Expo aims to charge up interest in electric cars

By SARAH GARDNER

For the Gazette

Published: 07-31-2017 5:04 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A woman walked past a Chevrolet Bolt on display in the Northampton Radio Group parking lot and glanced under the hood. Then she immediately did a double take.

“It’s a little weird, isn’t it?” Rie Traub, 46, said. “You look at it and wonder, ‘where’s the engine?’”

Traub, of Amherst, was one of many test drivers at Saturday’s Mass Drive Clean Car Expo, where anyone with a valid driver’s license could test-drive electric vehicles.

The point is to get drivers unfamiliar with electric cars to consider the cars as a cleaner form of transport, said Linda Benevides from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

“Electric cars aren’t just golf carts anymore,” Benevides said. “A lot of progress has been made, and they’re really a great option for a lot of people.”

Transportation creates 41 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, Benevides said, but electric cars can produce up to 60 percent fewer emissions than a traditional gas car.

The Saturday event, hosted in Northampton for the second year, offered three fully electric vehicles for test drives — the Chevrolet Bolt, the Nissan Leaf and the Volkswagen e-Golf — as well as three hybrid vehicles: the Chevrolet Volt, the Ford C-Max Energi and the Ford Fusion Energi.

Traub said she already drives a hybrid car and enjoys how quiet the car is without constant engine noise.

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And Mark Corner, 42, of Williamsburg was letting people look inside his Chrysler Pacifica, a plug-in hybrid he bought two months ago when his family needed a car big enough for four children.

“It’s really fast right away, it’s really quiet, it’s less expensive to run when you’re not paying for gas,” Corner said. “Honestly, I just think they’re better cars.”

Other test drivers had never been behind the wheel of an electric or hybrid car. Eric Boudreau, 53, from Leeds, said he was surprised by how much he enjoyed driving the Nissan Leaf on display.

“At some point, we’re going to switch and stop using fossil fuels; it’s just a matter of when,” Boudreau said. “Both of our cars right now are manual, though, and I think the only thing I’d really miss is the shifting.”

Boudreau said he didn’t realize how many incentives are offered to people who buy electric or hybrid cars. Massachusetts rebates and federal tax credits are both available.

Benevides said there have been more rebates issued in Massachusetts in the last three months than she has ever seen before. She estimated that about 11,000 electric and hybrid cars are in use in Massachusetts now, and that to meet the state’s energy goals, 300,000 would have to be in use by 2025.

“Not everyone here is going to go buy an electric vehicle, and they’re not all looking for cars right now anyway,” Benevides said. “But getting people thinking about an option that’s better for the environment is always a good thing.”

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