Colorado Springs plugging in to electric market

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Electric vehicles are slowly rolling onto the streets in Colorado Springs.

Daniels Long Chevrolet has sold seven Chevy Volts since they became available Oct. 1, including some it had to find for local buyers at distant out-of-state locations before it had its own inventory.

That makes Daniels Long the highest volume Volt dealer in the state, said store manager Mark Barton.

He’s ordered 12 more that are due to arrive before the end of the year.

South Colorado Springs Nissan is prepped and ready for delivery of its first Nissan Leaf this week.

And Phil Long Ford is already receiving questions about its line of electric vehicles due on lots next spring.

“It’s a real curiosity,” said Daniels Long salesman Mike Agnew. “People are interested in it. A lot of people ask about the Volt.”

He normally sells trucks and doesn’t often deal with selling smaller cars or the plug-in electric vehicle with a gas generator for extended range. The Volt can travel an average 35 miles on a battery charge and another 375 with the gas generator.

“It’s got some punch,” Agnew said, during a test drive. The car surged silently to 50 mph just as swiftly as any other car.

“But this thing is a spaceship inside,” Agnew said. “You have a key, but I have no idea why. You don’t use it.”

The remote usually used to unlock your car from a distance is used to start the vehicle, which it can do remotely to warm the cabin or cool it before the driver arrives. Inside, there’s no key to turn, just a button to push.

“Noisy isn’t it?” Agnew said with a smirk. “Once you get over it being so quiet, it drives just like any other car.”

Of course, it’s not for everyone’s budget. The package Daniels Long sells is $43,720.

“And that’s pretty much the way they come,” Agnew said. “They only really come one way.”

It’s an expensive car. And they’re certainly not going to go flying off the shelf at that price, not even with a $7,500 Federal tax credit and $6,000 state tax credit, Agnew said. It’s still $30,000.

“Most of the people who have bought them had to have it,” Agnew said. “One guy said he was waiting for the Volt for four years. He traded in his Prius. He had to have it.”

Terry Boult, a professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was one of those who had to have it. In fact, he had to have it so badly he couldn’t wait for Daniels Long to get a shipment. He took a road trip to Texas in August to pick it up.

He wanted it because he believes in reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil and reducing his carbon footprint. But he also liked the car.

He plugs his Volt into a regular 110-volt socket just like a toaster, he said. He doesn’t need a converter or special charging station, though he could install a 220-volt outlet in his garage and plug the car in like a washer or dryer for faster charging.

But in a few hours, he gets a full charge, which is enough to get him from his home in Monument to work at the university and back along with a few errands.

The power costs about 75 cents, which he estimates saves him $3.70 to $4 a day depending on the price of gas at the time.

He’s been to the Denver airport a few times and up to Keystone since he bought the car.

All together he’s driven 2,500 miles since August and used 15 gallons of gas.

Boult considered a Tesla, a more sophisticated electric car that starts at $49,900, that can travel up to 300 miles on a single charge depending on the model. But those models are not widely available yet.

Boult also considered the Leaf, a pure electric vehicle with a range of 62 to 138 miles per charge, depending on weather and driving conditions, that has no gasoline backup.The starting price for the Leaf is $35,000.

Steve Kern, the executive manager at South Colorado Springs Nissan said he has the charging station all set up, technicians and salesmen trained on the new technology and he’s been getting a lot of requests for information from people.

“There’s interest and there’s a big buzz,” Kern said. “But there aren’t any vehicles on the ground yet. People want to drive them. They want to know what it’s like.”

He said he’s been waiting for his first car for months now and expects it to come in this week.

The first car will only be a demonstration vehicle, Kern said. He won’t be able to sell that one. And he’s hopeful that he’ll get inventory before the Federal tax credit runs out at the end of the year. He’s made a significant financial investment in the infrastructure needed to support the Leaf and he’s anxious to get cars on the lot for customers to buy.

He had reservation opening last month and could have pre-sold two Leafs, but no one was ready to do it without a test drive first, he said.

Still, some in town are planning to get a Leaf as soon as it’s available. Architect Jim Fennel said he plans to buy one and will build a solar-powered public charging station for it and other electric vehicles at the remodeled Ivywild School.

Ford is also preparing to roll out a line of electric vehicles. It will have a hybrid Ford Focus, a plug-in all-electric Focus and a plug-in electric hybrid called the C-Max.

Phil Long Ford will begin taking reservations for the vehicles in February and they will take four to six months to ship, said Vice President Mike Cimino.