Local News

Charged up about electric cars

SEBRING - More car buyers are going electric or opting for a hybrid vehicle to cut their fuel costs, and new-car shoppers are finding a greater selection of new and updated eco-friendly models. U.S. sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-only autos rose at least 23 percent in the first half of 2013 to more than 287,000, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. Ford's hybrid and plug-in versions of the Fusion sedan and C-Max wagon boosted its electric-drive deliveries to 46,197, more than five times its year-earlier volume, Bloomberg reported. Toyota Motor Corp. led with 176,506 such sales, up 4.4 percent. Lake Placid resident Howard Kubsch, who is a long-time electric car enthusiast, bought a new Chevrolet Volt about a month ago.
Kubsch bought his first electric car, a 1980 Sebring-built CitiCar, in an e-Bay bid in 2009 and later bought the Sebring Historical Society's 1980 ComutaCar in January 2012. Kubsch wants to cut down on the country's use of gasoline and he has definitely cut down on his gas bill with the Volt. His wife makes about three to four trips to Sebring each week and he also drives to Sebring "a good number of times," Kubsch explained. The electric-only range of the Volt is close to their 35-mile round trips between Lake Placid and Sebring. Out of dozens of trips, only two times the gas-powered electric generator had to automatically activate to complete the trip. On one of those trips the car used two-tenths of a gallon and the other time it used only one-hundredth of a gallon of gas, Kubsch noted. "So we are doing well over 300 miles per gallon on average right now," he said. "It's seamless when the engine starts; you don't feel anything; the car doesn't jerk," Kubsch explained. Kubsch charges his Volt overnight (eight hours) using the household standard 120 volts. By purchasing a separate unit, that requires installation by an electrician, the car can be fully charged in four hours with 240 volts. Using a meter that registers kilowatt usage, Kubsch calculated that it costs $1.48 in electricity to fully charge the battery for a range of 35 to 39 miles. Mileage varies depending on air-conditioning and headlight use and on speed/acceleration, Kubsch said. A dashboard indicator shows that 58 mph is an efficient speed, but going 62 mph will cut the car's range. Next week, Kubsch and his wife plan to drive their Volt to Illinois to an electric vehicle meet. Alan Jay Automotive Network Director of Marketing and Public Relations Don Elwell said fuel economy is among the priorities of buyers in four out of five sales at their dealerships. Along with electric and extended-range electric vehicles such as the Volt, many car buyers are interested in hybrid vehicles or gas engine vehicles with fuel saving technologies, he said. At one point the Toyota Prius was about the only available hybrid, but now there are so many more, Elwell said. The Toyota Avalon Hybrid is a good size sedan that is bigger than a Camry and it gets 40 mpg, he noted. The most popular hybrid and electric models include various versions of the Toyota Prius, such as the hybrid sedan, a wagon and a plug-in model, which is new this year, Elwell said. The Ford Fusion Hybrid (47 mpg) and Malibu Eco are also popular high-mileage vehicles. The Malibu Eco features a six-speed automatic transmission and an engine that shuts off at stoplights and then restarts when you remove your foot from the brake, Elwell said. Looking ahead, Elwell said that Kia, which has a Optima hybrid, announced recently they will be producing an electric version of the Soul. According to Kia-World.net, it is believed that the 2014 Kia Soul EV will have a range of 124 miles on a single charge. A federal tax credit can help offset part of the higher cost of an electric vehicle. The federal Qualified Plug-In Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Tax Credit is available for PHEV (plug-in electric vehicle) and EV purchases through 2014 (or until manufacturers meet a certain level of mass production). It provides a tax credit of $2,500 to $7,500 for new purchases, with the amount determined by the size of the vehicle and capacity of its battery. The Electric Drive Transportation Association provides the following definitions for alternative vehicles: A hybrid car, or hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), uses both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine to propel the vehicle. A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), or plug-in car, has a battery that can be charged by plugging into the grid. An extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) operates as a battery electric vehicle for a certain number of miles. After the battery's charge is depleted, a gas engine powers an electric generator. A battery electric vehicle (BEV) is powered exclusively by the electricity from its on-board battery. A fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) converts the chemical energy from a fuel, for example hydrogen, into electricity. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826