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Powering up: Electric car market still slow despite gas nearing $4 per gallon

Scott Wantz shows off some of the features of the Chevrolet Volt at Wantz Chevrolet in Taneytown Thursday.
Scott Wantz shows off some of the features of the Chevrolet Volt at Wantz Chevrolet in Taneytown Thursday. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

TANEYTOWN - When Scott Wantz parks a Chevrolet Volt at a shopping center, onlookers tend to gawk.

They see "Volt" written on the side of the red dealer vehicle and make the connection. It's an electric-powered sedan that utilizes a 400-pound battery pack and can go 35 miles without using any gasoline.

People may be looking at the Volt. Not many are buying them.

With the price of gas nearing $4 per gallon, the interest in fuel-efficient vehicles is popping up once again, said Wantz, the general manager of Wantz Chevrolet in Taneytown. But that interest is mostly focused on the gasoline-powered sedans and not the Volt.

In January and February, 1,626 Volts were purchased. General Motors did not meet the 10,000 sales goal for the Volt last year. Excess supply of Volts prompted General Motors to temporarily halt production of the Volt for five weeks, starting Monday.

The slowdown comes at the same time the price of gas is nearing $4 per gallon. Gas prices in Maryland averaged $3.78 per gallon, according to the most recent March 11 update from AAA. Those prices are expected to keep rising this spring, possibly approaching the $4.11 per gallon record set in July 2008, according to AAA.

Eventually, electric cars like the Volt will dot the landscape, Wantz said. But with a price tag of more than $40,000, it's among the most expensive sedans on the market even after a $7,500 federal tax credit for purchasing an electric car.

Jeff Barnes, of Jeff Barnes Chevrolet in Eldersburg, said the Volt probably needs to be priced about $10,000 less for it to become viable for the masses.

"It's a tricky situation," said Barnes, who said he thought the technology associated with the car was great but that it made more sense for the average consumer to buy a gas-powered car with excellent gas mileage.

The handful of buyers who have purchased Volts from Barnes' dealership are concerned about the environment, fearful gas prices will spike to extreme highs in the near future or both, he said.

Wantz said vehicles like the current Volt are the beginning of what he believes are a new era in technology. Twenty years from now, Wantz believes electric vehicles will be plentiful and more cost-effective than what they are now.

"This is just the beginning of the electric car," Wantz said. "I believe that technology, especially battery technology is going to improve."

The Associated Press contributed to the report.

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