Dennis Dineen (left) displays the features of his Chevy Volt to environmental activist John Cross

Want to get 203 miles per gallon of gas? Dennis Dineen, a semi-retired general contractor in Northern Virginia does it with his Chevy Volt. Dineen and his car were the centerpieces today as Environment Virginia released a report claiming that Virginia motorists could save 455 million gallons of gasoline this summer if everyone drove a Volt or a similar hybrid or all-electric car.

That sounds about right to Dineen, who was happy to let reporters slide behind the wheel of his year-old Volt today and examine the odometer and onboard computer. It showed he has driven 12,190 miles and has used 59.9 gallons of gas — about three tankfuls in a regular gas-powered car — in the last 12 months. Sure enough, that works out to an average of 203.4 miles per gallon.

And Dineen is quick to assure us that not all that driving was local. While it’s true that the Volt has a range of only about 40 miles on a fully-charged battery, the four-cylinder gas engine kicks in seamlessly when the battery runs out of juice, he said. Dineen said he has made trips from the Washington, D.C., area to South Carolina and Annapolis, Md., in the last year. Most of the gas was consumed on the South Carolina trip, he said.

The occasion for all this car talk was the release of an Environment Virginia report that found the average Virginia family could save $560 at the gas pump this summer by switching to a hybrid or all-electric car. This sounds great, of course, but the new-fangled cars are pretty expensive to buy.

Dineen insists that’s not the way to look at it. He paid about $42,000 for his Volt and got an immediate $7,500 tax credit. He calculates he is saving about $1,500 a year on gas. So if he keeps the car for ten years, he will have saved $22,500, including the tax credit, which would put the long-term cost of owning the car over those ten years at roughly $19,500, not counting the cost of electricity.

Much cheaper

Looked at that way, the hybrid is actually much cheaper than a comparable gas-powered car, says Dineen. And speaking of which, Dineen is quick to demonstrate that the Volt is no slacker or stripper. It’s a sports sedan comparable in appearance, styling and interior geegaws to an Audi or BMW and, judging from a brief test ride on Arlington streets, handles about as well and accelerates quickly and smoothly. And quietly, something to keep in mind in pedestrian-infested areas.

So enthusiastic is Dineen about the car that the paid staff of Environment Virginia had little to do at a press event near the Pentagon this morning other than stand back and let Dineen talk.

The event was held at an apartment complex that demonstrates its trendiness by having parking spaces for Zipcars and a 220-volt electric charging station that would charge Dineen’s car in four hours. He eschews such luxuries though and says he charges his car out of any plain old 110-volt outlet that’s handy — “just like a toaster,” as he put it. It takes about eight hours to charge it up overnight, which suits him fine, as that’s about how long it takes him to get a night’s sleep.

Come morning, Dennis and his car are charged up and ready for 40 miles of gas-free driving.

Global warming

Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va.) is on board with the notion. “From an economic, environmental and national security perspective, we must reduce our dependency on oil. This news report from Environment America highlights the importance of moving forward with cleaner, more fuel efficient cars,” Moran said in a statement.

The press event was held across the Potomac from Washington as the Obama administration is on the verge of finalizing fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards for cars and light trucks that achieve a 54.5 mpg standard by 2025.

Obama proposed the new 54.5 mpg standard this past fall. The proposal has the support of 13 major automakers, as well as the United Auto Workers and numerous environmental and consumer groups. These national standards grew out of the leadership of 14 states, led by California, which previously adopted state-level standards.



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