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Gainesville woman cruises past gas station in electric car

Amy Miller uses her Nissan Leaf as a commuter vehicle

POSTED: March 13, 2012 12:28 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Lula Pharmacy owner Amy Miller bought an electric Nissan Leaf to be her commuter car to work. She has a plug-in station at home to keep it charged and is looking to add another at work.

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Gainesville resident Amy Miller isn't losing much sleep over the price of gasoline — which is averaging about $3.65 locally.

Instead, the 43-year-old owner of Lula Pharmacy & Foothills Gift Shop can rest easily knowing she won't have to make the stressful trek to the gas pump.

That's because Miller invested in the totally electric Nissan Leaf in January. Instead of pumping fuel, she plugs her car into the charging station at her home overnight.

While Amy Miller gets from point A to point B in her sleek new plug-in sedan, her husband, Laird, drives the family "gas-guzzler." It's a hybrid Mercury Mariner that he said gets about 34 miles per gallon — twice the efficiency of his last SUV.

The Millers' family fleet of alternative fuel vehicles may be a rarity in Gainesville, but their affection for avoiding gas stations seems to have both practical and some ideological reasons supporting it.

"She loves it because it's on the cutting edge of technology," said Laird Miller. "I just don't want to send any more money to Saudi Arabia every month."

The Leaf, along with the Chevrolet Volt, are among of a class of electric vehicles entering the market as gas prices steadily rise.

Although both vehicles' price tags run higher than the average small sedan with competitive gas mileage — the Leaf starts at $34,200 — Amy Miller expects to make up the difference with thousands of dollars in federal tax credits that came with her purchase, as well as savings from not needing gas.

Gas prices are expected to only increase during peak driving season from April through September. The U.S. Energy Department forecasts prices across the nation to average $3.96 per gallon in May.

Before buying the electric car, the Millers made some calculations. Amy estimated she was spending about $300 a month in gas on her previous Chrysler Sebring, but she expects to only pay about $700 annually for energy recharging the Leaf.

By her math, if she sticks with the car long enough, she expects to see some real savings.

But along with the potential savings, there are some inconveniences. The car typically goes about 100 miles without needing to be recharged, and there aren't many electric car charge stations in the region yet.

Amy Miller said she can make the commute to Atlanta, where there are charge stations, but rarely does. Oftentimes, she said, the stations can be hard to access because non-electric vehicles park in front of them.

For longer-distance drives, she relies on her husband's vehicle, which doesn't require a charge. The SUV also gives more space for the Millers' home improvement shopping trips.

"You've got to have another source of transportation," she said.

Miller said she thinks more charge stations will spring up, making it easier for longer trips, but for now she's comfortable with the Leaf as a short-distance commuter car.

Despite recent gas price increases, reports are actually showing slumping sales in electric vehicles. Chevy announced this month it would temporarily halt production of the Volt because of excess inventory.

Electric cars sales haven't exactly taken hold in Gainesville yet either.

"I'd say we're the first ones on the block," said Laird Miller.

That could change over time.

Laird recalls it was a Toyota Prius-owning friend who first convinced the family to investigate vehicles with alternative fuel.

 



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