Friday, August 11, 2017

Electric cars and their effects on the local economy

I am on my 3rd electric vehicle.
First, when my wife was unemployed and still working on her drivers license I bought an electric bike. Not a motorcycle, that would be cool, but not as practical, but one of the Vespa scooter styled e-bikes. Basically a low powered (32km/h limited) electric moped. This got her to and from appointments and once she was licensed I started leaving my Jeep at home and riding the bike to work. The idea then was to have a cheap ~$1400 mode of transport that filled a need for something better than transit but less effort than a bicycle.

Next up, when she found a job in Toronto and needed a car we got a Chevy Volt. This let us benefit from overnight charging in the garage for pennies but still worked like a normal car for long distance travel. Originally I was going to drive this, so I was looking for something fun and comfortable for me to drive back and forth to work, and she would take the Jeep. She convinced me though that it made more sense for her to take the Volt as a daily commuting car, as she had a longer commute, so she should have the more efficient car. Plus, she had the opportunity to plug in in the staff parking garage at work to charge up for the return trip for free.

Now, this summer the Jeep hit 10 years old, and while I had upgraded the infotainment technology from AM/FM CD player and Aux input jack to an Android based stereo with AM/FM, Every type of Media file, Audio Books, podcasting, and of course GPS, it was time to give the old Jeep a new home and find something newer. I shopped around a bit and found a nice used Nissan LEAF from 2012. At first I was going to wait till next summer and get a Chevy Bolt or Tesla Model 3 or something, but I found that a used LEAF or Mitsubishi iMiEV could be had for a monthly payment of less than the Jeep's gas, so it was kind of a no-brainer to grab one of those as essentially a "free" upgrade to a 5 years newer car rather than continue to maintain the Jeep.

Anyway, on to the point of this whole post. As a new driver of a fully 100% electric car I've become much more of a user of PlugShare, and in thinking about how I might stretch the use of this low range EV to go places that are a little further away, I find that I am starting to feel like one of the early pioneers of automobile travel. You see back in the day when gas powered cars were kind of new, automobile associations popped up and started publishing maps and guides for travel in North America. These maps and guides brought people into small towns that didn't see a lot of outsiders, either for the sights, or for some good food that the travel guides recommended, or for a service station stop. PlugShare (and other similar EV charging map apps) fills the role of the automobile association maps and guides back then, but in a way that we are used to consuming info like that now. I find myself looking at routes to places I like to go that hit locations of Level 3 DC Fast charging stations. Then I find I'll hit Google Maps to zoom into a charging location and see what kind of restaurants and other things are in that area. Often these are areas that I would just drive on past in my previous gas cars, but because I'm a bit more limited in range and because there are not yet charging stations on every corner, it is interesting to see how my travel habits change and how it seems to echo those early days of car travel. Places I never would have thought to stop before are now destinations to explore. This is why small towns looking to boost their economy should invest in a 50KW or better charger or two. More and more people are hopping on the EV bandwagon, and with Tesla's Model 3 starting to come out and the blast of major manufacturers announcements that they are going to move seriously into EVs and plugin hybrids in the upcoming years, getting in on this now makes a lot of sense. The first wave of EV drivers are invariably upper middle class folks with a bit of extra cash to spend. The price of these vehicles has kind of forced that. Having these somewhat wealthy people stop in your town for a half hour or more on their way to somewhere else means that they are going to look around, at least grab a quick bite to eat, maybe explore some of the more unique shops your town has that they would never have noticed otherwise.

Forget the big switch from foreign oil to domestic electricity and how that effects the economy, there is a swing happening in how these new EV drivers think about travel and this more relaxed approach to it. Instead of driving like crazy along the fastest highway and only stopping if you have to at a highway rest stop to fuel up and maybe grab a sandwich, EV drivers are more likely to plan out a route that takes them down back roads and into small towns If you can get them to stop and fill up in your town you win. Unlike a gas station where the driver needs to stand watch over the pump while filling up, EV charging stations need the driver only to start the charge and then walk away and enjoy the sights and probably do some shopping for a while while the car fills itself up with power for the next leg of the journey.

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