Regular readers of my articles here and my posts on facebook know that I have become a big fan of electric vehicles over the last few years. I’m not alone. They are quick off the line, inexpensive to fuel and maintain, and generally fun cars to drive.
When I first started driving my son’s Plug-in Prius a few years back, it was the only car with a plug in the downtown. Even two years ago, it wasn’t that common to see one. There are now at least eight EVs downtown on a regular basis now. One of those is the Leaf that the city just added to its fleet.
After 21 months of happily tooling my 2011 Leaf around the area, I decided to upgrade my ride to something with a bit more than the 50-55 mile range that the Leaf had. The Leaf was a very nice car and worked fine for most of my needs, but I did have to plan ahead a bit if I knew I needed to go to Spring Hill, Tampa, or St. Petersburg. Ultimately, I wanted a car that could easily take longer trips without having to plan ahead.
My potential “long trips” include Palatka (156 miles) and Jacksonville (227 miles). As I narrowed down my options, it was clear that several cars, including the Chevy Bolt (259 mile estimated range) and the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus (250 mile estimated range) would make either trip with range to spare.
Ultimately, I decided on the Tesla Model 3 Long Range (322 mile estimated range) as it would give me the flexibility of taking off on either trip on short notice, without any advance planning whatsoever. My inner 16 year old would admit that the faster 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds “might” have had something to do with my choice as well.
I actually took advantage of the Tesla’s range flexibility this past week when I decided, on the spur of the moment, to accompany my wife on a trip to Palatka.
I had a couple of stops to make Thursday morning before I could leave, so we were down to about 230 miles of range when we hopped in the car for the trip to Palatka. Figuring we’d hit Ocala around lunch time, I set the navigation to take us to the Ocala Supercharger. We plugged in there and walked to the nearby Panera Bread for lunch. By the time we were through eating our sandwiches, the car was charged up to a 90% level. I had boosted the charge cutoff level from 80% via my phone because the car would have otherwise finished charging well before we finished eating. The car refueled faster than we did.
We plugged into a 110 outlet at my in-law’s house in Palatka and let the car charge overnight. We drove straight home without having to stop for a charge and I still had about 115 miles of estimated range when we got home.
This trip let me verify some performance questions: The estimated range is pretty accurate at posted highway speeds. The car is a bit less efficient when cruising with the flow of traffic at 74 or 75 mph. Not much, but noticeable. Given that Tesla Supercharger stations are generally about 100 miles or so apart, staying up with the flow of traffic on the Interstate is not going to create a range issue for me.
The same could be said for the Chevy Bolt and other long range EVs. Electrify America and others are rapidly building out fast charging stations along the Interstates. Trips from here to Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, or up the east coast, are all very doable. Getting out to stretch, hit the restrooms, or grab a bite to eat every 2-3 hours or so is a good practice. Plugging your EV into a fast charger while you do so isn’t going to slow you down much, if at all.
We are going to see quite a few new affordable EVs over the course of the next year. They should be highly competitive with gas powered cars. You can pick up a new Chevy Bolt today for under $30,000. The Tesla Model 3 starts at less than $40,000. The Nissan Leaf Plus (226 miles estimated range) is also available now in the low $30’s. The Volkswagen ID.4 should be here in a year and slot in somewhere in the 30’s. A fair number of pickup trucks and SUVs will also be making their debut. Used EVs, particularly Chevy Bolts, are readily available at very attractive prices. If you don’t need much range, an older Leaf might work for you. I purchased my Leaf for under $9000.
Road trips aside, the big question always seems to be: “How long does it take to charge?” I can’t speak for all EV owners, but the short answer is: “Who cares?” I plug my Model 3, and before that my Leaf, into a 110v plug and let it charge overnight. It only takes a few seconds to plug in when you get home and to unplug when you are ready to head out in the morning. Given how little most folks drive on any given day, charging with a 110v plug is all they will ever need. Fast chargers come in handy when you are taking a long trip. Typical charging stations provide about 25 miles of range per hour of charging. Fast chargers use DC at 440 volts to charge EVs MUCH faster. We picked up about to 100 miles of range during our 30 minute lunch break in Ocala.
People who live in apartments have a more complicated situation. Newer apartment complexes, like Main Street Landing and The Central on Orange Lake, have charging facilities for their residents.
Some folks may be able to charge at work. I predict that this will become a more common amenity that employers offer their employees.
I installed a 220v plug at my office. My landlord even split the cost with me. I don’t use it often, but it is nice to have.
Some large employers, like Raymond James in St. Pete, have installed whole banks of charging stations for the benefit of their employees and guests. There is at least one law office in West Pasco with a charging station in their parking lot. Additionally, North Bay Hospital has installed charging stations. We don’t have any in West Pasco, but some Publix shopping centers have charging stations where you can charge your car while shopping for groceries. The GreenWise Market (owned by Publix) off 54 at the parkway has charging stations available. The National Comedy Hall of Fame in Holiday even has fast chargers available. I expect to see more of these business stations pop up around town over time. They are a nice perk for employees and they attract customers.
The City of New Port Richey has been a leader in providing public charging stations. We’ve got stations at City Hall, the Rec. Center, Sims Park, and the lot south of Bank Street. A new dual port station should be online in the Gloria Swanson lot within the next week or two. Looking to the future, the new parking garage we are building east of the new Keiser University building will be plumbed for charging stations. We can document examples of EV owners plugging into the city’s charging stations and then spending an extended amount of time shopping and dining downtown.
Modern electric cars often come with phone apps that let you do things like turn on the cabin heat or a/c remotely. It was 52 degrees one morning this week, so I took advantage of that capability and the car was toasty when I got into it.
Global EV sales are surging, even during the pandemic. In just a year, EV sales have nearly doubled. If that continues, you are going to see a LOT more EVs on the road within the next couple of years.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that Florida has the second largest number of EVs in the US, second only to California. “Green energy” policies certainly have something to do with California’s place at the top, but I don’t believe that is the driving factor in Florida. We simply aren’t as concerned with environmental issues when shopping for cars. I suspect it is more a matter of the vehicles simply being better than their gas powered counterparts. The Leaf was easily the nicest car I’ve ever owned. The Tesla has now taken that title.
The EV owners I know are very passionate about their vehicles. As a group, they don’t see themselves ever going back to a gasoline powered car. I am not the first downtown business owner to upgrade from one EV to another. I am sure that I won’t be the last.
As more affordable EVs show up in the popular utility and truck form factors, I expect to see demand for them explode. Ford, GM, and Volkswagen are preparing for that change. Companies like Hyundai and Kia would be well advised to start offering their EVs in Florida sooner rather than later.
It will be interesting to see how things change over the next couple of years. If you think an EV might be an option for your next car, feel free to ask any questions you have.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor