Plugged In (sort of)

A buzz is building for electric cars.

A majority of respondents surveyed in a recent Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll said they’d consider buying an electric vehicle, with 57 percent expressing interest.

But there’s a big difference between answering a poll question and plunking down $30,000 for a new car, and even some green-car advocates say that rate of consumer acceptance would drop dramatically if you filled car shoppers in on the details of today’s electric wheels.

"I consider going to the moon on a regular basis even though I’m never going to do it," said John O’Dell, a senior editor at car researcher and editor of the Edmunds Green Car Advisor. "Considering it and definitely buying it are two wildly different levels of commitment. This (poll result) is a casual acknowledgement that they understand these vehicles are coming, but the bulk of the populace is making a statement without a big base of knowledge about these cars."

Here’s some of what you need to know: Two electric cars are scheduled to hit local car lots in 2011. Nissan should roll out its five-seat Leaf hatchback in Southern Nevada in the spring, said Terry Singer, manager of fleet and Internet sales at United Nissan. Nissan officials say the Leaf can go 100 miles between charges. The Leaf will take four hours to 12 hours to charge at home, and Nissan is negotiating with service stations, fast-food restaurants and hotel-casinos to install charging stations, where drivers could renew their batteries in 15 minutes.

The Las Vegas Valley’s four Nissan dealerships have taken more than 400 pre-orders for the Leaf. The car starts at $32,780, though a tax credit of up to $7,500 would cut that to $25,280.

Also set for a 2011 debut is the four-seat, four-door Chevrolet Volt. Tyler Corder, chief financial officer of Findlay Automotive Group in Las Vegas, said it’s too early to tally up pre-orders for the Volt, but Findlay Chevrolet has fielded "an awful lot of inquiries."

The Volt’s battery can carry the car 40 miles on one charge, and a small internal-combustion engine kicks in when the charge drains. The car will start at $41,000, or $33,500 depending on tax credits.

Both carmakers market their electric vehicles as perfect options for short errands and commutes close to home.

Just how perfect the cars are depends on whom you ask. The Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll exposes a clear generational divide among consumers: Just 31 percent of seniors surveyed said they’d think about buying a plug-in car, while 74 percent of people under 50 said the vehicles pique their interest. On Monday, that discrepancy lived inside United Nissan’s Sahara Avenue dealership.

For 66-year-old Elmer Hulen of Las Vegas, electric cars are a no-go. Hulen’s a simple guy with simple needs, and the newfangled technology seems just a bit too much.

"I’m an old man. I’m old-school," said Hulen, who drives a Ford F150 pickup. "I’m at the age now where I just like to cruise. I know I’ll pull up, put my gas in and go about my business. I don’t want anything complicated where I gotta plug it in and worry about batteries. Besides, what if the battery acid leaks? And with–"

"And with your blind ass, you’d forget to charge it," chimed in Hulen’s wife, Sharon.

No, Sharon, what your husband was going to say was, with the light metal alloys and plastics used in cars today, he wouldn’t feel safe in an electric car.

"The way the younger ones drive — texting on the telephone, not paying attention — it’s better to be in a truck so that when they hit you, they can go ahead and wipe themselves out and you’re OK," Hulen said.

Actually, the way 22-year-old Las Vegan Alfredo Monarrez drives is costing him $50 in fuel every day.

Monarrez works as a mobile computer repairman, and his he’s already thought quite a bit about trading in his Nissan Altima for an electric car. Monarrez said he plans to hold off on buying, though, because he’s not sure the technology is road-ready.

"Brand-new cars have recalls, so I think I’ll wait a few years so they can work out the kinks," he said. "I know it’s going to have problems. Anything new is always going to have problems."

When Monarrez does buy an electric car, perhaps in two years or so, he said, he’d prefer a vehicle with a backup internal-combustion engine in case he runs out of juice on the road.

Despite split opinions at United Nissan, O’Dell senses a lot of pent-up demand for electric cars. Dealers in the U.S should sell roughly 12 million cars in 2011; if the Leaf and the Volt can capture 1 percent of the buying public, that would bring in 120,000 sales of electric vehicles.

Between the Leaf and the Volt, Nissan and Chevrolet expect to make 60,000 electric cars in the United States in 2011, with plans to boost production in 2012.

Elmer and Sharon Hulen said they doubt they’ll come around to the electric side even then. So under what circumstances would the Hulens drive an electric car?

"If it’s free," they both said.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@ or 702-380-4512.

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