Leslie Grossman converted a jeep to run on electricity in 2009 and has become a prominent advocate for electric vehicles in Knoxville. While the stockbroker acknowledges that climate change is a problem, she identifies strongly as conservative and bristles at the notion that climate concerns might motivate her.
“The reason I did it was to eliminate the imbalance in our trade and get us off fossil fuels, because they’re nasty,” Grossman said. “I chose a jeep for my conversion, because I was so tired of hearing narrow-minded people saying, ‘Electric is for wusses,’ or ‘Electric is for sissies.’”
Nissan is producing Leafs at a factory three hours west of Knoxville, helping to establish electric cars as a driving force in the state’s economy. Leafs comprise slightly more than half of the roughly 200 registered electric vehicles in Knox County — far greater than the car’s market share nationally, the Auto Alliance’s data shows. Automotive students at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology learn to repair and maintain electric, hybrid, and internal combustion vehicles.
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When the students take lessons in electric vehicles, they’re learning about products that are getting cheaper as battery and other manufacturing technology improves. Although they’re still more expensive than traditional alternatives — putting them out of reach of many car buyers on smaller budgets — they can be charged for a fraction of the cost of a tank of gas.
“It depends on what you’re comparing them with,” said Williams, the owner of the Tesla Model S, which starts at $68,000 for a 2017 model. “If you’re going to get an expensive car anyway, then why not?”
While electric cars might become financially competitive over a vehicle’s lifetimes with gas-fueled alternatives by next year in Europe, where gasoline is more expensive than in the US, UBS Financial Services projected it could take eight more years to reach similar price parity in America. Federal and some state subsidies are helping the electric vehicles compete in the meantime.