In the Suburbs: All 'charged' up and ready to roll

I’m late to the game, but I have joined the ranks of electric car owners. I made the switch barely a month ago through my favorite Hyundai dealership in Fairfield and the deal was too good to pass up. I still have a mini SUV Kona, it’s just electric now.

When I brought the car home, I jokingly told my wife that we now have our own little electric bus, just like the good old days in Chicago when wires criss-crossed the city and the electric buses dominated main streets. I rode those buses regularly to school or work and remember how quiet they were.

“Quiet” is the operant word for this car. There obviously is no gas pedal or “vroom vroom” noise. I just press the drive button, which is now located on the center console (no more gear shift) and the power surges right up front. I’ve also told close friends that the car is so quiet, I have to be careful not to run someone down, because the person won’t know what happened until he or she is lying on the pavement. That’s not a joke.

My salesman told me, that I can get a range of about 260 miles before I need a full charge on the car and that was encouraging news. We are hoping to drive to Virginia this Thanksgiving, but we’ll have to stop somewhere along the route to rapid charge the car. My understanding is that we’ll have to plan for about a two hour stop over to put enough voltage back in the car.

The good news is that a list of those public access stations will magically appear on my console screen as we approach various towns and cities along the route. And I have two apps for charging: Charge it and Electrify America, which will apply the voltage along with a bill to my credit card. Again, my salesman’s estimate is that it will cost about 40 cents a volt to charge up my little car, which is roughly the same as a typical gas fill up these days.

And I have driven so few miles lately, I can’t judge whether I’m getting good or bad mileage on this overgrown kiddy car. All I know is that I may start with one mileage figure and at the end of a trip, I may show the same number of miles as when I began driving. Go figure, but I was told that the car is recharging as I’m driving or idling. My portable charger works very well and an overnight charge builds up to almost the full mileage.

I’m sure other electric car owners are probably yawning and saying, “What’s the big deal? This guy is just another electric car driver. We’ve made these discoveries about the car already.”

No matter. My new electric experience is very different than having a gas-powered car for me and I’m enjoying every volt. While I originally thought about a hybrid, Hyundai didn’t make one in a Kona, so I went the all-electric route.

After watching the evolution of electric vehicles like the Prius, which was a hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan Leaf and now the Tesla, I was certainly curious about the whole allure of electric and did a little check of where the story began.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy was a great source of information. I was amazed to learn that electric “vehicles,” if one could call them that, date back to the 1800s and specifically to about 1832. Baker Electric developed the first electric car, which looked like a glorified bicycle with a single wheel in the front. The first actual electric car was a modified horse-drawn carriage, created by Ewell and Parker in 1884, and another electric car, which looked like an actual early vehicle, came along about 10 years later.

Of course, with the advent of the Model T Ford, the era of electric cars began to fade and by 1935 — with the development of cheap, crude oil and improved gasoline cars — the electric car all but faded away.

The lunar landing in the late 1960s brought back the popularity of electric with the Lunar Rover, which was powered by electricity. And General Motors developed a prototype for an electrical vehicle in 1973, according to the Department of Energy.

Fast forward to 2020. The Department of Energy reported that there were 23 plug-in electric vehicle types and 36 hybrid models available. Today, there are roughly 8,000 public charging locations in the United States.

My dealership will always charge my car for free and I discovered that Whole Foods in Fairfield will charge the car for free also, if I want to wait a few hours. We’ve seen charging stations at various malls also and I’m sure there are hundreds of other charging stations within a short distance from home, in case I’m running out of voltage.

I’m glad I made this move and hope in time that I’ll be able to see how long it takes to use up 265 miles without getting stuck in the middle of a street. For now, just color me electrified, charged up and ready to roll.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.