By ADAM GLASS — On Sept. 16, over 30 electric vehicle (EV) owners parked their cars between the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and opened up their trunks, doors and hearts to curious passersby as part of the fifth annual National Drive Electric Week (NDEW) celebration on the National Mall.
The battery-powered vehicles on display ranged from the Zero S all-electric motorcycle, with a base price of $10,995 and a top speed of 91 mph, to the Tesla Model X 100D, which has a base price of $96,000 and a top speed of 155 mph. Plug-in hybrids were also represented, from the trusty Toyota Prius Prime to the exotic BMW i8, a hybrid supercar with butterfly doors that added a touch of James Bond flair to the mix.
But perhaps the rarest vehicle of all was driven by Sgt. Richard Hartnett of the Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD).
Hartnett was on hand to demonstrate his all-electric patrol car – the first Chevy Bolt ever to be converted for police use, and, to Hartnett’s knowledge, the only Bolt adapted for police work and in full-time service as a patrol car in the U.S.
Hartnett’s vehicle — parked between a line of food trucks and the other plug-in vehicles lining 7th Street, and just a stone’s throw away from the Hirshhorn massive sculptures — was a star attraction of the show. With the Bolt’s red-and-blue LED sidelights and light bar flashing, and the rear hatchback open to display an informative poster, Hartnett stood by to explain its unique features to attendees.
Washington’s NDEW, a locally-organized event, is part of an annual national outreach program to highlight the benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars, trucks and motorcycles. In 2017, there were 276 NDEW events across the U.S., which collectively reached more than 100,000 people and provided more than 8,000 test rides and drives in EVs.
Matt Bearzotti, the 2018 event’s principal organizer and a D.C. resident, describes himself as a defense lobbyist who is transitioning into clean tech. The Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, D.C., a local advocacy group, sponsored previous NDEW events, but last year it looked like the show might not have a sponsor. Bearzotti and some of his friends said to themselves, “That can’t happen,” so they threw an event together at the last minute. Despite their lack of preparation, and in a sign of the increasing popularity of EVs, more cars were exhibited at the 2017 celebration than in any prior year.
This year, Washington’s NDEW had solid backing and was planned well in advance. The Sierra Club and Nissan, maker of the all-electric Leaf, joined with two EV advocacy groups to promote the event. The Sierra Club threw its marketing muscle into advertising the car show, and the district was also an enthusiastic supporter. In addition to granting the permit for street parking on the National Mall, D.C. displayed a brand-new, all-electric circulator bus, one of 14 electric buses acquired by the city last spring.
Before pioneering with his all-electric patrol car, Hartnett, a technology and electric vehicle enthusiast, drove a BMW i3 as his personal car. Like the more popular Chevy Volt, the i3 is a series hybrid, which means that the electric motor is the only means of providing power to the wheels. The motor draws electric power from either a battery pack or from a gas-powered generator.
Hartnett said he liked his personal EV and saw advantages in using similar vehicles for police work. EVs generally out-accelerate their internal-combustion counterparts, and they are cheaper to operate over time — though they are often more expensive upfront. They also require much less maintenance. In his trunk, Hartnett displays a poster listing mechanical advantages of a fully electric vehicle: “No Starter, No Crankshaft, No Muffler, No Fan Belts,” and so on, a long list of maintenance-heavy and failure-prone components in conventional cars.
And the 2017 maintenance record for Patrol Car #28?
“Rotating the tires,” Hartnett said.
While the electric patrol car has gained acceptance with the HCPD — and has even been featured on local TV news — it was not an entirely easy sell. When Hartnett first approached HCPD administration to advocate purchasing an electric car for patrol use, Hartnett reported that they were more than skeptical.
“They just laughed,” said Hartnett.
At that time, typical EVs had a range of 50 or 60 miles, which was insufficient for patrol work. But then GM announced that it would produce an all-electric vehicle with a range of 200 miles. When that vehicle, the Chevy Bolt, actually went into production, its range was even higher, coming in at 238 miles.
Hartnett went back to his bosses, and this time they were more supportive. If he could find funding to assist with the cost, they would buy the car. Hartnett secured grant money from the Maryland Energy Administration, and the HCPD pioneered with the first all-electric patrol car in the state, if not the country.
HCPD officers have personally assigned vehicles, so Hartnett takes his patrol car home after work, where he can charge it with power from his 30-panel solar installation. Hartnett keeps a meter that measures the current used by the patrol car and gets reimbursed on what is more or less an honor system. But lately he finds he rarely needs to charge his police vehicle at home.
That’s because Hyattsville has installed four EV chargers in the municipal garage with Maryland Energy Administration grants which Harnett obtained. Additional chargers have been installed in city parking lots near the Hyattsville Municipal Building, with high speed “Level 3” chargers in the municipal building parking lot. The chargers are free to the public and are located near one of Hyattsville’s shopping districts, which may provide an incentive for EV drivers to support the local economy.
Hartnett is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the technical services officer for the HCPD. Computers, radios, body cameras and speed cameras — all fall to Hartnett. So Hartnett’s Bolt patrol car often charges in its municipal building parking spot while he does technical work in the office.
That’s not a problem for Hartnett, though, because it leaves his home charging station free for his personal vehicle: a brand new “pretty blue” Chevy Bolt.