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April 05, 2012

Husband and Wife, Volt and Leaf

Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf

There are now thousands of Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs on U.S. roads. Two of those belong to Sierra Club member Rick Corcoran and his wife, Kathy. Their cars run on solar thanks to a 3.5 kilowatt system that sits on the roof of their home, located near Santa Cruz, California. Rick and Kathy took a few minutes to answer our questions. 

Q: When did you get your cars?

Rick: Kathy got her Leaf in August and I got the Volt last May. The Volt is by far the greatest car I've ever owned.

Q: Why do you say that?

Rick: A few reasons. I'm doing my share for the planet. We have our own fueling station at home. So we aren't paying for wars anymore by using as much gas as we did. Secondly, the Volt is like driving an iPad on wheels. It drives like a spaceship. It's just so quick, smooth, quiet, and fun.

Lastly, I'm guessing I save over $1,000 a year in gas alone. I used to hate to go to the gas station and fill up. It was always this annoying chore. Now I only do it every other month and I only put in half of what everyone else is putting into their gas tanks.

Kathy: We figure the Leaf saves about $2,500 a year. No gas or maintenance expenses. We're saving a lot of money.

Q: The Volt has a battery and a gas tank that extends its range while the Leaf is an all-electric car. Do you ever worry about the Leaf's range?

Kathy: Nobody really drives more than 50 miles everyday -- that includes going back and forth to work and running a few errands. At the most for my car, it's 13 miles to work, 13 back, and I might make a few stops here and there. That's 40 miles at the most. So I don't have any sort of range anxiety. There are no worries if all you're doing is a having a regular day. Granted, it changes if you're taking a longer trip.

But we did the math. If the Leaf was my only car and I wanted to see my daughter in San Diego, it is still far cheaper to own a Leaf and rent a car to go on a long-distance trip than it is to own a conventional gas-powered car.

Q: Name an amenity that most people don't know about.

Kathy: It has a climate control element where it's heated at 7:10 every morning before I go to work. It doesn't drain the battery because it's plugged in. Regular cars sit idle for a long time in the morning just to warm up. Imagine all the gas wasted on just idling before you get going.

Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the EV industry right now?

Rick: Getting the word out that these cars are affordable, that they're not just for millionaires. The Leaf after federal and state rebates was only $20,000. And Kathy saves $2,500 a year with an eight-year warranty. No gas and no maintenance -- no oil checks, no air cleaners, filters -- except to rotate the tires. After 8 years we'll save about $20,000, the cost of the car. These cars are less expensive to drive and they turn out to be about the same cost as any other car, especially as gas prices go up.

Q: You both testified at a recent Environmental Protection Agency hearing in San Francisco about the need to raise fuel standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025. What did you say?

Kathy: I was a little nervous talking to them. But as a teacher of 30 years, I love our children. And to send our children off to a war so that I can drive my car? We need to take the blinders off and see what we're really doing there in the Middle East. So I told them that we need to raise our kids to understand that our country isn't a guzzler, but a giver. We've soaked up so much of the world's energy. We need to be the innovator of energy for the world.

I remember the days of the gas shortages, when there were these huge lines and you could only fill up on certain days. Everybody was freaking out. One of the biggest things that convinced me at this point in my life about getting an EV is that now I can really feel like I'm making a difference.

Young men or women -- who are now my kids' ages -- are stuck over there. It doesn't take a rocket science to figure this out. We are addicted. And if we don't recognize this addiction, we'll always be over there.

Visit the Sierra Club's Go Electric Campaign.

-- Brian Foley

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