The more driving Michael Murphy does on electricity, the less he wants to drive on gas.
The Swansea optometrist prefers to plug in his electric car and avoid the gas pump. He will only fill up for long trips.
During the week, he drives his Chevrolet Volt to his metro-east practice from his home in Webster Groves, Mo. He said he spends less to charge his car each day than it used to cost him to fill up his gas tank every few days.
“I drive 26 miles on electricity all the way here,” Murphy said. “Plug in, charge up, use electricity all the way home. That’s why I can drive so far.”
He bought his first Chevy Volt in November 2011 and now owns three of them. Before, he drove a Cadillac CTS and would spend $250 a month on gasoline to drive about 1,500 miles, at 20 to 22 miles a gallon, back and forth across the river.
Today, he spends less than $30 a month to charge his electric car. He once went 10,000 miles without filling up his 9-gallon tank. In one 73,000-mile stretch, he bought 2 gallons of gas.
The maintenance is minimal, he said, and the electricity in the metro-east is cheap. He last rotated his own tires after 65,000 miles, and the only maintenance he has paid for in four years is oil changes.
“The thing that I spent more money on than any other maintenance was windshield wipers and windshield washer fluid, which everybody goes through almost twice a year,” Murphy said. “So there is zero maintenance.”
Murphy also said it takes about 10 hours to charge his Volt from a standard 120-volt outlet that are found in your home.
“You can pull in, plug it in and the next morning it’s already charged and ready to go, and that’s if you’ve completely depleted the battery,” he said. “A lot of times, people don’t because they don’t drive the 35 or 40 miles.”
These are not hybrids
Electric cars differ from hybrids in that hybrids derive some power from gas, whereas electric cars receive all its power from an electrical source. Electric cars also have a gasoline reserve, but drivers do not have to tap into them if the vehicle’s battery remains charged.
One of the top-selling hybrids on the market is the Toyota Prius, which can only travel about 15 miles on electricity. The Volt can travel 35 to 38 miles per charge.
Murphy said his cars can travel 40 to 45 miles per charge. He said the Prius will take you farther with a full tank and fully charged battery, while the Volt will go just as far and cost much less with frequent recharging.
Toyota recently announced plans to virtually eliminate gasoline-powered cars. On Oct. 20, Toyota announced its goal to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 90 percent by 2050.
To accommodate this anticipated demand, more electric car-charging ports are being installed to provide more places for electric car drivers to plug in, allowing them to travel farther as more recharging stations are conveniently placed along some of the country’s major roadways.
Murphy said he drove to a convention in Chicago in September and drove more than 1,000 miles without burning any gas because he plugged in to various charging stations in places such as Springfield, Normal and throughout the greater Chicago area along Interstate 55. He said the average mileage for the Volt is only getting better.
“I just plug it in every chance I get,” he said. “If I drive it like I stole it, I get 30 miles. If I drive it reasonably, 40, 45, and if I baby it, 55. The next generation Volt, which is shipping right now, is rated at 53, but that is extremely conservative.”
He also said the brakes on his cars will essentially last forever. When the brakes on an electric car are pushed, the electronic motors are being engaged to stop the car, not the friction brakes. The electric motors act as generators that put juice back in the battery, so the brake pads don’t wear. He has even taken pictures of his brake pads, which reveal little, if any, wear and tear after tens of thousands of miles.
Murphy purchased his electric cars from Jack Schmitt Chevrolet in O’Fallon, where general manager Kathy Schmitt-Federico said she has noticed more consumer interest in the Chevy Volt.
“We are selling more of them, and I think the popularity is starting to catch on,” Schmitt-Federico said. “It’s not for everybody. If you drive long distances, then obviously it’s not a good fit for you.”
She said the new Volts will have a better battery that will be able to get 50 miles per charge.
Schmitt-Federico already has a waiting list for customers wanting the new model, which is not expected to arrive at the metro-east dealership until next spring.
“The Volt owners we have are a very enthusiastic group,” she said. “They have a competition among themselves to see who can squeeze the most amount from each charge. They’re really into the environment and using no fuel.”
What’s the charge?
For all the savings and low upkeep, the sticker price for the Chevy Volt is not cheap. But the price is coming down.
Murphy said the 2011 model cost about $45,000, but the base price for a 2016 Volt is about $33,000.
Consumers can also apply for a $7,500 federal tax credit to help afford the car. Murphy bought a 2014 Volt in August for $25,800 and took advantage of the tax credit.
“When you couple the savings in fuel and the savings in maintenance, they’re extremely low,” he said.
Soon after buying his first electric car, Murphy installed an electric car-charging station in the corner of the parking lot at his practice, Vision Care Associates. The station and installation cost $5,600 and allows him charge his car while at work.
He also allows anyone with an electric car to come plug in their car for free. He said the commercial rate is around 6 cents a kilowatt hour and it costs him less than 70 cents to charge his car each day, which allows him to travel about 40 miles until he has to tap into his gas tank. He also charges his cars inside his garage at home using a standard 120-volt outlet.
“By charging it up, keeping it charged, I don’t have to go to gas stations, except when I go on trips,” he said.
Where’s the charge?
Murphy’s car-charging station is among a growing number of ports that have been installed across the country, some of which are free for public use, while others require online or over-the-phone activation plus a small user fee. Some require an activation card that recognizes the user and unlocks the station. Electronic car owners can join by calling the phone number posted at the charging stations and providing their email address.
According to Erin Mellon, communications director at ChargePoint Inc., an electric car-charging network based in Campbell, Calif., there are 60 public and private car-charging stations located within a 20-mile radius of Belleville. ChargePoint, which was established in 2008, has 11 of those car-charging ports in St. Clair and Madison counties, plus another 95 across the river in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
Mellon said ChargePoint has 1,500 registered electronic vehicles from the greater St. Louis area. She said the network is growing at a quick rate.
“As auto makers start putting their weight behind electric vehicles, we’ll start growing, too,” Mellon said. “It’s kind of like the chicken or the egg. When they start selling electric cars, they start seeing them in demand.”
At Edwardsville Township Community Park, a dual electric car-charging station is free for public use. It is connected with a 3.3 kilowatt solar panel system that also powers an adjacent restroom. Township Supervisor Frank Miles said the $60,000 project was funded with a $13,574 grant from the Metro East Park and Recreation District. The township received $24,241 in grants from the Madison County and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. The project was eligible for $3,625 in rebates from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
“It’s all powered by solar energy,” Miles said. “Eighty percent of the power needs are provided by solar because that really is an issue when you have these restrooms that are heated, they are quite a power drain.”
A car-charging port was installed last year behind Edwardsville City Hall and another adjacent to the Edwardsville Public Library was put in place in 2014. Edwardsville City engineer Ryan Zwijack said the city used a state 50-50 reimbursement program to receive rebates for the charging port by the library. He said the City Hall charging station was donated by Nissan.
“They also paid for installation costs for it, too,” Zwijack said. “The library one is being used very well. I’m quite surprised.”
AutoCenters Nissan at 1825 E. Edwardsville Road in Wood River is a Nissan dealership that sells the Nissan Leaf electric car and also provides three charging stations available to customers. Service director Jason Pennycook said the dealership has two 220-volt ports and a 540-volt charger. He said the larger one can completely recharge an electric car in 20 minutes.
“It’s like hooking up to a transformer,” Pennycook said. “It’s pretty big.”
Pennycook has worked at Nissan dealerships since 2008 and has witnessed the evolution of the Leaf. He was hired at West County Nissan in West St. Louis County and then joined the Wood River dealership last November.
He first learned about the Nissan Leaf when Nissan introduced the electric car in 2009. He and his co-workers had to take classes to learn about the new electric model before they could sell or even hand out keys for test drives.
He said the Leaf can get 80 to 90 miles per charge and will grow in popularity as long as more electric car-charging ports crop up.
“If you get a Leaf in Wood River and try to drive to Chicago, you won’t make it there because there is not enough juice,” he said.
But he also said the Leaf includes a GPS system called Wings that identifies where charging stations are located.
“If they can find charging stations between there, you could make it,” Pennycook said.
Mellon said there are 370,000 electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids on the road across the country, and 40 percent of all vehicles on the road in California run on electricity.
Mellon said ChargePoint does not only compete with other vehicle-charging networks; they also work to partner with competitors.
“We’re always trying to do what is right for the industry, so it doesn’t help to just compete,” she said. “We want to be a partner in leading the industry. We all try to grow and make it easier to adopt electric vehicles.”
The future of the electric car industry seems promising, but don’t ask Murphy or anyone else in the industry to predict the future.
Initially, manufacturers foresaw selling 60,000 electric cars by 2012.
“Well, they didn’t,” Murphy said. “(The media) jumped on it and really tore them up about that. But they’re hoping, obviously, that it’s going to take off, but nobody is making any hard and fast predictions because they don’t want to get burned.”
Electric car makers are now basically letting the car speak for itself. Murphy said he and other electric car drivers can do as much as anyone to help sell these vehicles.
“We, as owners, actually are the best marketing tool they’ve got because people ask us constantly. And the best thing we can do is just take them for a ride.”
At a glance
These are places you can find public car-charging stations in the metro-east:
- Vision Care Associates at 4933 Benchcentre Drive, Suite D, in Swansea: The optometrist practice has a dual port available free to public use.
- Southwestern Illinois College at 2500 Carlyle Ave. in Belleville: Three charging dual ports located in the parking lot outside the Liberal Arts Center are free to public use.
- Auffenburg Nissan at 1690 New Car Drive in O’Fallon: The Nissan dealership has three ports, which are available to customers, and sells the Nissan Leaf, an electric car model.
- American Steel Foundries at 1000-1080 Niedringhaus Ave. in Granite City: Charging stations are located in the parking lot next to the guard shack on the southeast corner of Walnut Street and Niedringhaus Ave.
- Public parking lot at the Edwardsville Public Library at 112 S. Kansas St. in Edwardsville: Charging is available to ChargePoint network members at $1 an hour.
- Edwardsville Township Community Park at 6314 Center Grove Road in Edwardsville: The park has a dual charging port on the ChargePoint network.
- Edwardsville City Hall at 118 Hillsboro St. in Edwardsville: This is a charging station available to members of the Greenlots network for $1 an hour and a $1 minimum.