Electric car zips along at 1 cent per mile

A Harnett County man says that converting his gas-powered Geo Metro into an electric machine has saved him plenty of gas money.

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ANGIER, N.C. — A Harnett County man is paying about a penny to drive a mile, although Triangle gas prices set a new record high, a cent short of $4 a gallon, on Wednesday.

Mack Toler, 53, a retired computer engineer, converted his 1989 Geo Metro to electric power in 2001. The Metro's new, simple set up with 14 Club Car batteries under the hood – with no belts, hoses or oil changes – has saved him plenty of gas money, Toler said.

"The energy that is coming out of my wall costs me about the equivalent of 20 cents per gallon," Toler said.

Toller estimates that charging his electric car costs about 1 cent per mile and adds about $10 a month to his electric bill. He said he takes advantage of cheaper electricity on nights and weekends to keep his bill lower.

The Geo plugs into a standard wall outlet and takes about six hours to get fully juiced. The full charge can take the Geo about 40 miles at speeds over 70 mph, though Toller said he usually keeps around 45 mph.

Toller said he wonders why America doesn't join him for the ride.

"It's a matter of national security," he said. "If we had something to shift to besides oil, we wouldn't be dependent on foreign nations."

Toller scoffed at claims from U.S. automakers that there isn't enough demand for electric cars to mass produce them.

"If General Motors puts electric cars out on the car lot and nobody buys them, I'll buy that there's no demand," Toller said. "But when I want to buy one and you won't sell me one, I can't see how there's no demand."

It costs between $5,000 and $8,000 to convert a gasoline-powered car to electric. The smaller the car is, the better candidate it is for conversion.

Toller is one of about 100 members of the Triangle Electric Auto Association, but thinks only about a dozen other members have electric cars themselves.

He admits to one vice himself: a Ford Expedition, which gets 14 miles to the gallon.

"Yeah, that's my gas-guzzler," Toller said laughingly. "And I drive it now a lot less now than I did last year."

Toller said it's a shame alternative-fuel technology has not been exploited as much as it could have been in America.

"We had a 10-year head start on the rest of the world, and we threw it away. And I'm very sad about that," he said.