KAHULUI - In order to further promote electric cars on Maui and educate the public about what their engines look like, how they work and are charged up, and how they handle firsthand, local supporters are hosting a local National Plug-In Day event Sept. 22 at the Maui Swap Meet.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which carries electric vehicles (EVs), is a main participant in the event along with the University of Hawaii Maui College's Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance, said alliance project director Anne Ku. It will run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Maui EVA is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to bring together stakeholders, help create more public charging stations and inform the public about electric vehicles, Ku said.
First Photo: The Chevrolet Volt and (Second Photo:) Nissan LEAF, both electric vehicles, will be available for the public to test drive Sept. 22 at the Maui Swap Meet as part of National Plug-In Day. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which carries electric vehicles, is a main participant in the event along with the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance. It will run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
JENNA THOMAS photo
An Enterprise official said the rental car company will help provide some wheels to take for a spin.
"It's really exciting," Ku said. "People can see, touch and feel what EVs are, because it may be intimidating to go to a dealership sometimes because you feel like you need to be ready to buy. Or it's hard to find someone with an EV. So we wanted to make it visible, easy and approachable."
The test drives will be free, said Chris Sbarbaro, vice president of sales and marketing for Enterprise Hawaii, which currently has several electric vehicles and top-notch tech hybrids.
Those interested will need to sign a release or two before they can take the new Nissan LEAFs or Chevy Volts for a whirl, he said.
In addition, Maui Toyota Scion will have on hand the plug-in Prius hybrid. Known as the first car rental company to offer EVs on Maui, Bio-Beetle Eco Car Rental, which has a fleet of 16 of mostly hybrids, or cars that run on biodiesel, will have a demonstration. Hawaiian Electric Vehicle Network (HEVN), a valuable information source and new EV rental company, will be there, too, Ku said.
Enterprise has committed to providing two free drawings for weekend EV rentals, one at the National Plug-in Day
and another at the county fair's Maui EVA Booth. In addition, Enterprise is offering a kamaaina rate this month on rentals for LEAFs and Volts, she said. It's $39.99 a day pre-tax, for the entire month of September.
"I really recommend if you want to get an honest feel for EV, you need to have one of these cars for a couple days and experience not only the driving and the performance, but also what you need to do to charge," said Ku, who added that it costs about $3.50 overnight in electricity to charge a Chevy Volt. Every EV comes with a plug that can fit into a standard home's three-prong outlet.
There were about 60 passenger, highway-ready EVs on Maui as of the end of July, Ku said, citing the county's Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing data - a number that's sure to rise due in large part to Jim Falk Motors of Maui.
Falk LEAF sales consultant Andy Stehl said the dealership had about 25 LEAF on the lot last week and more Volts to come.
"The electric cars are here to stay," Stehl said, adding that they sell fast and many customers interested in other cars end up going with the LEAF or Volt instead.
It's still such a nascent technology with some misconceptions, he said. However, people always end up amazed how roomy they are - and fast and powerful, with torque, Stehl said.
The LEAF has no emissions and is completely electric, while the Volt is a hybrid-electric that gets 100 miles per gallon. Hybrids often rely on a combination of electrical systems, batteries and complex combustion engines.
The LEAF has an estimated city range of 100 miles and can max out at 90 mph, according to Nissan's website. The cars are larger and more powerful than their original predecessors from 20 years ago. They also are almost quiet, with even a back-up beep to warn pedestrians.
According to Better Place membership, there are a couple of Mitsubishi iMiEVs on Maui, the other major EV effort to date, Ku said. But there are no official dealers or service centers for the Mitsubishis on the Valley Isle, at least for now, she said.
Both the LEAF and iMiEV sedans have a bubble-type shape and are sometimes lighter. They have increased in size, performance and durability over the years, proponents said.
EV supporters point to the Volt, Toyota Prius, hybrid sport utility vehicles and then EVs to say how hard automakers have tried - and often succeeded - to meet American motorists' tastes.
A LEAF on Maui starts in the mid-$30,000 range, although potential buyers can receive up to $7,500 in a federal tax credits.
As for home charging systems, which are faster than plugging into an appliance outlet, the most popular are level IIs that sell online or at home-improvement stores for about $1,000. All require an electrical permit and professional installation. Some EV drivers have even installed photovoltaic systems to "get off the grid" at home and on the road, owners have said.
Going on "low on power" to a full charge usually takes maybe 14 hours at level I (120 volt outlets) and eight hours or less at level II (220-240 volts), Stehl said.
But Ku added that the county is going to put in a top-of-the-food chain DC Fast Charger (480 volt) at the Kalana O Maui building on Sept. 21 that can fully charge in about a half-hour.
Mayor Alan Arakawa will be on hand for the charger's blessing, machines so powerful they cannot be installed in homes, according to Ku and the Maui EVA website.
Arakawa's participation kicks off Plug-In Day festivities, including a Maui EVA booth at the Maui Fair.
Using EVs and providing charging stations will go a long way toward the state achieving its goals to significantly reduce foreign oil dependence by 2030, said Mark Glick, energy program administrator for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism's energy office.
Most users have to register online or pay fees to use the nearly dozen public chargers here or soon on the way, like next to Sansei restaurant in Kihei, Ku said.
It's incredible how far and fast EV and related green energy has come along, she said.
More information about National Plug-In Day events is available at www.pluginday.org, where registration to participate in this event will offer a chance to win a free iPad from the event's national organizers: Plug In America, the Electric Auto Association and the Sierra Club.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.