Charged up about electric cars: Ridgefield drivers discuss EV ownership
“Fun and zippy” to drive, they cost about $1.40 to fill up for the day, and some models accelerate as fast as a twin-turbo BMW sedan.
Just don’t be surprised if a quarter of the “gas tank” disappears on a cold night.
Meet the latest crop of electric cars — or EVs.
“The fact that the town has a charging station right outside (Town Hall) was a huge factor,” said Social Services Director Tony Philips when asked why he made the switch.
Phillips uses his 2017 Chevrolet Volt to commute 40 miles round-trip every day. He decided to lease the car after calculating that he was spending around $120 each month on gas, and applying that money to the lease for the Chevy made him feel like he got the car for $50 a month.
Phillips said keeping the car’s battery charged has given him “a nerdy engagement with the car.”
He gets up several times a day to find an electric vehicle parking spot to charge up, or move to another space so other EV drivers can use the space.
EV charging stations are located at the Bailey Avenue parking lot behind town hall, the Branchville train station, and the parking lot in front of the Playhouse.
Chargers are also listed at the Bruce Bennett Nissan dealership and the BMW dealership — both on Route 7, as well as in the parking lot of the Danbury Fair mall.
Despite the enthusiasm of their owners, electric cars have not totally caught on with Ridgefield drivers.
Of the 15,019 passenger vehicles registered in town, 77 are battery-powered or plug-in electric cars — fewer than the number of motorcycles registered in town, according to 2018 data provided by the tax assessor’s office.
That does not account for hybrid cars which rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity.
Of Ridgefield’s electric cars, more than half are made by Tesla, the California-based automaker whose four car models are popular.
The tax assessor data shows 29 Model S registered in town, along with 11 Model X (Tesla’s SUV), and five Model 3s.
No Tesla Roadsters are registered in Ridgefield, according to the assessor’s data.
The rest of Ridgefield’s electric car fleet is made up of Chevy Volts, 15 of which are registered in town, Nissan LEAF (5), Toyotas Prius Prime (4), Chevy Bolt (3), BMW i3 (3), and Honda’s plug-in Clarity (2).
The state has issued rebates for some 4,267 battery-powered electric cars and plug-in hybrids (cars that use both an electric and internal-combustion engine drivetrain with a plug to charge the batteries) since May 2015, according to statistics from the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate.
The program gives money back to consumers who buy or lease a qualifying electric car or plug-in hybrid, to incentivize drivers to purchase more eco-friendly rides.
Fifty-seven Ridgefielders have taken advantage of the program since 2015.
The program excludes vehicles with a base price of $50,000 or more, which immediately rules out several of Tesla’s models, including the Model S ($75,750) and Model X ($80,450).
The program applies only to cars, so electric scooters and motorcycles are also out.
Not every electric car buyer takes advantage of the program, the CHEAPR website said.
According to the rebate data, the most popular model among EV drivers in Ridgefield is the Chevy Volt, at 14 cars. The Volt is followed by BMW’s i3 (11), Chevy’s Bolt (10), the Tesla Model 3 (6), and the Nissan LEAF (5).
Range and maintenance
The maximum distance an EV can travel — one of the most-commonly cited concerns about electric cars — is a problem that can be fixed with enough preparation, according to several owners in Ridgefield.
Geoffrey Morris, president of TownVibe, charges his 2015 BMW i3 at his home overnight.
“You can fuel your car when you sleep,” he said.
He said range anxiety is not an issue for him, because the car has a generator on board with a small fuel tank, which can give him an extra boost of about 40 miles.
Phillips, whose Volt also has a small gas motor to extend his range, said he sometimes will plan ahead on longer trips to find places to charge up.
“I think every new EV owner has range anxiety when you first get the car,” said Ridgefield’s Chris Sierakowski, who waited two years to take delivery of his 2018 Tesla Model 3, after putting down a deposit the day the car was announced.
Since then, he’s used the car for commuting to Stamford, and a few longer trips up to Cape Cod.
“If I drive to the Cape, I usually stop once in Rhode Island for 20-30 minutes to top off the charge. By the time I grab a drink and a bathroom break, it’s ready to go,” he said, noting the car feels like it accelerates faster than his last car — a twin-turbo BMW sedan.
Morris said he occasionally wakes up on cold mornings to find less juice in his car’s battery than he expected.
Sometimes, there’s as much as a 25 to 30 percent drain, he said.
Similar to Phillips, Morris said he’s saving around $120 each month in fuel compared to his previous car.
“The maintenance costs are less, too,” he added, “and that’s because there’s so few moving parts. ... Even the brakes you use less.”
Regular, premium chargers
Much like quick chargers for smartphones, what type of charger drivers use on their electric car determines how long it will take the electrical “tank” to fill up.
Morris said that on a normal 110-volt charger from a home outlet, his car gets about three miles of range per hour of charging. A 220-volt charger — the outlets that usually power home dryers and other large appliances — yields about 25 miles per hour of charging.
Fast chargers give about 100 miles of range per hour, but often come with a cost of around $15 an hour, Morris said.
Phillips said he’s occasionally experienced other EV drivers pulling the plug on his car while it charges — though he said it may be due to other drivers mistaking the green-flashing charge indicator as an indication that his car was finished charging.
“They’re just so fun and zippy to drive,” Morris said. “I just think that they are the technology of the future, and I’d just rather get in now.”
Sierkowski has no plans to go back to a gas-powered car for commuting.
“I don’t think I’ll ever buy a gas-powered vehicle again for a commuter car,” he said.