SHERIDAN — Most Sheridan motorists keep a watchful eye on fuel prices. Living in Wyoming means vehicle transportation is a must for most people going about their day-to-day lives, and therefore, consumers have to balance affordability with practicality.
A new breed of alternative energy vehicles could represent both an asset and limitation, depending on the needs of the driver.
Gasoline prices in Sheridan tend to be higher than in neighboring communities. While regular unleaded gas was $3.43 at the majority of local stations Monday morning, the pumps in Billings rang up $3.29 per gallon, Gillette was at $3.25 and Casper stations were as low as $3.15. However, smaller communities near the mountains share Sheridan’s routinely higher prices.
The most common price at a gas station in Buffalo was $3.57 and Greybull sat at $3.54, according to data retrieved online from gasbuddy.com. AAA puts Monday’s national average at $3.28.
Conversely, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates an “e-gallon,” the amount of electricity required to power a vehicle the comparable distance as a gallon of traditional gasoline, costs about $1.39.
While many cash-strapped motorists would likely jump at the chance to avoid the gas pump all together by owning an electric car, the plan probably wouldn’t get them very far. While electricity in Sheridan — and Wyoming in general — is relatively inexpensive compared to other locations, General Manager at Fremont Ford Jerry Spray said cars that run solely on electricity aren’t an item people come looking for often. The reason, he said, is longevity.
“One of the big kickers with electric cars is the amount of time they can run,” Spray said. “Typically, they’re good for about 100 miles.”
While 100 miles can represent a considerable amount of travel in an urban area, that’s not enough to get between cities in most parts of Wyoming. After the charged car is exhausted, it would need to be plugged in overnight.
“I have yet to have someone ask for one,” Spray admitted, adding that hybrid vehicles are a different story, as they’re less dependent on an outlet.
“They’re by far a much better option if you’re trying to be green conscious,” Spray said.
Valley Motor Honda Sales Manager Les Folster isn’t selling electric cars, either, but said hybrids have made a niche in Sheridan’s economy for the consumers who have decided to take the plunge.
“People that buy (hybrids) seem to really like them and they keep them and keep them and keep them,” Folster said, adding that most hybrids average between 45 and 50 miles per gallon in town and on the highway. Folster said he had one customer who traded in a hybrid only after it reached nearly 250,000 miles.
“We still sell more of the standard vehicles than the hybrid, but we do get a lot of questions about them,” he said.
Folster agreed that while the curiosity is there, but noted that people in Sheridan are approaching alternative transportation “with caution.”
“We don’t sell as many as we do the other cars mainly because of being rural America,” he said. “People seem to like to know they have the distance they want to go and they don’t want to have the concerns that the energy might not be there.”
Spray said another reason hybrid cars edge out electric cars because they have the advantage of not having to be plugged in to charge. If the on-board batteries fall below a certain level of charge, the gas engine will automatically turn on to charge the batteries and run the electrical motor if needed.
However, there is presently not a hybrid vehicle that can accomplish the workload of a rancher with livestock to feed, a recreationist with a heavy trailer full of snow machines or the wide variety of Wyoming lifestyles that entail hauling a lot of weight. In other words, there are no hybrid trucks.
“A truck is usually a working tool,” Spray explained. “A hybrid vehicle doesn’t have the horsepower and torque conducive to doing its job.”
If a driver is looking to commute from one end of town to the other on a regular basis, a hybrid vehicle could, in theory, make up for the extra up-front cost of its purchase price. While regular maintenance of a hybrid is comparable to a standard vehicle, repairs can be significantly more expensive if the hybrid is damaged or breaks down.
While both the economy and public policy drive the advancement of energy technology, the everyday driver has multiple personal factors to consider when deciding which vehicle delivers the best bang for the buck. Sheridan’s vehicle consumer market still mirrors that of a small-town, working economy, and showroom floors and used car lots alike offer both possibilities.