Monday, April 23, 2018

Electric Car Buying Made Easy

Above: Thad Curtz, center, organized a display of eight electric vehicle models, including his own Ford CMAX Energi plug-in hybrid, at the South Sound Climate Action Convention in Lacey on April 14. His new nonprofit is called Electrify Thurston. 

Washington State Sales Tax Exemption for Electric Vehicles Ends May 31

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

If you’re looking for a new vehicle and sick of paying high gas prices, maybe you’re thinking of purchasing an electric car. 

If you're nervous because you don’t know much about them, and don't know the difference between a Chevy Volt and a Chevy Bolt, you’re not alone.

The electric car industry, still recovering from the days of “Who Killed the Electric Car,” now has several options on the market and local help is now available without the pressure and stress of walking into a showroom. 

Electrify Thurston, a new local non-profit created by Thad Curtz and Paul Elwood of Olympia, is educating community members about electric vehicles and hopes to increase the relatively small number of them currently sold.

The group also promotes residential, workplace and multi-family charging infrastructure. Future work could include the promotion of charging infrastructure at transit centers and parking facilities.

Curtz, a retired professor at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, recently organized a display of eight locally owned battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids at the South Sound Climate Action Convention, held at the Lacey branch of South Puget Sound Community College on April 14.

The display showcased the new Nissan LEAF, a new Chevy Bolt, a Tesla Model S, a Chevy Volt, a Ford CMAX Energi, and a Fiat500e.

Convention goers had the opportunity to sit in the cars and speak with the actual owners, all of whom were thrilled about their experiences driving them. Owners liked the significantly lower costs of driving on electricity and their low greenhouse gas emissions. They also praised the cars quick acceleration and their low maintenance costs. The cars ranged in size from tiny to a full sized sedan.

Perhaps the most common worry potential consumers have about electric cars is the possibility of running out of juice.

Curtz says this is not a problem. 

“Roughly 80 percent of electric vehicle owners charge their cars at home overnight or at work, on a regular outlet or a 220 volt charger,” he says. The plug-in hybrid models mean you can have the best of both worlds, using battery power for local trips supplemented by a gasoline-powered generator for longer trips.

Lowering Thurston County Greenhouse Gas Emissions

For climate activist-minded consumers, electric vehicles are a no-brainer, and part of the answer to reducing Thurston County’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Unfortunately, they don't reduce emissions here as much as they would in Mason County or Seattle, where almost all the electricity comes from hydro,” warned Curtz. 

In late 2017, a greenhouse gas emissions analysis was conducted by the Clean Energy Transition and Stockholm Environmental Institute for the Thurston Regional Planning Council. The study suggested that Thurston County should work with other jurisdictions to advocate for the successful decarbonization of Washington’s electricity grid. 

Although Puget Sound Energy’s plan to begin pulling away from coal over the next eight years is a promising sign, for many, it is not soon enough.

“About 34 percent of PSE’s electricity currently comes from coal. People in Thurston County drive, on average, 9,000 miles each year. The most efficient current gasoline car, a Toyota Prius, has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 52 mpg, and produces 4,189 pounds of CO2 a year on local power....

“A Jeep Wrangler, one of the least efficient passenger cars, has a rating of 18 mpg, and produces 11,280 pounds of CO2,” said Curtz, citing estimates from the vehicle cost calculator at the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuel Data Center website.

Curtz says that driving a Nissan LEAF on PSE power rather than a Honda Accord saves two metric tons of CO2 a year, and even driving a LEAF rather than a Prius saves nine metric tons over the life of the car. 

Prices for new battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles start at about $21,000, so if a new car is beyond your reach, the market for used electric vehicles which are returned to dealers after two and three year leases is booming.

There are many advantages and reasons to lease a car.

Above: Olympia city councilmember Clark Gilman shows off his Fiat 500e at the South Sound Climate Action Convention in Lacey on Saturday.

Thurston County Electric Car Drivers 

As of January, 1,015 were registered in Thurston County, about 3.6 percent of those in the state. 

Curtz is aiming to improve this number by working with local auto dealers to get discount prices on specific makes and models. Successful group vehicle purchases have been negotiated with impressive discounts in Colorado and Utah in collaboration with local universities, hospitals and local jurisdictions.

At the end of last year, the City of Seattle negotiated with Nissan to offer city employees a group discount of $10,000 on the 2017 Nissan LEAF, which has a range of just over 100 miles on a single charge.

Olympia city councilmember Clark Gilman purchased his two year old Fiat500e in November, a lease return, for $10,000.

A long-time avid bicyclist and bus commuter, Gilman at times needs a car to get between his jobs, meetings and activities. His electric vehicle, he laughed, is “one step up from a golf cart,” and goes 50 – 60 miles in winter between charges. As the weather improves, he anticipates that number to rise, and run between 80 – 90 miles. He charges it one or two nights a week and says he’s good to go.

“It’s been a blast,” said Gilman.

Above: The interior of Ingrid Gulden's 2012 Tesla Model S vehicle at the South Sound Climate Action Convention. 

Ingrid Gulden also invited the public to sit in her 2012 Tesla Model S vehicle. Sixty of the nearly 600 electric cars registered in Thurston County in 2016 were Teslas. 

“We love it and drive it to San Francisco four times a year,” she said. For long trips, Tesla provides support for finding chargers as part of its dashboard navigation software. Cold weather and winds affect the mileage, but a Tesla gets about 250 miles on a charge, she said.

So, if you’re in the market for an electric vehicle, now may be the time. 

New plug-in car purchases and leases are currently exempt from Washington's sales tax, but that will end next month. To avoid paying the sales tax, and save a couple of thousand dollars, you have to take delivery of the car by May 31.

The federal rebate, up to $7,500, depending upon battery size, will also phase out for each company after they sell 200,000 electric cars in the U.S. Curtz says General Motors and Tesla are the first companies expected to reach that point late this year.

Above: Thad Curtz leads a discussion about electric vehicle options before the group headed out to take a look at several on display at the South Sound Climate Action Convention in Lacey on April 14.

Editor's Note, April 21: Article was corrected shortly after it was originally posted to reflect that General Motors and Tesla will be the first companies expected to sell 200,000 electric cars in the U.S. later this year, not in 2019. 

Editor's Note, April 23: Article was reposted because it apparently did not get delivered via the RSS feed.

For more information, go to Their website includes answers to frequently asked questions, provides up-to-date information about electric vehicles available from Western Washington auto dealers, online referrals to local dealers with electric vehicles, and can provide information on installing residential charging equipment.