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December 09, 2011

How One Sierra Clubber Spreads the Word on Electric Vehicles

MarcRAV

Getaround, a peer-to-peer car-sharing company that lets car owners rent out their vehicles at an hourly rate, has seen a recent surge in the number of electric vehicles being offered. San Francisco resident and Sierra Club member Marc Geller, owner of a Nissan Leaf and a Toyota Rav4 EV, uses Getaround to rent out his electric Toyota. Marc, who has been the owner of an electric vehicle for ten years, is also a Plug-In America board member. He took a few minutes to answer questions.

How did you become an EV advocate?

It kind of came about by accident. I had a 1970 Citroen. I had been driving old French cars for decades, but I was becoming increasingly aware of how dirty cars were. I didn't like any of the new cars and didn't want to buy another old one. At the time, California had passed a zero-emissions mandate, so I researched electric cars. I began by leasing a Ford TH!NK for almost 3 years.

Since then EVs have come a long way. The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are available. Other companies are releasing new models. What are some of the biggest obstacles for the EV industry?

The biggest challenge has always been the availability of different models. Some people like to drive station wagons, for example. There's another issue of getting consumers to understanding how much more convenient these cars would be for them.

And there's some confusion about them as an environmental question, but it's a fact that there is no cleaner car than an electric. Any gas car, including the Prius, gets dirtier over the course of its life. Electric cars get cleaner over time because the grid is getting cleaner. Electricity might not be getting cleaner as quickly as we would like, but it is getting cleaner. The dirtiest day you drive your Nissan Leaf is the first day you drive it. And there's this perception that you have to make sacrifices if you want to drive an electric car. But that will dissipate with time.

Some would complain about the price of these cars.

If you're about to buy one, it is likely to cost less over time than you'd expect. The cost over the life of the vehicle is likely to be lower even today, given gas and maintenance cost of conventional vehicles. Among the cheaper is the Mitsubishi i at around $30,000 before any incentives.  

So how many miles are on your Rav4?

87,000.

And how did you get involved with Getaround?

I heard about a competitor of Getaround and thought it was an interesting idea. I saw on the Getaround webpage that it was clear that they knew what my car was. On the site's listings you have to pull up the model of the car. And the Rav4 EV was there, which surprised me. For most websites that list cars, the Rav4 EV doesn't exist.

One reason why I rent out my car is purely propagandistic. I want people to have the opportunity to drive it and come to understand how it can meet their needs.

What's the range?

Around 100 miles. I drive it regularly to Sacramento. I don't drive at 75 mph. I drive at about 60 to 65 mph so that it goes farther. But then again I don't have to pay for gas. I'm not polluting. And when I get to Sacramento, I know where the chargers are, and I plug it in. After my meetings, the car is full, and I go back to San Francisco.

How many people have rented it so far?

Probably around eight or ten.

What kind of reception does it get from people who take it for a spin?

In some cases, they don't even know it's an electric car. They just want a small SUV that can hold their stuff. But because this is electric, I have to confirm with them first that it's appropriate for what they want to do. Some people say they're going to Tahoe. But it's not going to make it to Tahoe. Once I make sure they understand the limitations, or where they can charge the car depending on where they're going, then I get a very favorable reaction.

It's got to be nice to rent a car and not have to worry about returning it with a full tank.

I hadn't even thought about that before. I guess folks who rent traditional cars have to strike a deal to make sure it's full when they bring it back. Or if they don't fill it up before returning it, there's this huge fee. With an electric vehicle, you simply plug it in when you get back.

Visit the Sierra Club's Go Electric Campaign.

-- Brian Foley

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