Demonstration in Vancouver shows electric cars have real power

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Steve Erickson admits most people hold certain doubts about electric cars. He’s heard them all.

“They’re all expecting that overglorified golf cart,” said Erickson, a local financial adviser. “They’re not expecting it to have power.”

A demonstration at Vancouver’s Alan Webb Mazda dealership likely changed a few minds on Wednesday. A handful of electric-only cars — including the relatively rare Tesla Roadster — allowed visitors to get behind the wheel themselves, or simply hop in for a ride.

Erickson, himself a Nissan Leaf driver, pulled together the demonstration to offer a chance to learn about the technology and industry, he said. Most of the attendees were Erickson’s own clients; some are already investors in the electric car industry.

Nearly everyone who stepped into a vehicle gave his or her thumbs up. That was particularly true of the Tesla, which stole the show once Lance Merkin, a marketing representative for the California-based company, rolled up in a bright orange Roadster. A second Roadster, owned by a Vancouver resident, arrived later.

No visitors drove the Tesla cars. But a few who climbed into the passenger seat for a joyride on nearby Highway 500 came back looking like they’d just been on a roller coaster.

“Our heads went back,” said Gail Czech of Vancouver, among the first to ride. “That thing has power.”

The Tesla Roadster Sport can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds, powered by a lithium-ion battery in the back of the car. The car can travel almost 250 miles on a single charge. The other two models demonstrated Wednesday, the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi “i,” need to plug in after less than 100 miles.

Some visitors Wednesday had trouble getting in and out of the Tesla, a sports car with seats seemingly on the ground. And you’d better have deep pockets if you hope to buy one — Tesla Roadsters start at $109,000, Merkin said.

The Leaf costs about $32,000. The “i” can range from $19,000 to $30,000, depending on features.

Vancouver resident Robert Bivens was among those who said he’s never tried an electric car. He said he’d consider buying one.

“Unless the price of gas comes down,” Bivens said.

Charging stations

Electric-only cars are undeniably a growing trend, but haven’t reached widespread use in the Northwest with charging stations still few and far between. That’s about to change in Washington, however, with nine new high-powered stations set to be installed along Interstate 5 and state Highway 2 before the end of this year. A separate program, the federally funded EV Project, aims to put thousands more charging stations in six states, including Washington and Oregon.

Erickson, clearly a proponent of electric cars, considers himself something of a leader on that front locally. On the back of his blue Nissan Leaf, gold letters spell out “LEAF ERICKSON,” a nod to Norse explorer Leif Ericson.

Ericson helped people get over the “range anxiety” of the Atlantic Ocean, Erickson said.

“The least I can do,” he said, “is help people get over the range anxiety in the electric car.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.