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Have plug will travel

Seeking an up-close inspection of new gas-unfriendly cars, potential buyers flocked to a plug-in electric car showing Wednesday in Medford, where they learned grant money is arriving for placement of the all-important charging stations in the "electric corridor."

Showing off his all-electric Nissan Leaf at the event Wednesday outside Rogue Federal Credit Union, Justin Denley, an information tech worker with the credit union, said he may have made a trailblazing journey in it, taking his family to the coast with one planned overnight stop for charging in O'Brien, 65 miles away.

"I bought it mostly for city driving, around the valley," said Denley, noting he has been able to drive his Leaf at in-town speeds for as far as 116 miles without a recharge.

Denley said he received $7,500 in federal tax credits and $1,500 in state tax credits against the sticker price in the low $30,000s.

Showing how his new Chevy Volt plugs into regular household current, Derek DeBoer, general manager of Town & Country in Ashland, said, "I absolutely love it; it's one of the finest automobiles I've ever driven. It's the best of both worlds."

The Volt, he added, has a backup gasoline engine that comes on only when batteries are drained — and has all the features of mid- to high-end cars, including leather, heated seats, navigation, great sound and a computer that can identify which part of a battery needs replacing, instead of getting an entirely new one.

"I've bought only 5 gallons of gas since I got it in May, 2,400 miles ago," said DeBoer, "and that was just to show how the gas engine came on and ran."

Plugged into a household current, the Volt charges in eight hours. With 220-volt charging, it takes half that time. When driving it, you "get into playing games," said DeBoer, "so you learn how to be efficient and stretch out the charge."

In hybrid mode, the Volt can go 600 miles, he said, adding that it gets up to 42 miles per gallon.

DeBoer said he has two for sale and two more expected on the lot soon. They're $44,000, he adds, "so it's like buying two cars."

Think of it as an investment in the not-so-far future, says Sue Kupillas, coordinator of Rogue Valley Clean Cities, a coalition that has secured grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the feasibility of sites for charging stations on the electric corridor from Eugene to the California border.

Kupillas, a former Jackson County Commissioner, said that, in her role with Clean Cities, she drove a Volt on the Indianapolis Speedway.

"I absolutely love all this new technology," Kupillas said. "The prices will come down as gas goes up and competition comes in."

Driving range is "the big limitation" of plug-in cars, she said, "but in the next few years, we'll have electric corridors."

Using federal stimulus money, the Oregon Department of Transportation and state Department of Energy has hired a firm to collect data about the demand, location and pricing structure for charging stations, said Adam Hanks, project manager for the city of Ashland.

Requests for proposals on the stations have begun and a fast-charging station should be installed at Ashland's exit 14 (Ashland Street) by winter, Hanks said. The Ashland City Council has approved funding of charging stations in downtown Ashland.

There are 88 Clean Cities coalitions in the U.S. The other one in Oregon, the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities group, has secured grants and begun opening the first charging stations, she said. They extend as far south as Eugene.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Ashland's Town and Country General Manager Derek DeBoer is a satisfied owner of the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid vehicle made by General Motors. Alisha Jucevic / Mail Tribune - Alisha Jucevic