Electric car event charges up local interest

  • Karen Clay chats with Dave Wolfram, sales rep with Lia Toyota, before taking a test drive at Saturday’s Recharge Northampton event. FRAN RYAN/FOR THE GAZETTE

  • Jonas LaPointe shows off his Polestar 2 to a group of people attending Saturday’s Recharge America event in Northampton. FRAN RYAN/FOR THE GAZETTE

  • Jonas LaPointe shows off his Polestar 2 to a group of people attending Saturday’s Recharge America event in Northampton. FRAN RYAN/FOR THE GAZETTE

  • Denise Lello prepares to test drive a BMW iX during the Recharge Northampton Event, Saturday. FRAN RYAN/FOR THE GAZETTE

For the Gazette
Published: 10/2/2022 8:37:45 PM

NORTHAMPTON — On Saturday, potential buyers and those curious about electric (EV), and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV), had a unique opportunity to take some out for a spin, learn about a variety of rebate incentives, and chat with current owners about their experience with owning and operating these vehicles.

The test drive and exposition event was sponsored by Recharge Massachusetts, in partnership with Massachusetts Clean Cities, and held at the Armory Street parking lot in Northampton.

“This was fun,” said Erin Armstrong of Amherst. “It was nice to have the cars right here and not have to go to different dealerships, and I liked being able to talk with owners and hear about their experiences.”

Recharge Massachusetts is a state public education initiative aimed at increasing the number of electric vehicle drivers and expanding the supporting charging infrastructure in communities throughout the state.

The Massachusetts program is part of the national Recharge America initiative, which mobilizes support for electric vehicle adoption to help keep energy dollars local, boost local economies, and help communities reap the benefits of clean transportation.

“We work with the local government, utility companies, non-profit clean energy groups and EV owners associations, to get community members in front of EV’s, to answer questions and to reduce barriers for EV adoption,” Aaron Monson, Recharge America event planner, said.

The event got off to a wet start due to rainy weather, but as the day wore on more people showed up to get behind the wheel of an EV.

Cars available for test drives included a Chevy Bolt, Polestar 2, BMW iX, Tesla Model S, and a Toyota Prius Prime PHEV. On display were a Tesla model Y, Hyundai Kona, and Volkswagen ID4.

“It was great,” Denise Lello of Northampton said after test driving a Chevy Bolt. “It was really effortless, quite responsive and had a nice turning radius.”

Lello said she has been interested in purchasing an electric car for a while, and the state’s recent investment in charging stations and current rebates on EV’s that are available have convinced her that now may be a good time to do so.

Grants, incentives

In February, grants worth $13.1 million were awarded to 54 government and private entities under the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program, to install 306 Direct Current Fast Charging electric vehicle charging ports at 150 locations.

Communities in western Massachusetts included, Amherst, Belchertown, Chicopee, Greenfield, Holyoke, Northampton, South Deerfield, Springfield, West Springfield, Westfield, Whately, and Williamsburg.

Representatives from Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles (MOR-EV), a program funded by the Department of Energy Resources, were at the event to explain current rebates and how to get one.

These included a $2,500 rebate for battery and fuel cell electric vehicles, and a $1,500 rebate for plug in hybrids.

According to Monson, the one thing that makes streamlining EV charging difficult, is that it there is no unified standard charging technology, and different companies vary in how they provide power.

“It is a piecemeal approach, and that makes it difficult,” he said. “What charging station is available depends on what company an entity goes with.”

Monson said that the goal is to make public charging stations efficient, and get charging times down to 10 minutes.

“I think 90% of EV owners have charging stations at home,” he said.

Members of National Grid’s Clean Transportation team were also on hand to discuss their program for providing opportunities that will help grow the charging infrastructure.

“We provide support to help homeowners for installing in home charging stations,” team member Julia Gold said. “By providing incentives for family homes, multi-unit dwellings, low income and environmental justice communities, we are trying to make it an equitable and easy transition for people.”

Monson said that most of those in attendance were seeking information on how an EV could fit into their daily lives with many conversations centered around charging, maintenance, safety, handling and performance in winter conditions.

“Some people have range anxiety, and they don’t think they could take a long road trip,” Monson said. “But with today’s technology I can drive my EV 200 to 250 miles on one charge and that costs me twenty bucks.”

Monson said some people have the idea that EV’s are “sluggish and slow,” but he said that many have a sportier performance than gas-powered vehicles.

With regard to safety, he said that, like anything, there is always room to improve but EV’s are “perfectly safe, if not safer than their gas counterparts.”

Jonas LaPointe of Williamsburg is a member of the Pioneer Valley Electric Auto Association.

An owner of a Polestar 2, he brought his vehicle to the event for people to test drive.

“It is very well-built and fun to drive,” he said. “It has good clearance, and 4-wheel drive, it’s powerful, and I never have a problem with traction in the snow.”

LaPointe said that as the industry progresses, the technology is making leaps and bounds in power capacity.

“I owned a 2015 Nessan Leaf and got 84 miles on a full charge,” he said. “Now with this car, I get 230 miles and it costs me $2.50 to drive my 52-mile commute.”

As far as maintenance goes LaPointe said EV’s make it easy.

“It’s only wiper blades, windshield washer, and tires, that’s it, no oil changes or anything like that.”

Pete O’Connor, of Newton and Plug in America, brought his Tesla Model S to the event and agreed that tech improvements are rapid and that prices are coming down as EV’s become more popular.

“I’m very happy with this car,” he said, “but this newer Tesla Model S right next to me has a lot of improvements and it’s faster and cheaper than mine.”

One woman attending the event said that she was sold on the Prius Hybrid.

“We live in Village Hill and they are thinking of installing a charging station there, so we want to move forward with a purchase,” Karen Clay said. “I heard about this great event and it was perfect timing,” she noted, as she signed up for a test drive with sales representative Dave Wolfram of Lia Toyota.

This was the first Recharge Northampton event to be held, and Monson said that he is looking forward to returning to Northampton in 2023, when he hopes to include more vehicles and participants.

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