For Bolton residents Jim Adams and his wife Sylvia Ounpuu, buying a Tesla Model 3 in 2019 was the culmination of an almost 20-year journey toward gasoline-free driving.
After the U.S invaded Iraq in 2003, the couple began to realize the environmental and geopolitical implications of relying on fossil fuels.
They purchased their first Toyota Prius hybrid in 2006 and followed that up in 2010 with another. By 2017 the couple was thinking about a new car, and driving a fully electric vehicle felt like the natural next step.
It’s a step that environmental activists, scientists, and world leaders are pushing for more strongly than ever, and car manufacturers are gearing up to answer the call.
Walk onto the lot or into the showroom of a car dealership these days and one is likely to find that most car manufacturers have an electric vehicle in their roster.
Right now there are only one or two models for most vehicle makes, but manufacturers including General Motors and Volkswagen have declared their intent to transition completely to electric transportation in the next 10 to 15 years.
This comes at a time, however, when most Connecticut drivers have little experience with electric vehicles besides spotting them on the street, leaving many to wonder what they’re really like.
“There is a learning curve,” Adams says, with the biggest difference being that there’s no longer a reason to stop at gas stations.
Making that break from gasoline wasn’t easy at first for Mansfield couple John and Beth Hankins.
Since 2017 they’ve leased, and now own a Chevrolet Bolt, an electric hatchback with a range of about 250 miles.
For the Hankinses, their first months with the Bolt were marked by a strong case of range anxiety, or the fear of running out of energy with no way to recharge. It’s typical for every new electric vehicle owner, John Hankins says. In the beginning, they would get nervous when the Bolt’s range gauge got below 100 miles, even if their destination was closer.
They’ve largely gotten over it now in their fifth year of ownership, mostly by learning to trust what the car is telling them, John Hankins says.
Like most modern cars, electric vehicles tell their drivers how many more miles they can drive before having to recharge. In the case of the Bolt, the car also tells its drivers how efficient their driving style is.
“It takes a while to feel that out,” John Hankins admits.
There are different types of electric vehicle chargers. A Level 1 charger uses a standard electrical outlet. But both couples have Level 2 chargers in their garages, which plug into the 240-volt outlets typically used for clothes dryers.
Adams and Hankins both recommend getting Level 2 chargers and say it’s most often the way they charge their cars.
In most cases, installing the outlet for the charger is a clean, easy job that takes around three hours, Tyler Flanagan, manager of AJP electric in Tolland, says. The biggest decision for customers is how many amps they want to have available for charging. The more amps, the quicker the vehicle will charge.
The job typically involves running a designated wire from the electrical panel in the home to wherever the customer wants to charge their vehicle, usually the garage. Most people choose to install an outlet with a capacity of between 40 and 60 amps, and the installation costs $1,000 to $1,400, Flanagan says.
Taking electric vehicles on longer trips is when their differences from gas vehicles show the most, owners say.
Most drivers can assume that wherever they drive, there will be a gas station. That’s not the case with car chargers, Adams says. In the case of the Tesla, the car’s GPS helps find the closest chargers to the driving route.
He says stopping to charge isn’t as disruptive as it sounds. Those stops for snacks and to use the bathroom are charging opportunities, Adams says.
On the other hand, John Hankins acknowledges that for many people, driving electric doesn’t make sense yet.
“We like to do what we can for the planet and an electric vehicle’s not a bad place to start,” John Hankins says. But, “you have to want to do it.”
On a trip to Iowa this month, John Hankins drove one of his other cars, because taking the Bolt would have been “nerve wracking,” he says.
In his opinion, two things need to happen before electric vehicles will be fully accepted by drivers.
There have to be enough chargers available so drivers can find them easily, and the vehicles have to charge fast enough to be convenient, he says.
At this point, most people shopping for a new car are either interested in electric or they’re not, without much cross-shopping, Geoff Jones, a sales consultant at Vernon Chevrolet, says. Most of the customers that ultimately purchase an electric vehicle from the dealership already have the idea in mind when they show up.
They’ve done the research and have a desire to purchase one because of its impact on the environment or because they believe they’ll save money, Jones says. For many of them, owning an electric vehicle fits in with their other lifestyle choices, like having solar panels on their home, he says.
Adams says he realizes driving a gas car would be easier at times, but electric cars aren’t all about sacrifices. They’re quiet, and “well suited to acceleration,” he says.
John Hankins describes the acceleration like this: Unless you regularly drive a sports car, you’ll probably be stunned.
He suggests taking an electric vehicle for a test drive and merging onto a highway to see how quickly it can pick up speed.
There’s a difference with the brakes on electric cars, too; the driver really doesn’t have to use them, he says.
Both the Tesla and Bolt have regenerative braking, which allows the car to regain energy by slowing down. The feature can be set to regain energy whenever the accelerator is let up, and the car can come to a stop on its own, Adams and Hankins say. It means drivers only have to use one pedal, and that the brake pads on the car will last a long time before wearing out.