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Car shows often are marked by booming engines and gasoline fragrances, but the vehicles were silent on the third annual National Plug-In Day as they pulled into the side parking lot at MOM’s Organic Market in Waldorf for display last month.
More than 70 people turned out for the car show, with 18 local electric vehicle owners on hand representing a combined 137,500 gas-free miles driven.
The event was one of four honoring MOM’s stores in the capital region with a Best Place to Plug In Award from MD Volt Inc., a nonprofit founded by Waldorf resident Mark Czajka in 2012 to help promote electric vehicles and charging stations.
Collectively, 123 electric vehicle owners attended the four events, accounting for more than 1.2 million gas-free miles driven, Czajka said.
At the Waldorf event, local car dealerships had staff on hand to provide test drives of a Chevrolet Volt, Nissan LEAF and Ford Fusion Energi and C-MAX Energi.
Czajka recently purchased his first electric car, a 2013 Fusion Energi, which is a plug-in hybrid with a 21-mile range on its electric motor. Czajka said the range can fluctuate depending on the climate, and on a mild day his electric engine can run for about 28 miles, not enough for a round-trip commute into Washington, D.C., but plenty to run weekend errands gas-free.
“If you do a lot of short trips on the weekend, you can get a lot of use out of the electric and not use a lot of gas,” Czajka said.
The LEAF and Volt drive like typical, gas-powered cars, except that their electric motors are near-silent and produce “instant torque,” allowing for quick and smooth acceleration.
With respective base prices of $28,800 and $34,185, the LEAF and Volt retail for a bit more than most consumers might be willing to spend. But once the gas savings and $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicle purchases are taken into account, the cars might ultimately cost less than their gas-powered brethren selling in the low $20,000s.
Fred Lyles of Fort Washington put the “instant torque” of his 2013 Tesla Model S on full display when he floored the accelerator after pulling out onto U.S. 301 in front of St. Charles Towne Center, hurling an unsuspecting passenger back into his car seat like an astronaut at takeoff.
A luxury, fully electric car that retails for more than $71,000, Lyles’ Tesla was the star of the show, drawing gawks and giddy questions from nearly7 everyone who passed by. With sporty looks, a 17-inch touchscreen and 250-mile range, the Model S might very well be from the future.
“It is an unbelievable car,” Lyles said, adding that he is used to the questions, sometimes from people who aren’t shy about asking him to roll the window down while driving alongside on the highway.
Since buying the Tesla, Lyles and his family have driven it 3,500 miles and spent $49 on gas for their other two cars. It costs Lyles about $4.50 in electricity to fully charge his Model S, but “We haven’t noticed a chance in our electric bill,” he said.
“We’re into the environment, but we bought it to save money,” said Lyles, a retired Prince George’s County firefighter whose wife has a 70-mile daily commute to and from Columbia. The couple has done the math — they expect to save up to $7,000 annually in gas.
“It’s actually turned out way better than we ever imagined it would,” Lyles said.
Ravi Kumar of Indian Head hopes to buy a Tesla in the near future while his wife, Natalie Gilliom, drives the Volt they bought seven months ago to her job as a special education teacher at Indian Head Elementary School.
“We love it,” said Kumar, who until recently averaged an 85-mile daily commute to and from his job at Fort Belvoir, Va. A phone app tracks how many miles the car — which has a backup gasoline motor — has driven on electric power.
“We’ve saved over 544 gallons of gas,” Kumar said.
A self-described “car nut,” Kumar said the Volt, like all electric vehicles, requires little maintenance outside of tire rotations and brake inspections.
“I changed the oil on it, just because,” he said. “I’m a guy. I had to do it.”
Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said he and his wife already would own a Volt if there hadn’t been a six-month waiting list when they last purchased a car, but he guaranteed their next vehicle will be electric.
The first county resident with a wind turbine in his own yard, “I kind of have a reputation for being interested or passionate about renewable or sustainable energy,” Robinson said.
While presenting the award to Howard Ehret, MOM’s store manager, Czajka thanked the Charles County commissioners for installing the county’s first electric vehicle charging stations in 2011 at the P.D. Brown library in Waldorf and Potomac Branch library in Indian Head.
Since then, charging stations have gone up at the Indian Head Town Hall, The Prime Street Grille restaurant in White Plains and throughout Waldorf, including at the Hilton Garden Inn, Walgreens and MOM’s, which also features solar panels on its roof.
“It’s nice to come to Waldorf, seven miles away, and go home and not use any fuel,” Czajka said.
Robinson credited Czajka, the former director of the Charles County Technology Council, with first convincing the commissioners to install the library’s charging stations.
“Without him, I don’t think we’d have a single charging station in the county,” Robinson said. “This isn’t mainstream yet, but it will be.”
Moreover, with more electric charging stations going up, the wine turbine at the Crain Memorial Welcome Center in Newburg and the Hughesville solar farm built by the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, “we’re a beacon for renewable energy,” Robinson said.