, plus $100 for installation. They are much cheaper now.

If you could turn any car make/model into an EV, what would it be?
Caravan

What car do you think you will get next?
I have already ordered and made a deposit for the Tesla Model 3.

What’s the biggest pro to driving your EV?
Not polluting our planet.

The biggest downside?
None.

Alex Pine & Adrienne Munger

Photo: Aydan Pugh

Alex Pine and Adrienne Munger own a 2014 smart fortwo electric car, chosen because it offered them “the right combination of size, price, and design.” They love the car’s small size and how easy that makes parking. And they both agree that instant heat in the wintertime is the best feature in any EV. They live in an apartment, so they opted not to have a home charger installed. Instead, they use the charge cable that came with the car, which allows them to plug into any household outlet.

They lease the smart fortwo because it provided an opportunity to take advantage of the federal tax credits upfront. However, when the lease runs out this year, they’ll be making the switch to a used Fiat 500e. “It’s small like the smart, but with four seats and faster charging,” says Pine. “Plus, used EVs are very affordable right now since so many are being returned from leases.” And while it’s the most common question they receive when people find out they own an electric car, Alex says range isn’t really an issue for them. “We have more than enough for our normal driving, and if we do go further, we use our biodiesel car or the bus.”

Who drives the car primarily, and what is your typical usage?
We average about 180 miles per week. I drive the car to commute and Adrienne takes it when I ride my bike to work. We both drive it on the weekends.

What happens if you ever run out of charge?
It’s just like a gas car—you plan ahead. If we do get low on charge, we can usually find charging stations nearby or use the cord that came with the car.

If you could turn any car make/model into an EV, what would it be?
Tough question! It would be a tie between a European station wagon and a Tatra 603-1.

Gary Friedmann

Photo: Robin Owings

Gary Friedmann charges his 2016 Ford C-Max plug in hybrid with power generated from solar panels installed on the barn of his farm, the Bar Harbor Community Farm. When he’s not working at the farm, he’s a development consultant for Maine nonprofits. He likes that the plug-in hybrid offers him 100% carbon-free driving (when in electric mode), while not having to worry about battery range. That’s because the C-max has a gas engine that kicks in after he’s depleted the 27-mile electric range. The responsiveness of the electric motor and incredible fuel economy are his favorite things about the car. Not surprisingly, with gas and battery combined, the car gets about 88 miles/gallon.

How far will it go on a charge?
27 miles in summer— enough to get anywhere on Mount Desert Island—and unlimited in hybrid mode.
Your next EV? I’m excited to get an electric pickup truck or delivery vehicle for our farm business.

What’s the biggest pro to driving your EV?
Quiet, smooth, 100% carbon-free ride, running off the sun—we charge the car from our solar panels.
The biggest downside? In winter, the battery runs down very fast. G&HM

Jessica Ryan contributed to these profiles.

Want to learn more about EVs? Check out these other articles from the Special Section, It’s Electric, from the fall/winter 2018 issue of Green & Healthy Maine HOMES:

The return of the electric car

Driving on sunshine

Charging electric vehicles in Maine

Driving electric: cleaner air, better climate down the road

 

This article is reprinted from the fall/winter 2018 issue of Green & Healthy Maine HOMES magazine. Subscribe today!

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