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March 14, 2012

Interview: A New Car to Plug

Frank's EV

Frank Streng recently became the first person in Westchester County, New York, to own an electric car. It even garnered local television coverage, which you can watch at the bottom of this page. He took a few minutes to talk to us about his new car.

How long have you had your Nissan Leaf?

Since January of 2012, but we reserved it in 2010. Because of the wait list, the Japan earthquake, and the fact that the state of New York was one of the last to see these, it took nearly two years to get it. So I ended up with the 2012 model. The wait made it cheaper for me. Back in 2010 people were paying up to $5,000 for a charging station for their garage. Mine's less than half that. 

My car also has a built-in solar panel for key components in the car.

Nissan Leaf plugDescribe the adjustment in switching from a gas engine to an all-electric.

We were driving a Prius. We've always been a green family. So we were interested in this early on. But you can't buy this car unless you have a commuting distance of about 60 miles daily at the most. My commute is 50. Your primary charging station is your garage. You have to be tolerant of that. The true range of this car in the winter is about 70 miles. One day I had to go somewhere beyond that, and I realized I had to switch cars with my wife because the range wouldn't allow it. Some people aren't tolerant of having to deal with things like that.

As a driver, when my car gets low on gas and the needles approaches the "E", I get pretty intolerant with the idea of having to go back to the gas station. So in that sense, it's a give-and-take.

You're right. One of the pleasures of this car is that I get home, plug it in, and I don't worry about it. I'm like you. I would say, "Oh, I have to go to the gas station. I'll do it tomorrow." I'd put it off. But eventually I'd have to go to the gas station or else I'm not going to get to where I'm going.

Nissan Leaf chargerHow much money have you saved?

It's hard to say because I haven't had the car long enough. Nissan says that it's $600 a year based on national statistics. My guess is that I used to spend four times that for gas.

Savings go up as prices go up. What are your thoughts on gas prices these days?

I'm just looking at this and smiling.

What are the challenges facing the EV industry?

Driving range and charging stations. We have a level-2 charger. Most of these types have a five-hour charge. I get home, I charge.

The real thing that has to happen for the industry is level-3 stations -- the closest things to commercial gas stations -- or 30 minutes or less to charge. If I pull up to an Exxon station, there should be gas, diesel, and electric. I could pull up and go get a cup of coffee or take a lunch break. That will be when these cars go mainstream.

What are some of the misconceptions of EVs that you come across?

A lot of people don't even understand hybrids, let alone EVs. A colleague recently said, "She'd love to get a Prius, but where's she going to plug-in?" So just the education of how hybrids and electric vehicles work is hugely important.

Another is the idea that you have to burn fossil fuels to make the electricity for the car. That's true. But it's much cleaner. A lot of our electricity here is nuclear and if you go near Niagra Falls, they produce a lot of electricity that's as clean as it gets. EVs make it so that oil-to-gas refineries are unnecessary and skipped over to power the car. 

Want to learn more? Check out the Sierra Club's Go Electric Campaign.

-- Brian Foley

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