GREENFIELD — Joey Johnson loves his new car a little bit more for every cent that gas prices climb.
While gas station signs advertise prices well past the $4 threshold, Johnson whizzes right by. Instead, he goes home to refuel – or more accurately, recharge.
Just weeks ago, Johnson received Hancock County’s first electric vehicle. His 2012 Nissan LEAF was one of the first to be delivered in the state, and it could not have come at a better time.
“I’ve waited a very long time for an electric car,” Johnson said.
Johnson is an early adopter in the electric vehicle trend. While people have become accustomed to everything from e-books to electric cigarettes, few people have jumped on the electric car bandwagon.
Higher sticker prices and unfamiliar engineering have been sales obstacles for car makers so far. Astronomical gas prices could be a game-changer, though.
Mark Overly, salesman at Butler Nissan in Indianapolis, where Johnson purchased his LEAF, said LEAF sales started slowly but have received more interest in recent weeks.
“They started getting a little bit more attention when the news started reporting gas prices going up,” Overly said.
Johnson’s was the first delivered for Butler Nissan, but the business will have at least one more delivered in April.
The price and range of the LEAF have been tough selling points, Overly admits. The car starts at more than $35,000 and has a range of 70 to 100 miles per charge, depending on weather and driving conditions.
“It’s more of a commuter-type car,” Overly said.
That’s fine for Johnson. He primarily drives the car for trips around town and between work at Eden Elementary School, where he is the principal, and his home in Sherwood Hills in Greenfield. For longer trips, the Johnsons take traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.
Each night, Johnson comes home and plugs the car into his home charging station. It takes about eight hours to fully charge a depleted battery.
Charging the car adds $15 to $30 a month to Johnson’s electric bill, but he estimates he is saving several thousand dollars a year in gasoline.
There are quick-charging stations at dealerships and some retail locations that require only 30 minutes to recharge. Those have yet to catch on widely in Indiana.
Automakers and dealers are expecting, or at least hoping, that as infrastructure and technology improve, so will electric vehicle sales.
Terry Harger, sales consultant at Greenfield’s Dellen Automotive Family, said he expects interest to grow in the electric car they’ve had sitting on the lot for months – the Chevrolet Volt.
“We haven’t had a lot of serious interest,” Harger said. “We’re a little surprised there hasn’t been more.”
Like the LEAF, the Volt plugs in to a home charging station. Unlike the LEAF, though, the Volt still has a gasoline engine that kicks in once the electric battery charge is depleted – between 30 and 40 miles. It takes away the fear of being stranded without a charging station, but the starting price of nearly $40,000 has also made it a tough sell.
Buyers of electric cars do get a $7,500 tax credit, though. The government has considered raising the credit to $10,000, which Harger thinks will help sell the car.
“It’s a good product. It just needs to overcome some hurdles,” he said.
Johnson understands why most people have been hesitant, but for him an electric car was a no-brainer.
Johnson said he had been interested in purchasing an electric car for nearly two decades. It wasn’t until the last several years, however, that technology was advanced enough to make it practical.
Shortly after hearing about the LEAF, Johnson put his name on a waiting list to order one. That was more than a year and a half ago. Ordering was finally opened up to Indiana residents in December, and the car finally arrived at the end of February.
Weeks later, Johnson’s excitement is still clearly visible. The wait was worth it, he said.
The LEAF is the ultimate gadget for Johnson – a self-described geek – but his desire for an electric car has been much about the environmental repercussions of traditional cars. So although the car is fun to drive, the fact that the LEAF requires no gasoline is definitely one of Johnson’s favorite aspects of the distinctive-looking car – so much so that Johnson ordered his very first custom license plate.
“This car deserves a vanity plate,” Johnson said. “I wanted to make people think.”
So what will the plate read? “BEANO.”