Getting Behind the Wheel of an Electric Car: First Person Report

By: Taylor Tepper | St. Petersburg Patch | Dec. 28, 2010

When you turn on an electric vehicle, don’t expect a vroom. Or anything, really. It’s just like turning on a light switch.

Having never been behind the wheel of an EV, I wasn’t sure what to expect — an enclosed motor scooter or souped-up golf cart. Neither, it turns out.

After I turned over the key, I wasn’t sure if the car was on. Richard Nimphie, president of Suncoast Electric Vehicles and my passenger,  smiled.

“Did you hear that?” he coyly asked.

“No,” I said.

“Exactly.”

Nimphie let me drive his red Wheego Whip, which he had traded a BMW for. It is one of the brands that his new dealership sells at a retail outlet on 4th Street in northeast St. Pete.

EVs are gaining converts as the technology improves and more people see an inevitable end to fossil fueled-vehicles. I wanted to get behind the wheel to see how these vehicles handle on the road.

One of the major questions I had about electric vehicles was the comfort level. Would it be too cramped to drive? Being over 6 feet tall, I had my doubts about the leg and head room.

The Wheego, however, provided plenty. While it does appear to be narrower than typical sedans, it is also taller, which provides more vertical space.

After I sat in the car and turned it on, I looked to the gearshift. It was alarmingly simple, resembling a video game controller. There are three modes: forward, neutral and reverse. To park the car, just put it in neutral and lift the parking break.

I then put the car in gear and pivoted my foot to the accelerator. Do not call it the gas pedal. I found that the most difficult element of operating an electric vehicle was to rid myself of the combustible engine vernacular. And then I was off.

It drove just like any other car. When I accelerated, there was an increased humming in the motor – not engine – but nothing too noticeable. The steering was smooth, and the car responsive to the touch.

A few trips around the block, and I was back at the dealership. If it weren’t for the novelty of the drive, it would have been unremarkable.

Nimphie showed me the car’s battery plug – not gas tank – which had three prongs. Connecting it to a charging station is as easy as plugging a cord into a socket.

I said goodbye to Nimphie and went to my gasoline-powered car. I inserted the key and started the ignition. Vroom. I sat idling for a moment. Idling is not, by the way, in the electric vehicle driver’s vocabulary either.

I drove home and could not help but glance at the gas needle, edging its way toward E.

 

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