Want to drive a Tesla in downtown Denver? Tuesday’s your chance

Denver and the state of Colorado are in the middle of what could be a transformative push for electric vehicles.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Denver and the state of Colorado are in the middle of what could be a transformative push for electric vehicles. High-range vehicles are coming on the market, tens of millions of dollars are becoming available for high-speed chargers and detailed plans for a network of Colorado charging stations are emerging.

But the most important part of this effort may be putting regular people in the driver’s seat, according to Tyler Svitak, the energy and transportation administrator for the city of Denver. On Tuesday, the city will do just that with an event at Civic Center featuring the latest electric models from Tesla, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford and others.

“What everyone agrees on is that we’re about to go through a radical change, and anyone that drives one of these cars will realize that these are superior technology,” Svitak said in an interview.

The event will be at Civic Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Available electrics and plug-in hybrids will include the Chevrolet Bolt and Volt; the Tesla Roadster, Model S and Model X; the Fiat 500; the BMW I-3 and X-5; and the Ford Fusion Energy and C-Max. You’ll be allowed to take the car out for a one-mile drive around downtown Denver in a “low pressure” environment, Svitak said.

This event is funded by the 11th Hour Project of The Schmidt Family Foundation, an environmental initiative.

I took a test drive in a Chevy Bolt last week, so I can give you a sense of what to expect.

The car’s retailing for about $37,000 at Emich and qualifies, like several other electrics, for up to $12,500 in tax credits in Colorado, with some caveats.

Before we pulled out of the Emich dealership parking lot, salesman Jon Mandich warned me to prepare for some pick-up.

“They have a ton of torque. They get out on Wadsworth and whoa,” he said.

Sure enough, our orange four-door shot out onto the boulevard with a firm press. It’s a little disorienting: The thing accelerated significantly faster than my Honda Civic, and its speed went straight up — no rising and falling with the shifting of the gears.

That’s because electric cars generally don’t have transmissions. Instead, the accelerator pedal feels like it translates to instantaneous power, kind of like a race-car in an arcade game.

I drove the thing in a big loop past Red Rocks, zipping around and seeing how fast it could accelerate. Seeing the mountains and the 200 miles on the battery, I started daydreaming about a trip into the mountains.

That’s the kind of longer trip that’s just becoming possible with the installation of new high-speed chargers, like the one that the Alliance Center in LoDo opened last month.

Andrew Kenney and a Chevrolet Bolt. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Andrew Kenney and a Chevrolet Bolt.

Jacob Gore, an electric vehicle driver from Centennial, told us that by using a fast charger in Silverthorne, he is able to use his Tesla Model S 60 for ski trips without worry.

“With this car, and with Tesla having built out the Supercharger network greatly in the last few years, I don’t worry about running out of energy ever,” he wrote in an email.

In fact, some EV drivers expect that a surge in adoption may overwhelm the current infrastructure.

“In the parking lot at my office, we have gone from zero PEVs to about 10 in the last two months.  Now I’m starting to run into competition for spots at the existing (fast chargers) around town,” wrote Sterling Cain, a local electric driver, in an email to Denverite.

However, that shouldn’t be an issue for people using an electric as a second car to get around the metro, which Svitak said is the most common use at the present. Given that the cars can be recharged at home, and the profusion of chargers around the area, the “range anxiety” of shorter trips has all but disappeared, according to several drivers.

“So, how easy is it to drive an electric car in Denver?  Very easy, if you have a garage, or at least a reserved parking spot to which you can run a circuit,” Gore told Denverite.

Total electric vehicle ownership int he Denver metro.(National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Total electric vehicle ownership int he Denver metro.(National Renewable Energy Laboratory)