Electric vehicle review: A sustainable alternative for students who can afford price

Christina Vessa

You can travel 80 miles using battery power from a BMW i3.

I drove this electric vehicle for three days, while applying its performance, cost and efficiency to my life as a student.

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As industry growth is rising, universities are encouraging consideration of alternative transportation. Free charging stations, tax credits and local organizations help universities promote this technology to their communities.

Drive Electric Northern Colorado promotes electric vehicle use, while engaging and educating the community through programs like the Drive Leadership Program, which offers extended test-drive opportunities.

The i3 is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that uses a small internal combustion engine, working with battery power.

I settled into the driver’s seat and pushed a button to start the vehicle. On the display screen, options including navigation and an owner’s manual appeared. Pushing my foot on the gas, the i3 accelerated with a quick punch. All electric vehicles that I have driven accelerate quickly and drive smoothly, which may appeal to students who are looking for an interactive car that performs well.

I had 77 miles of range on the battery when I picked it up from Co’s BMW Center in Loveland, and 55 miles remained on the battery after driving the highway to Fort Collins. This PHEV has a two-gallon gas tank, which can be used when the battery is empty. I did not use gas, but features such as this help extend the range.

There are 10 charging units, which are free to use on the Colorado State University campus. I was able to find an available ChargePoint station using the app on my phone. I plugged the i3 into a level 2 charger, which provides 240 volts of energy. After charging for two hours, 17 miles were added to my range.

“The price of electricity has stayed fairly consistent over the last 50 years,” said Ben Prochazka, director of strategic initiatives for the Electrification Coalition. “The cool thing about an EV is that it’s the only car where as you drive it, the cleaner it is likely to get. The grid is going to get cleaner.”

Electricity comes from several different sources, so fueling this vehicle may have a lesser impact on resource consumption, according to Prochazka.

There are three driving features of the i3: Comfort, EcoPRO and EcoPRO+. The EcoPRO settings allow the driver to extend range while operating the vehicle in an efficient manner. Electric vehicles eliminate the majority of vehicular carbon emissions, which may appeal to students who are interested in sustainability.

Electric vehicles have few moving parts. This could be ideal for students who are looking for a small car with a large amount of storage. For instance, the back seats of the i3 can be stowed for additional storage and snowboards or suitcases could fit inside.

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Electric vehicles are tech-heavy. Features such as the EcoPRO controls allow the driver to control performance with the push of a button. Compatibility with smart phones and applications such as ChargePoint Mobile allow students to interact with their vehicle on-the-go.

With the reduction of vehicular emissions, electric vehicles promote the green initiatives of universities. Alternative Transportation Manager Aaron Fodge said CSU is taking advantage of the Colorado Energy Office grants to install additional chargers. Currently, the demand for chargers is mostly coming from employees.

Ben Prochazka, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Electrification Coalition, stands with CSU Alum Ryan Shepler, CSU Student Laurel Heller and CSU Alumna Annie Freyschlag at the Ride & Drive event Friday afternoon. DENC works with students in the Northern Colorado community through internship programs.
Ben Prochazka, director of strategic initiatives for the Electrification Coalition, stands with Colorado State University alumnus Ryan Shepler, CSU student Laurel Heller and CSU alumna Annie Freyschlag at the Ride & Drive event Friday afternoon. DENC works with students in the Northern Colorado community through internship programs. (Photo Credit: Christina Vessa).

“I think that if the cost of these vehicles goes down, you might see more students having electric vehicles,” Fodge said. “Right now, I think there is a premium to purchase them, even with the tax credits.”

A federal tax credit of up to $7,500 is available, with an additional state credit of up to $6,000. Tax credits differ for all electric vehicles.

“It is important that the universities, if they are going to continue to promote electric cars, make sure they have the infrastructure,” said Michael Koenig, a volunteer for DENC. “One of the key elements to getting the adoption of electric vehicles is to (appeal) to people that live in apartments.”

Although the price tag for electric vehicles may be hefty for the average student, savings on fuel and maintenance costs make this mode of transportation appealing to an audience interested in sustainability.

“It is a great opportunity to get people to transition the way they travel,” Prochazka said. “Hopefully 10 years from now, it’s something where 30 or 40 percent of the cars on the road are EVs.”

Collegian Reporter Christina Vessa can be reached online at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @ChrissyVessa.