Electric vehicles are becoming a more common sight on military bases as the Department of Defense adds “road-capable” electric cars such as the Chevy Volt to a fleet of thousands of smaller battery-powered vehicles.
Last month, the first two Chevy Volts arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., where they will be used as nontactical government vehicles. Eighteen Volts are about to hit the roads at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Marine Corps and Air Force officials said.
The moves are part of the Defense Department’s “green initiatives,” which seek to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign energy sources.
The Volts, which can run on gas or electricity, join more than 3,000 electric vehicles already in the military fleet, according to the 2011 Federal Fleet Report.
Most of the battery-powered cars used by the DoD to date have been “neighborhood” or “low-speed” electric vehicles that resemble golf carts and are not suited for the open road.
So far, the military has acquired 168 road-capable, plug-in electric vehicles, such as the Volt, and more are on the way, according to Air Force spokeswoman Tonya Racasner, whose service branch is overseeing the military’s effort to acquire more electric vehicles.
The Army alone is placing electric vehicles at more than 40 installations, she said, and the DoD aims to integrate about 1,500 road-capable electric vehicles over the next few years.
Slow-moving electric vehicles were first tested at overseas military bases in 2007 in South Korea and in 2008 in Germany. Today, they are used on bases all over the world, according to DoD officials.
The Navy, for example, has 12 slow-moving electric vehicles in Naples and six at Naval Air Station Sigonella, and each base will add 10 next fiscal year, according to Lt. Timothy Hawkins, a Navy spokesman.
James Muldoon, a science adviser with U.S. Army Pacific in Hawaii, said military bases on the island will get some of their first road-capable electric vehicles -- a pair of electric trucks -- later this year.
“Our goal is to reduce our needs of fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions,” Chris Manis, deputy director of installations and logistics at Miramar, said in a news release announcing the Volts’ arrival. “We can cut back and still execute the missions we need to complete.”
The Volt can run for 38 miles off pure electricity before a gas-powered motor begins to generate electricity to power the car. When the car is consuming gas, the mileage can be as high as 100 miles per gallon.
The Volt’s ability to run on gas as well as electric power means its range isn’t limited by the availability of charging networks. Purely electric cars, such as the Tesla Roadster and the Nissan Leaf, need to be recharged frequently to keep their batteries topped up.
Volt customers can “go 900 miles (or two months) between fuel-ups,” Chevrolet spokeswoman Michelle Malcho said in a phone interview.
The Volt sells for $39,999, but it’s eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and can be leased for $369 a month. It takes 10 hours to charge through a 110-volt outlet and four hours at 240 volts. The cost is about $1.50 per charge, she said.
Miramar has installed four recharging stations to top up Volt batteries with electricity generated by solar panels that help the base draw zero energy from the nearby city of San Diego, officials said.
The Volts are just the start of an electric fleet that Miramar hopes to receive as technology advances and the range of the cars increases, Manis said.
They come equipped with a screen that displays the gas mileage and battery life of the car, and they regenerate electricity for the battery when the driver coasts or convert energy when the brakes are used.
An added benefit of cutting back on fossil fuels and using renewable energy is helping keep the environment around the installation clean, Miramar officials said.
Army spokesman Dave Foster said the Volt will debut on Army bases later this year, joining more than 1,000 nontactical electric vehicles that the service operates.
“We have a lot of interest from the military community in the Chevy Volt,” Malcho said.
In a place like Hawaii, home to a large military community, electric vehicles such as the Volt make sense because driving distances are not large, she said, adding that Chevrolet sold 1,800 Volts nationwide in June.
With the limited range of purely electric vehicles -- typically not much more than 100 miles on a fully charged battery -- on-base charging stations are essential to expanded use.
Off-base charging station networks are growing rapidly near military installations in Hawaii, where more than 200 stations have been built at parking lots, hotels, shopping centers and office buildings, and on the West Coast, where thousands of new stations will soon allow motorists to drive an electric vehicle from the Mexican border to British Columbia.
Many electric vehicle batteries can be charged simply by plugging them in to an ordinary 110- or 220-volt power outlet overnight. The batteries can be recharged much faster at a high-voltage charging point.
To power its electric vehicles, the military is installing the quick charging points at many of its bases.
Opconnect, a company that makes electric vehicle charging stations, announced earlier this year that it would install them at Navy bases in Washington; Indian Head, Md.; and San Diego.
Racasner, the Air Force spokeswoman, said fewer than 50 charging points for road-capable electric vehicles have been installed on military bases, but more are planned.
The Air Force, for example, is installing charging stations at Maryland’s Joint Base Andrews; at Los Angeles Air Force Base, which is preparing to take delivery of 41 new electric vehicles; and at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, which will soon receive a pair of electric trucks.
Officials are pondering other locations for recharging stations and how to fund them, Racasner said.
“Air Force is looking at all types of electric vehicles, but is particularly focused on trucks and vans,” she said. “These vehicles typically, though not always, support public works functions and are sometimes used for flight-line applications.”
A typical commercial charging station costs several thousand dollars to purchase and install, and electric vehicles typically cost more than conventional vehicles -- around $30,000 for a passenger sedan to more than $100,000 for medium-duty trucks -- but they don’t need gasoline and require less maintenance than conventional vehicles, Racasner said.
-- Stripes reporters Sandra Jontz and John Vandiver contributed to this report.