Reporter’s Notebook: Calif. Gas Crisis Puzzles Electric Car Drivers

By Scott Shulman

Oct 5, 2012 2:56pm
gty nissan leaf electric cat thg 121005 wblog Reporters Notebook: Calif. Gas Crisis Puzzles Electric Car Drivers

(Image credit: Buda Mendes//Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES–I’ve been driving alternative fuel vehicles now for while.  I’m on my second full-electric car, a 2012 Nissan LEAF.  I also own a 2004 Ford F-150 pickup truck that is 100 percent natural-gas powered.  It was hard to find; mine was originally owned by a government agency.

I haven’t been to a gas station in nearly a year.  If I do end up at a service station, it’s to use the rest room or to buy a Dove bar.

I drive my electric car to the ABC News bureau nearly every day.  It costs me about 25-30 cents for the 28-mile round-trip.  My car is fast, sporty, filled with options and I can even drive solo in the carpool lane.  It carries all my work gear, seats five, and best of all; I’m not putting any of my cash in the pockets of Hugo Chavez or the Saudis.  I can drive nearly 100 miles, and I re-charge in my garage on a charger that I got for free.

Every morning, my car is fully charged and I have never been stranded with an empty battery.  When I purchased the car, the city lowered my electric rate so I pay almost nothing for power, and the state and federal government rebated almost 30 percent of the purchase.

When I do need to drive more than 100 miles, or if I want to throw my mountain bike in and go for a ride – I take my natural gas (CNG) Ford pickup truck.  Fuel is as little as $1.83 a gallon (natural gas equivalent) and I drive nearly 300 miles before I have to fill up.  All California CNG vehicles can drive solo in the carpool lane and there are tons of places to refuel in the LA area.  If I want to drive to San Francisco or Sacramento, it’s no problem; there are stations to refuel along the way.  Yesterday I filled up for $21.

With gasoline prices over $5 a gallon in my trendy West Los Angeles neighborhood and some people complaining that Costco is sold out – no gasoline at all – it’s making me and my other alternative fuel friends scratch our heads. Staggering gas prices in the state have forced some station owners to close their doors as recent pipeline problems and refinery fires are causing the state’s gasoline reserves to hit a 10-year low.

We don’t get what seems so totally obvious to us. Why even bother to drive a gasoline-powered vehicle?  Why is it that people do not see what is staring them in the face?

What’s known as “range anxiety” in the alternative fuel world – that fear of being stranded with a dead battery or an empty CNG tank is completely over-rated.  Most commuters drive MUCH LESS than they think.  For the average American city dweller, an electric car is just fine.

People constantly ask me about my all-electric Nissan LEAF, and I always give them the same advice.  If you drive around 50-60 miles a day, don’t do a lot of highway or mountain driving, then it is the perfect car.  There are many other advantages, like virtually NO scheduled maintenance, and the incredible low cost of driving.

Unfortunately, the media continues to cover electric cars as though they are glorified golf carts, and natural gas vehicles get almost no coverage.  When I see my alternative fuel friends here in Los Angeles, we scratch our heads – and wonder – why we still feel like we are driving the best-kept secret.

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