Electric Car Motorheads

Electric cars have moved a little bit beyond “Who Killed the Electric Car” now that gas prices are beating the crap out of everyone limping because of the economic changes in recent years. But they still have a long way to go. Since we leased a Nissan Leaf, my partner has gone full geek mode. It turns out there are forums for Leaf owners alone.  This is how we found out there’s a meetup for electric car owners in the Twin Cities.

Count the tailpipes.
Count the tailpipes.

Out of curiosity, I went with him. After all it’s an intersection of our interests: Mike is forever entangled with advancing technology to the point where he puts things in our homes I can’t quite operate. I am committed on a literal religious level to environmental concerns.

This isn’t just a meetup of motorheads at the defunct Porky’s location. This is a serious combination of hardcore tech geeks with hardcore environmentalists.

Porky's in Saint Paul
From the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota

The age range of the people went from 17 to around 65. One guy went so far as to convert a Corvette into an electric car. One man talked about the environmental impact of making electric cars – it’s not great, but the offset of a car that does not produce further pollution compensates for that cost and eventually the material from old electric cars can recycle into new ones. The 17 year old asked for ideas to encourage more young drivers to check out electric cars (he hails from Minnetonka, making this ambition somewhat more realistic. Whatever gets kids out of SUVs they’re not using for camping.) Dealers are resistant to selling the cars. Many of us shared that we knew more about the cars than the sales people at the auto dealers offering them – it seems that they are a threat to the standard business model. (Electric cars, like plus size clothing, may be the only way some of these retailers stay in business.)

Another Leaf owner had a bumper sticker that read “Gasoline is Obsolete.” He acknowledged that at least one other driver met this with hostility. Since I don’t think any driver actually wants to be a gas guzzler these days – the burden of petrol has become the new enslavement of the lower and middle classes – I think that might have been an expression of economic anger. Electric car drivers are still from a relatively privileged class. It’s not sports cars by any means and while they are more affordable, most car dealers are offering serious rebates. There’s one local dealer who is offering a $10K discount off their 2012 models just because so many people still think an electric car equates with one of those giant roller skates used at rinks in the 80s.

electric car meetup saint paul 2013

As the winner of a speeding ticket last week, I have to acknowledge that that is no longer true. Electric cars have some serious pickup – and it can sneak up on you because their motors stay so quiet.

The group was also as hard to corral as any Pagan meetup I’ve been to. Possibly harder – everyone had tech questions for each other. All got excited about each others’ details. Getting places to charge cars and installing fast chargers in homes are the big conversation of the moment. Mike and I have been pulling teeth trying to get one ordered and installed at our place. The Wind Source program with Xcel came up a lot – Minnesota residents can now ask for their energy to come from wind and use coal on the rare days when the wind doesn’t blow. It’s considered the optimal choice for electric car owners who are increasing the pressure they place on the power grid.electric car meetup 2013

Ultimately, the purpose of this meeting involved a presentation on ways to get more chargers distributed throughout the Twin Cities Metro. All new Goodwill locations have a package of green options, among them installation of a charging station. British Petroleum has begun installing chargers at its own power stations; some already have cafes at the waiting stations since charging can take awhile. Minneapolis so far seems more amenable to electric car charging stations. Saint Paul, outside of a few government spots, seems to resist this. Some people have negotiated charging privileges in their workplace. We have been warned by another Leaf owner that charging is more of a problem in winter for our car. The increase of charging stations raised an interesting issue: installing charging stations essentially gives electric car owners reserved parking. We are getting preferential treatment simply because we hae electric cars. If the electric car gets more popular – and it likely will as used electric vehicles become available on the market – this will become less of an issue as more people call for more charging points.

I never did see the documentary about the electric car although I vaguely remember someone who parked outside where I worked owning a super early vehicle in the late 90s. (It may well have been a university project.)  For me, it wasn’t even a political decision. I just needed a damn car and wiggling free from the gas price tyranny sounded brilliant. That and I was overtired and ready to kill and eat a car sales representative.

We’ll probably both stay involved with the group – this many people genuinely interested and active is good for my Gen X apathy laden heart to see.  Besides, the father of all political involvement is self-interest. My self-interest is all about getting more charge parts installed and seeing more electric car drivers. The 2012s are totally a buyer’s market – totally worth a test drive!Chevy Volt 2013