Leafs fall into place

August 30, 2012

By Caleb Heeringa

New: Aug. 30, 11:06 a.m.

Two electric cars added to city’s fleet

Say goodbye to the dated Ford Taurus and its 20 miles to the gallon – Sammamish city employees have a newer, greener and more fuel-efficient way of getting around town.

Two Nissan Leafs were added to the city’s fleet in June, providing gas-free transportation to employees on city business around the area. The electric vehicles join five hybrid Ford Escapes the city added in 2009. The green vehicles replaced eight traditional gas vehicles that were reaching the end of their productive lives and sold off due to their increasing maintenance costs, Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol said. All told, seven of the city’s 28 vehicles are now hybrid or electric.

The city was able to afford the higher sticker price for the vehicles thanks to $90,000 in federal grant money through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant money covered roughly half of the purchase price, with the rest being paid by the city.

In addition to the savings on gas, Gurol said the new vehicles are better suited to city business. The Escapes allow public works crews and building officials to visit construction sites and easily haul tools, while the Leafs provide a perfect commuter vehicle for city employees en route to meetings in neighboring areas.

“We’re replacing the older vehicles with ones that are not only energy efficient but ones that serve the city’s purposes as good or better than the old vehicles,” Gurol said.

Gurol said the city is expecting that the additional cost of the Leafs and Escapes over comparable new gasoline vehicles – about $12,000 for the Escapes and $17,000 for the Leafs – will be offset by the savings on gasoline and maintenance over the life of the vehicles.

Though the Nissan Leafs have not been around long enough to gauge their long-term maintenance costs accurately compared to their gasoline-using cousins, Tom Saxton, a Sammamish resident and vice president of electric car advocacy group Plug In America, said there’s reason to believe that electric cars will be cheap and painless over their lives.

“All the things you worry about breaking down on a regular car aren’t there,” Saxton said. “There’s no oil changes, there’s no exhaust system, there’s no timing belt.”

Perhaps more important to city officials is the gas savings. The Escapes get approximately 32 miles per gallon compared to around 20 for the Ford Tauruses they are replacing, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Finance Director Joe Guinasso said some of the older vehicles got as little as 13 miles per gallon.

The savings is more drastic in the Leafs, which get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon. The Energy Department calculates that the average Leaf owner would pay about $600 in electricity costs for their vehicle per year compared to about $2,800 in gasoline costs for the owner of a Taurus, though Gurol notes that cost is likely even smaller because of the comparatively cheap electricity in Washington state compared to the rest of the country. Washington state averages about 8 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity compared to a national average of 12 cents.

“If you want to have an electric vehicle this is the place to do it,” Gurol said.

Gurol said the city will wait for a few more months of data before studying whether the city’s electric bill takes a big jump because vehicles are being charged at City Hall.

Saxton said he was glad to see local governments leading the way on getting electric vehicles on the streets. Just as important, he said, was getting city employees behind the wheel of the vehicles so they can forget the stereotypes about electric vehicles being glorified golf carts. Consumer Reports clocked the Nissan Leaf at about 10 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 – about on par with new Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics.

“People envision these things being these eco-punishment boxes and say ‘I don’t want to drive one of those,’” Saxton said. “But then they put their foot on the pedal and they’re off.”

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