When Whole Foods Market opened in Oklahoma City last summer, it designated a spot in its parking lot for drivers of electric vehicles who need to “fill up” — the first public charging station in the state.
With the market introduction of the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric vehicle, came more options to plug in. Nissan requires dealerships that sell the Leaf to have charging stations for use by the service department and, potentially, its customers.
Four Nissan dealerships in Oklahoma now have charging stations, bringing the state total to five places where electric vehicle owners can charge while they are out, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The industry is new in Oklahoma, where drivers are fond of gas-guzzling pickup trucks, so seeing a Leaf on the road or a car plugged in at Whole Foods is rare. Sarah Innerarity, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City Whole Foods store, said the store doesn't track how often the charger is used but it has received “steady traffic.”
There's no cost to the customer; they simply pick up a card at guest services and swipe it at the charger.
“We offer this service to encourage green living and eco-friendly transportation,” she said.
Hudiburg Nissan at Interstate 240 and Shields Boulevard has three charging stations: two in the service department and one in the parking lot. General Manager Brad Smicklas said they haven't yet figured out how, or whether, they will charge people to use it. So far, no one has asked.
Hudiburg Nissan had a Leaf on the lot for about six months but it was a demo car for the first three. It's for sale now but the dealership hasn't sold one yet. Smicklas said only five or six have been sold in the metro area.
“It's such a fresh idea. It's been in other parts of the country, but it's fresh to Oklahoma,” Smicklas said.
He said while there's been interest in the Leaf, one potential concern for customers is the lack of public charging stations, an obstacle Nissan is trying to overcome to boost sales of the car, which starts at $35,200 but may also be eligible for a $7,500 tax credit and a $1,000 home charger allowance.
Central Oklahoma Clean Cities Coordinator Yvonne Anderson said consumers shouldn't get discouraged by the few public charging stations in the state since drivers primarily recharge at home and homes are already wired with electricity.
“I don't think you'll ever see electric vehicle charging in public the same way you see a high volume of gasoline stations,” she said. “It's a completely different scenario because we do have recharging available at home.”
Throughout the country and especially on the East and West Coasts, public charging stations are more prominent and are located outside shopping malls, Walgreens stores and other public venues, she said.
At first, Nissan required Leaf buyers to have a charging station installed in their home, Smicklas said, but customers can now apply for a waiver.
However, it would be difficult to own an all-electric vehicle without one. Home charging stations cost $1,500 to $2,500 and are available through a manufacturer-recommended electrician or Best Buy.
In a pinch, the Leaf can be plugged into a regular home outlet, but it would take 20 hours to fully charge, said Eddie Morris, a salesman at Hudiburg Nissan who has received special training on the Leaf.
The Leaf can travel about 100 miles on a full charge, enough for most people's daily commute. Unlike the Chevy Volt, the Leaf doesn't have a backup gasoline engine. It doesn't require oil changes or an air filter or spark plugs either, so there's very little maintenance to it, explained Morris, and Nissan offers a warranty on the battery for five years or 100,000 miles.
Inside, the car's sophisticated dash and navigation system provide the driver detailed information about the battery usage and an optional solar panel on the rear spoiler adds power for the air conditioning and entertainment system.
Other manufacturers plan to introduce plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicles in the coming months. Mike Lang, general manager of Reynolds Ford in Norman, said the dealership didn't receive any of the Ford Focus Electric cars because of the lack of interest here. But he expects to receive the C-MAX Energi in the next 45 days and the Fusion Energi in early 2013; both cars are plug-in hybrids.
Lang said the dealership is focusing its inventory on the plug-in hybrid models, which still give drivers the option to take a road trip without switching cars or locating public charging stations.
“Until the infrastructure is there, it would be like trying to drive across the country without gas stations,” he said.
On the web
• For information about alternative fueled vehicles: www.afdc.energy
• About the Nissan Leaf: www.nissan
• About federal tax credits for electric vehicles: www.fuel
• About Oklahoma tax credits: www.afdc.energy.