Efforts in Oakland County are leading the charge in helping plug-in electric vehicles enter the mainstream and resecure Michigan’s seat as the automotive capital of the world, according to a federally-funded report released yesterday, Tuesday, Nov. 20.
“The Michigan automotive industry has faced many challenges over the last few decades. Fluctuating fuel prices, with the primary trend upwards, changing consumer preferences, and the volatile economic conditions have resulted in inconsistent financial performance,” the Ann Arbor-based Clean Energy Coalition states in the 125-page Plug-In Ready Michigan plan.
“Today, however, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of the automobile industry. The ‘Big Three’ have rebounded and they are engineering new technologies, like plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), to lead in a global market that is demanding innovation and emphasizing higher fuel economy. By preparing today for infrastructure that supports the vehicles of tomorrow, Michigan’s leaders secure the state’s future as the automotive capital of the world.”
If you build it,
will they come?
The plan, which is intended to provide a roadmap to creating the state’s PEV infrastructure, found that Michigan is expected to rank seventh in the nation in PEV sales. The report cites efforts in Oakland County, Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo as contributors to the state’s success.
“People have an interest and see a need for electric vehicle infrastructure,” said Heather Seyfarth, project manager with the Clean Energy Coalition. “Some communities have charging stations available, but they don’t necessarily have zoning in place. Currently, Auburn Hills is the only community in the state that has a (PEV) zoning ordinance in place.”
Seyfarth said the plan encourages municipalities to work with developers to build infrastructure to help support PEVs. For instance, construction of a parking lot can easily include conduits for charging stations, even if the actual station isn’t installed well into the future.
“It’s really not that difficult of a thing to do,” Seyfarth said. “There is some fear about the cost of the charging stations and how they will be used. A lot of people have questions, but putting together an ordinance isn’t that complicated, especially because we have an example.”
According to the Clean Energy Coalition’s report, cost and lack of education about PEVs are the main barriers to more widespread acceptance of the vehicles. The plan also includes a study looking at clusters where PEVs are more popular with consumers. Throughout the state, consumers purchasing PEVs tend to live in communities with more PEV infrastructure, or charging stations.
In the lakes area, Milford Village installed six electric vehicle charging stations last December. The stations, adjacent to the Milford Historical Building at 124 E. Commerce Road, provide free charging for those driving PEVs.
On Monday, Nov. 19, the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees approved the installation of a charging station between the Township Hall and library, off Walnut Lake Road at the township’s Civic Center site.
Charlotte Burckhardt, a planner for Oakland County, said studies have shown that communities with charging stations tend to have a higher number of plug-in vehicle users.
Steve Cohen, the director of Community Development for Auburn Hills, said skeptics are afraid to purchase plug-in vehicles if they don’t see the infrastructure to support it.
“Developers have been pretty receptive,” said Cohen, who has helped the city draft the state’s only plug-in infrastructure ordinance. The city has also been instrumental in creating uniform signage for charging stations.
“We needed to figure out a system to reserve those spaces for electric vehicles,” he said. “We came up with a system that is similar to handicap (parking) signs.”
Ideal locations for charging stations, Burckhardt said, are in destination areas, such as a downtown, shopping or employment center.
“They need to be located where someone will be spending enough time when plugging in to it to be worth their while,” she said.
Perry Zakucia, a sales professional at Jay Chevrolet in Highland Township, said a customer who recently purchased a Chevrolet Volt from the dealership is able to drive the car without ever using any gas.
“I have one customer who works at DTE (Energy),” Zakucia said. “He can charge the car at work.”
Not your father’s
Consumer demand for plug-in vehicles is expected to increase throughout the nation, with Michigan being at the front of the trend, according to study by Pike Research. With many manufacturers already producing plug-in vehicles and plans for more to be available, almost every major American, European and Asian auto manufacturer will be making plug-in vehicles in the near future.
Ford Motor Co. officials recently announced plans to triple the number of dealers certified to sell its lineup of plug-in vehicles. The auto manufacturer will be launching five new electric vehicles, with three out by early 2013: The C-Max Hybrid; the C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid; and the Fusion Hybrid. The Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid and the Focus electric car are also expected to be released in the near future.
The Chevy Volt is a fully-electric plug-in vehicle that has an extended range provided by an internal combustion engine. With a full charge, it has a range of about 40 miles without using any gasoline. Once the battery reaches a certain level, the vehicle’s internal combustion engine kicks in, providing some power assistance and working to recharge the battery. With a full tank of gas and a full battery charge, the Volt has an estimated range of about 379 miles.
General Motors states that by charging regularly, Volt owners average about 900 miles on a tank of gas, or about a month between fill-ups. The range for specific users varies, depending on the amount of driving done between charges.
The price of
While the prospect of zero emissions from the tailpipe and drastically reduced gas purchases is an incentive to purchase plug-in vehicles, the cost of the vehicles is one barrier.
According to Chevrolet’s website, the retail price for the Volt is about $31,000, which includes a $7,500 federal tax rebate. However, Jay Chevrolet’s Zakucia said as part of Chevrolet’s lease portfolio, the Volt is available for lease at about $300 per month.
By comparison, the Nissan Leaf — a fully-electric plug-in vehicle with a range of about 70 to 80 miles — leases for about $400 per month.
However, Leaf owners never have to purchase gasoline for their vehicle, and enjoy a car that doesn’t produce any emissions, said Karl King, sales and leasing consultant at LaFontaine Nissan in Highland Township.
King said he has sold two Nissan Leafs in the past few months. The car retails for about the same as the Chevy Volt after rebates, which are applied at the dealership
“Each one that I’ve sold, they (customers) have already made a determination of what they want,” King said. “In the car business, that’s pretty rare, but it makes my job easier.”
Don Morotta, sales manager with Suburban Ford in Waterford Township, said demand for hybrid and plug-in vehicles isn’t very high at his dealership. However, he said he expects that to change as more are introduced and prices come down.
“You are going to see a lot more on the road because they are becoming part of the normal lease portfolio, so they will be more affordable,” Morotta said.
The higher price of hybrid vehicles is one deterrent for consumers who may be looking for additional features over increased gas mileage.
“When gas prices go up, we sell a lot of hybrids; when it goes down, we sell more SUVs and trucks,” said Alvaro Acevedo, sales manager at Szott M-59 Toyota in Waterford Township.
Acevedo said roughly 25 percent of customers at the dealership purchase hybrid vehicles. And while Toyota doesn’t offer any specials on its hybrids, he said the price is right for the Prius, Toyota’s best-selling hybrid.
“Twenty-four thousand dollars for a vehicle that gives you 51 miles per gallon is pretty good,” he said.
None of the current Prius models offer plug-in electric capacity, instead charging the vehicle’s internal batteries from the internal combustion engine and other features, such as regenerative brakes that capture energy and return it to the battery during braking.
Acevedo said the Chevrolet Volt appears to be doing well in the market because General Motors is able to offer many incentives for buyers. It’s also one of the few plug-in vehicles currently available.
Zakucia, of Jay Chevrolet in Highland, said the Volt first arrived at the dealership in 2011.
“This year we really were able to stock them on the lot and sell pretty much every one that we get,” Zakucia said. “They are still pretty hard to get.”