Driving Green: What to know before buying an electric vehicle

Joan Michelson, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – If you’re in the market for a new car, want to reduce your carbon footprint or are interested in cool new vehicles, the 2013 Washington Auto Show is a great place to see what’s out there.

The show is a one-stop shop featuring all the automakers, and most seem to have eco-friendly electric vehicles (EVs) or plug-in-electric hybrid vehicles (PEVs) on display.

Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank toured the show and said automakers have reached a turning point with the current fleet of cars. Automakers are now focusing on fuel efficiency and reducing emissions as much as technology and performance. That’s a benefit to car buyers.

You can find alternative fuel vehicles at every automaker’s exhibit and at the Electric Vehicle Association’s display, which is part of the Advanced Technology Superhighway. At the Fiat Drive Track — which looks like the bumper cars at an amusement park but has real cars — you can drive a range of Fiats, including the 500e.

At a press conference, David Danielson, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, discussed President Barack Obama’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge announced last March.

“The United States seeks to be the first nation in the world to produce plug-in electric vehicles that are as affordable for the average American family as today’s gasoline-powered vehicles are and to do this within the next 10 years,” Danielson said.

The initiative includes making cheaper batteries and improving manufacturing, which should reduce the price of cars, and installing charging stations “everywhere.”

Charging stations “everywhere”

A key issue is being able to charge your EV or PEV as easily as you can find a gas station. We’re close. The EV Everywhere Grand Challenge includes partnerships with large employers, parking entities, real estate developers and others to build the infrastructure to support EV and PEV charging from home, at shopping centers and work places.

At the Washington Auto Show, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu described an infrastructure in development in the D.C. region — and all over the U.S. — that includes parking garages.

In a presentation before the show, Parking Management Inc., which operates more than 100 parking facilities in D.C., Virginia and Maryland, announced that it is installing EV charging stations in various garages and already has them in six locations, including Crystal City, Va. and BWI airport.

Another sign that electric vehicles and plug-in electric vehicles are growing in popularity is that tenants for new real estate developments, such as some in Tysons Corner and Mom’s Organic Market on Lee Highway in the new Mosaic development, are requesting developers to install wiring for charging stations in their parking lots.


Each state offers incentives for EV and PEV purchasing. See incentives in D.C., Maryland and Virginia on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments website.


If you’re in the market for an electric vehicle or a plug-in electric vehicle, the same car-buying tips apply as for any other car. Consider the following:

  • Where are you driving? How often? Types of roads?
  • How many people do you need to transport (regularly and sometimes)?
  • How far do you drive regularly?
  • Are you carrying heavy loads of equipment, or goods, or construction materials?
  • What is your budget? Include maintenance costs, and be aware that EV/PEVs can have lower maintenance (There is no oil to change in an EV, for example).
  • What is your car style? Sedan, or SUV or sports car? New or used?
  • What are your priorities?

Once you’ve answered these questions, look at the EVs and PEVs and see if they fit your criteria. Do your research online. Check reviews and vehicle information sites like Carfax.com, Edmonds.com and MotorTrend.com, which gave the all-electric new Tesla S the Car of the Year Award. Mazda’s SkyACTIV, featured at the Washington Auto Show, won Green Car Journal’s Green Car Technology Award.

Test drive a few. It’s like dating — don’t fall for the first one on the first date. Drive it a few times, ask every question you can think of, and if your dealer gets antsy, find another dealer.

Bottom line: If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, take your list of priorities to the D.C. Auto Show at the Washington Convention Center through Feb. 10 and check out your options. Even if you’re not buying today or soon, it’s a great way to see what’s out there in one stop.

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Joan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Radio and a consultant on the green economy and cleantech. She can be reached at joan@greenconnectionsradio.com.

Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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