Auto show celebrates plug-in cars, environmental benefits

Sunday, September 20, 2015 - 12:41pm

The quiet lull of electric vehicles cruised down Eisenhower Parkway in Ann Arbor on Sunday morning. More than 20 electric vehicles, including the Tesla Model S and the Chevrolet Volt, parked outside Whole Foods so their owners could share their passion for driving green.

The Ann Arbor Drive Electric Week Car Show, which corresponded with Drive Electric Week, attracted electric auto-owners from all over Michigan.

Drive Electric Week is a nationwide celebration to heighten awareness of plug-in vehicles and highlight the benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The show was one of 195 nationwide events aligned with the weeklong celebration.

Bruce Westlake, president of Michigan Electric Auto Association, said the car show is beneficial in educating Ann Arbor residents about the perks of owning a plug-in vehicle.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out about plug-in vehicles,” Westlake said. “What we’re trying to do is help people understand change because it is a considerable change in how they drive their cars, and sometimes it’s daunting.”

Westlake said the event showcases the availability of electric vehicles and helps drivers feel more at ease about the cars.

“We try to get people comfortable with how to charge them and get to see the different types that are available at different dealerships,” Westlake said.

The event was co-sponsored by Michigan Electric Auto Association, the Ann Arbor Ecology Center, Whole Foods, the Drive Electric Ann Arbor Partnership, BMW of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Automotive and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Charles Griffith, director of the Ecology Center’s Climate and Energy Program, said the event, as well as local efforts to make charging stations more available to residents, are helping Ann Arbor become a more plug-in friendly city.

“For one thing, the city’s Downtown Development Authority is a really big player in this topic,” Griffith said. “They have been working to get electric charging stations in downtown parking areas and structures.”

Since 2012, the DDA has installed 23 charging locations across the city and internal studies have found them to be popular. 

DDA representatives attended the car show and spoke with visitors about the availability of plug-ins in the area.

Many of the car show participants offered their vehicles for visitors to test drive. Griffith said it only takes one ride to fall in love with an electric car.

“There’s even research that shows that if people just get a chance behind the wheel of an electric car, it can be pretty persuasive,” Griffith said. “They’re really quiet, they have a lot of pick up, they’re fun to drive.”

Troy resident Brant Freer brought his Tesla Model S and said there are many benefits to driving a car without an engine.

“The car is super quiet to drive, because there is no engine,” Freer said. “The other thing I really like about it is if I’m driving on a two lane road, and there's a line of cars in front of me, you can get around that line of cars so fast passing that it is unbelievable.”

Freer said his car can go from zero to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and, after charging the battery in his garage, has a 265-mile range on a fully charged battery.

Freer said he has taken advantage of the plug-in chargers located around the city, especially those at Meijer stores, which have recently installed Tesla SuperCharge stations. These free stations can charge to full-battery in approximately 30 minutes, Freer said.

Dexter resident Terry Richards showcased his Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Richards said when he bought his car for $7,000, he was looking for a vehicle that was both cheap and fuel efficient.

“There's no resale value to these vehicles whatsoever,” Richards said. “If I bought this car new, it was like 24 grand, and I’m cheap.”

He also said the costs of charging the car are not unreasonable, a common misconception associated with plug-in vehicles.

“My bill normally is like $92, that's my average electric bill,” Richards said. “Which again is my entire house, my garage, and my transportation. Let alone, I’m saving the planet.”

Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) and State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) also attended Sunday's event. Irwin has long promoted renewables and clean energy development in Michigan.

He recently introduced a package of bills, alongside Reps. Ed McBroom (R–Vulcan), Scott Dianda (D–Calumet) and Gary Glenn (R–Midland), to streamline the process for businesses and individuals to offset their energy cost by generating renewable energy. The bill would also help provide a fair and competitive price for renewable energy.

The takeaway for many of the event's attendees: the awareness and presence of electric vehicles will only grow moving forward.

“From our point of view, plug-in vehicles are inevitable and basically, they are three times more efficient than a gas vehicle, so eventually we’ll all be driving them," Westlake said.