MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And now we turn from the people who dream up inventions to the people who latch onto them. And latch onto them fast. You probably have a early adopter in your life right? You know, one of those people who has to have the coolest new gadget before anyone else. But there can be a downside to being an early adopter. And that is the topic of our weekly transportation segment, From A to B.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Fairfax County resident Ron Ball is, by any measure, an early adopter. He's an avid environmentalist and was one of the very first people in Virginia, really one of the first people in the country, to buy one of GM's electric cars, the Chevy Volt. But now, as transportation reporter David Schultz tell us, Ball is finding that life as a proud Volt owner is a little more complicated than he thought it would be.
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
Make no mistake, Ron Ball loves his new Chevy Volt.
MR. RON BALL
People at stoplights roll their windows down and say what a great car it is, how do I like it. I've given 15, 20, 30 people a ride in the car who expressed an interest in it.
So it's really done wonders for your social life?
It really has.
Ron is standing on his neighbors porch in his suburban condominium complex. The porch overlooks the condos parking lot where the Volt is currently parked in his neighbors spot. Why there and not in front of his own home? Well, we'll get to that in a second. First, a little about Ron. He's got a shock of Einsteinium white hair that goes well with the spandex biking outfit he often wears. His skin is pop marked and his voice is scratchy, remnants he says of the cancer treatments he underwent.
Twenty years ago, Ron was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and lungs.
So in order to deal with that, I've started biking and working out and going to the gym and biking just really became a very important thing to me.
The cancer is now in remission, but Ron still bikes every day. In fact, he says, biking was his gateway to a whole new world of environmentalism. It inspired him to try to use as little fossil fuel as possible. So when Ron heard GM was developing a new electric car, not just a hybrid, a fully electric car, he got a little obsessed.
I went to Jim McKay Chevrolet for a couple of years and just went in their showroom and said, look, I'll give you guys $10,000, which I didn't have at the time, but I said, I'll give you $10,000 if you make me the first person to own a Volt in Fairfax County. And sure enough, when they got their allotment of cars, they called me.
On February 1st of this year, Ron became the very, very proud owner of a brand new Chevy Volt. Almost immediately, though, Ron realized he had a problem. Where would he charge the car?
The beep tells you that it's charging.
To reap the full gas saving benefits of a Volt, you need to charge it for at least a few hours every day. Most Volt owners plug into an outlet in their garages. But Ron lives in a condo, he doesn't have a garage. He doesn’t even have an assigned parking space. Ron would have to install a special electric car charging station. Overall, how much is this costing?
For dominions part, it was about $1,500. For the electricians to install it, I'm guessing it's going to be around $2,500.
That's in addition to the cost of the actual Volt itself which has a MSRP of around $41,000. Ron actually paid more than that because he customized the car to make it more fuel efficient. Replacing the heavy factory hubcaps with lightweight aluminum ones. But before Ron could install his charging station, he had to get permission from his homeowners association. And Ron says, they had a lot of questions.
Is it going to blow up? Is it going to catch on fire? What happens if it does? I knew that it was going to be kind of difficult for people to understand and, I mean, you live in a community where all the blinds have to be white. And, you know, I'm putting in a charging station in the middle of their parking lot.
Ron's problems are not unusual for electric car owners. In fact, often times these kinds of obstacles face anyone daring enough to be a pioneer for new technology.
MR. DAVE GOLDSTEIN
Well, you have to watch out for the arrows of righteous indignation.
MR. CHARLIE GARLOW
Pioneers often get arrows in their butt. Is that what you're saying, Dave?
There's a lot of obstacles along the way.
Those are the voices of Dave Goldstein and Charlie Garlow, leaders of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington. For 30 years, every since the oil shortages of the 70s, this group of hobbyists and enthusiasts has been promoting the cause of electric vehicles here in D.C. Garlow says, "At least for now, Volts will probably only appeal to people who live in detached houses with a garage."
Most people who are going to be buying Volts, at first, will probably -- people like me with single family homes because it'll be more convenient for them. Some people who live in a high rise apartment building might be deterred at first until they see some other people taking the first initial steps, the pioneers that -- the brave souls that Dave was referring to.
GM has sold around 1,500 Volts since the car went on the market in December. A GM spokesman says, they plan to sell 10,000 this year, then another 45,000 next year. Given those numbers, Goldstein says, "Soon people will stop fighting the charging stations and realize they can make money installing them."
At some point, there'll be far more demand for existing chargers than supplied.
Of course, that doesn't really help Ron Ball who needs to find a place to charge his car, now. Ron says, ultimately he was able to win over his homeowners association by answering all of their questions.
It was actually fun to answer them and to answer their questions and to really solve the problems. And we ended up solving it, really, as a community, together.
In fact, Ron says he totally understands why the association was initially so reluctant.
I think the people saw me more as being political, like pushing my politics on them and pushing my politics into the community. As a...
Like, making a statement.
Right, as if I was holding up a anti-war sign or something, you know. And some of that's true.
But now, it's all water under the bridge. Ron since moved on to working out the technical details with the power company and his electricians. They say they should have his charging station up and running in a few weeks. In the meantime, Ron's neighbor, Alex, has been kind enough to let him plug the Volt into an outlet on his porch.
I would not be able to do this if Alex hadn't have stepped up. Because I wouldn’t have any place to plug it in. I mean, he really saved my life.
Well, we're neighbors, you know, you should help each other, you know.
He's going to have to rely on the kindness of his neighbors even more in the future. If they park in front of the charging station and Ron can't access it, he's out of luck. Ron says he plans on sending each of his neighbors a bouquet of flowers with a note asking them very nicely to not park there. I'm David Schultz.
We'll be following Ron Ball as he embarks on his electric car journey. In the meantime, to see photos of him with his Volt, head to our website metroconnection.org. Time for a break but when we get back...
MS. CAROLYN CROUCH
Those two inventions have had profound impacts on 20th century and even 21st century life.
The most important local inventors you've never heard of, that and more, coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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