Getting a charge out of driving
Drive $mart Wisconsin to host event about electric vehicles Saturday

By Eileen Mozinski Schmidt - Special to Conley Media

Sept. 20, 2019

 Marie Novak-Fons and Bradlee Fons with their Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle at their home in Jackson. Their nonprofit educational and hybrid owners organization, Drive $mart Wisconsin, will present an informational event about electric vehicles this Saturday in Jackson.
Eileen Schmidt/Special to Conley Media

JACKSON — Marie Novak-Fons’ car averages around 1,300 miles per tank of gas.

In the two and a half years she has owned her Toyota Prius Prime, she has driven about 25,000 miles and filled up just 19 times.

Her Prius is a plug-in hybrid electric, so it runs on both a battery and a hybrid engine. She likes to drive from her home in Jackson to Port Washington to visit parks near the lake.

“It’s about 18 miles one way. In the summertime, I can get all the way to Port Washington and home without using any gas. It doesn’t cost me any money. It’s just pennies to charge it,” Novak-Fons said.

It is the kind of economic benefit she and her husband, Bradlee Fons, have become accustomed to through owning electric vehicles.

For the past 13 years, they have worked to share their knowledge about how electric vehicles function and to help drivers hone habits that save transportation costs in the Milwaukee area.

Their nonprofit organization, Drive $mart Wisconsin, is a hybrid vehicle owners group founded by Fons and his son Justin Fons. It has 900 members across the Midwest and Canada, according to the organization’s biography.

“We’ve been promoting alternative transportation like hybrid vehicles, now we’re promoting electric vehicles, plug-in electric vehicles,” Bradlee Fons said.

This Saturday, the group will present “Traction in Jackson: All You Need to Know About Electric Vehicles” at New Hope United Church of Christ, hosted by the church’s Hope Creation Team.

The free event is part of National Electric Drive Week and will bring together electric vehicle owners and enthusiasts as well as dealers from around southeast Wisconsin. It will feature 27 electric vehicles and plug-in electric vehicles, including 16 different models.

Fons said it will be the largest gathering of electric vehicles in southeast Wisconsin to date. The event will include vehicles of all sizes and with the latest technology, including several Tesla models.

And it will be an opportunity for Washington County residents to view, test drive and learn about electric vehicles without the pressure to purchase, according to Novak-Fons and Fons.

“Instead of asking or encouraging Washington County residents to come to Milwaukee, we said we’re going to bring it to them. They can see this technology for themselves, go for test rides,” he said.

Fons added that the event will also be a chance for electric vehicle owners to talk directly with people and share their experiences.

No political affiliation

Both Fons and Novak-Fons stressed that neither the event nor the Drive $mart Wisconsin organization have any political affiliation.

“We don’t consider this political at all. But a lot of people do, and that was kind of a shock to us,” said Novak-Fons, noting higher levels of distrust of the media and the sharing of information in recent years.

“Everybody is suspicious, they kind of need to know where you are coming from,” she said.

Fons agreed, saying he will often see a “wall going up” when talking with people about the benefits of electric vehicles.

So both Fons and Novak-Fons tend to focus on the financial rather than the environmental benefits of electric vehicles.

And when it comes to finances, the savings are plentiful, Fons said.

“The cost of an electric vehicle to run is about half that of a gas car,” he said, noting the savings not only on gasoline but in ongoing maintenance and tax rebates.

Questions Fons and Novak-Fons typically field about electric vehicles involve how charging works and how long batteries last.

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle like their Toyota Prius Prime uses a regular electric outlet, no extra wiring or setup required, Fons said. He said other models, like full electric Tesla vehicles, may need additional infrastructure setup.

As to battery capacity, Novak-Fons’ Prius Prime has a 20 to 40 mile range. After that, it automatically switches to the hybrid engine.

“You don’t have to do anything,” she said. “It goes back and forth between electric and the hybrid engine. Until you run out of gas and until you run out of all your battery, which I have never done, you don’t have to worry about range anxiety.”

Getting better gas mileage

And for those not in the market for a new electric vehicle?

Drive $mart Wisconsin offers a training program developed by Fons to help drivers get better gas mileage in their current vehicles, in the range of 10 to 30 percent.

Some of those tips include nonaggressive driving, observing the speed limit, timing stop lights and avoiding engine idling.

On the subject of speed, Fons said consistently driving the speed limit can save up to 58 cents per gallon on $2.50 gallon gasoline. Both he and Novak-Fons noted the physics of vehicles, in particular the energy it takes to stop and start a car.

“It takes more energy to get a car going from a dead stop than it does going 80 miles per hour on the freeway. When you apply the brake, you’re wasting that energy,” Fons said.

With transportation costs making up the second or third largest budget item in many households, such savings are significant, Fons said.

Novak-Fons agreed, noting how some drivers will drive extra miles to a station where they may save five cents on a gallon of gas.

“If you tell them, ‘We can help you save 10 to 30 percent on your gas,’ then they listen,” she said.

“It’s money in your pocket.”

Traction in Jackson

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: New Hope UCC, 4360 Jackson Drive, Jackson
What: Electric vehicle owners and dealers will display their electric vehicles to highlight the clean-air benefits and cost savings of electric cars. An electric vehicles owners forum will be held every hour on the hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Who: Drive $mart Wisconsin is organizing the event, hosted by the Hope Creation Team from New Hope UCC.
Admission: Free
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