Gas prices and green cars

By Allen Penticoff
Contributor

Nobody is more thrilled at buying gas for under $2 per gallon than me. I am always registering in my noggin what gas stations have the lowest prices and making a point of filling up my tanks at them if possible. This includes going on long trips to Florida, where certain points along the way have traditionally low prices. I seem to have inherited this from my father who would drive around looking for the lowest price, and that was back when 35 cents a gallon was common.

With inflation, us paying $2 a gallon is roughly the same as paying 35 cents per gallon back in the 1960s. Fortunately in the years between, due to times of high prices for oil and gas, we have had manufacturers do what they can to make their vehicles more efficient. That said, when prices are so low at the pump, we consumers tend to think this will last forever and go out and buy vehicles like pick-up trucks and SUVs with little care for the cost of fuel. This is at a time when the need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels is ever more important in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases that are changing our climate.

I once heard the Big Three American automakers described as, “Truck manufacturers who also make cars.” From my observations on the street I would say this is true. Truck sales are high and the manufacturers make much of their profit from them. Despite there now being a dozen electric or plug-in electric cars on the market and more on the way, the dealers have yet to embrace them and push sales. One local sales manager told me that for his line of several makes they carried no electric vehicles or plug-ins. He said, “They are not a good return on investment.”

Well – no vehicle is a “good investment” – they all depreciate rapidly and wear out. Most 10-year-old vehicles sell for a small fraction of the price they cost new. An “investment” would make money over time. When you are buying a new vehicle, you are looking for reliability and efficiency over your old machine. Of course style and function are big factors in a new purchase, but I would hope that more of us would begin to consider sacrificing some of our money for the sake of conserving our atmosphere and buy electric. If the sales representative doesn’t point you in the direction of a plug-in or EV – ask about them. We need to ask, we need to create the demand so the market will respond to it.

Most electric vehicle manufacturers are finding that it is a tough sell unless there are significant tax incentives. Take those away – and sales plummet. The exception so far is Tesla, who sells all the high-priced sedans they can make – and they never advertise. Those of us who drive electric vehicles absolutely love them. They are good for the environment and they are still far less expensive to operate than a gasoline-powered vehicle even at such low gas prices. Our Volt for instance rolled 9,300 miles April 1, 2014 to April 1, 2015 and consumed 31 gallons of premium gas. That’s an average of 300 mpg, which for the period was $3 per gallon or about $93 total in fuel (1,240 miles) and $161 for electricity (8,060 miles) for a total of $254 – that’s 2.7 cents per mile. While a car getting 30 mpg at $2 per gallon now over 9,300 miles would be 310 gallons for $610 (6.6 cents per mile). So even at these low prices the plug-in car has a considerable operating cost advantage. The day $4 a gallon gas returns, we will definitely be delighted by our choice of power.

Electric vehicles are sometimes derided for the source of their electricity. Which is true if the source is a coal fired power plant. But here in our area, most of our power comes from a nuclear power plant and some solar and wind. Any electric vehicle can be “fueled” by the sun or wind at your own home if you chose to make that investment – and many do. Nobody is making their own gasoline except a handful of folks using recycled vegetable oil in their diesel-powered vehicles.

I would hope that the manufacturers will set up programs to get EV and plug-in cars and light trucks on the dealer lots and that the sales staff are trained to sell them. This has worked well in the few places that have promoted them. You can’t sell them if you don’t have them. They are a good “investment” for our planet.

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