Lester Sowell, a manager at Maguire--the largest car dealer in the Ithaca area--had every possible car choice available to him. Lester cares about car design--and is a dapper fellow himself--and had his eye on a sports car as he got closer to retirement age. So, this summer, when he drove home a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, his family was surprised.
Lester shared how he reached this decision one recent winter afternoon, with snow gently falling on his dark grey Chevy Volt outside the Chevrolet Cadillac dealer in Lansing.
At the top of his list of motivations, was his sense of responsibility towards his family and future generations. Lester was born in Elmira and raised in Horseheads with his four siblings by hard working parents. He commented on the sacrifices his parents’ generation to “make it a more even playing field” and open up more opportunities for people of color. A father of three himself, and grandfather of seven, he’s intently concerned about the contribution he will make to the next generation, which Lester pointed out is the first to be doing less well off than their parents. “We’ve got to leave them something!”
Some years ago at another dealer, Lester worked on an alternative fuel vehicle project, and became more aware of the pollutants from tailpipe emissions, including greenhouse gases and Volatile Organic Compounds, which “can really make people sick.” Lester added, “I know this sounds nerdy, but I’m concerned about my carbon footprint.”
After that project he got a hybrid, which got him used to spending much less on gas. Another reason which weighed against the sports car.
He then saw a lease offer from General Motors, which was sweetened by a $1,700 NYSERDA rebate. “It was a no-brainer after that.” He’s paying $239 a month for 36 months, with 15,000 a year mileage limit. The looks of the car also helped. On a trip he had seen a grey-haired couple with a Volt, and he admired the design. Now that he drives one, he says, “I get some heads turning.”
What has the experience been like? After getting the car, Lester said, “I went two months without putting any gas in it, and I was bragging about it.” Lester, who lives in Ithaca, drives to most of the Maguire offices on most days, putting in 40-50 miles a day. He chose not to get a special charger, instead just plugs in at home, which provides enough of a charge on most days for his driving needs. Since it is a hybrid, on days he doesn’t plug-in or drives further, the gas engine gets him there. He notes the car is roomy, and can fit six bags of leaves in the back with the seats down. “My needs were simple. I wanted an XM radio and I like the back-up camera.” Anything surprising about the car? “I was impressed by the amount of torque in EV [electric] mode; it is extremely snappy.”
Lester’s not the only one at Maguire with the Volt virus. Marcus Crandall, the General Manager of the Maguire Chevrolet Cadillac office, recently acquired eight of the plug-in cars to use as courtesy vehicles for customers. His dealership recently surpassed Chevy’s sales targets for Volts and all-electric Bolts, and he has seen a surge in sales of used hybrids and plug-ins. Lester noted that the dealers recently went from a total of four Volt and Bolts at both Chevy dealers to over 20. “We don’t start loading up on a whim and a prayer; it’s based on past performance--we think we’re going to sell that car!”
However, the first one at the dealership to purchase a Volt was the dealer’s head mechanic, Chip Bell, who, a few years back, purchased a used 2012 model. Everyone was surprised that Chip, a stock car enthusiast and NASCAR fan, would even consider a plug-in hybrid. Taking a break from working on a car in the shop, Chip was succinct about his choice: “Basically I bought it because they don’t break much.” He explained that vehicles with electric motors (including plug-in hybrids like the Volt) have fewer moving parts, which means fewer things that wear down and break. He added that the vehicles are also pretty easy to fix, mostly just requiring recalibrating systems and updating electronics. When asked about any battery issues he’s seen, Chip mentioned that of the roughly 200 hybrid and electric vehicles he’s worked on, only one has had a battery issue, adding “they come with a good warranty anyway.” As to savings, he said he’s put 21,000 miles on the car and burned just 30 gallons of gas. According to his estimates, a full charge to the battery costs him less than a dollar.
I asked Lester what he’d recommend for others who might be considering a plug-in electric vehicle. “For starters, get an idea of what kind of driving you’re going to be doing. If you live within an hour of where you’re going to be working, and can plug your car in, you’re going to be saving money [with an electric vehicle]. The car is going to get you there.” Lester did point out that these highly-efficient cars tend to be smaller and lighter, and are “not a tank in wintertime”, but noted that there are days when all cars will be slipping around.
This article, written by Karim Beers, will appear in the January 10th issue of the Ithaca Times