Electric Cars Moving Slowly To Arkansas

May 10, 2012

Electric cars are entering the automotive market in Arkansas ever so slowly.

Fully electric cars have been on showroom floors for the last six months in the state. A few early adopters have been taking notice but finding an electric car on the road in central Arkansas can be an elusive task.

Don Bearden drives an electric vehicle, but he went the do-it-yourself route and built his own from a small truck and a forklift. Though, his car is more of a grocery-getter than a commuter.

“I use it mostly now for running errands. I don’t drive it to work at present because the parking deck where I park [in downtown Little Rock] is going to be putting in charging stations soon, but they haven’t installed them yet,” Bearden said.

Bearden is suffering from what electric vehicle motorists have come to call range anxiety. It’s one of the worries people have about driving electric cars, that they’ll run out of battery power before getting home or to a charging station. More available charging stations or longer battery range could solve the problem.

The CargePoint Network, a vehicle charging station network has a website that lists four stations in central Arkansas and one in the northwest portion of the state.

While battery technology is improving there are only a handful of charging stations in central Arkansas, and though it’s just a start, Bryan Day, Little Rock assistant city manager, says the city, at the suggestion of its sustainability committee, is about to add two more in the downtown area.

“While we don’t have a lot in the city, they are selling some nationally. So, we started looking around and realized that we probably should acquire one charging unit,” Day said.

He hopes to have the charging station, which will accommodate two cars at once, in place in a downtowncity garage by the end of May. Day says the city paid $2,000 for the station and will also have to pay to install it. While electricity might be cheaper by the mile than gas, electric cars are considerably more expensive than their gas powered counterparts. The Nissan Leaf starts at just under $28 thousand and requires installation of a home charging station which can run about  $5,000. Though Leaf sales are handled only through the Nissan website, Area Nissan dealerships say they haven’t heard of any new local deliveries. Local dealers like North Little Rock Nissan have had demo versions of the car for about the last month. "A lot of people hear about it through media,” George Pree, salesman at North Little Rock Nissan said. “Very few test-drive it … when they see the price, a lot of them shy away from it.” Car-buyers may be just learning about the Leaf but the Chevy Volt has been out for about six months, and at a starting price of about $40 thousand, has had only a few bites in the area. Sales staff at Bale Chevrolet say they’ve sold four and Bob Morris, Sales manager at Russell Chevrolet, says his staff has sold four as well. But, he says, when customers come for test drives they are surprised by the speed and handling of the new electric cars. “It [the Chevy Volt] has as much or more acceleration than a lot of the small cars,” Morris said.There is a federal tax break that can help with the purchase cost, but Morris says he only sees the purchase of electric vehicles becoming more accessible in the future. “The battery technology is an evolving technology to begin with and I think as they become more standardized and research costs go down and usage goes up and they can do mass production, I think you’ll see the cost come way down and I don’t think you’ll see the cost of regular cars come down ever again,” Morris said. And gas prices, well, who knows where those are going.