Victoria attorney races to buy electric car (video)


April 21, 2012 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated April 21, 2012 at 11:22 p.m.

Victoria lawyer John Griffin owns a Chevrolet Volt, an electric car. Griffin was the first in Victoria County to purchase the  electric model from a car dealer.

Victoria lawyer John Griffin owns a Chevrolet Volt, an electric car. Griffin was the first in Victoria County to purchase the electric model from a car dealer.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

It began as a simple question between father and son: Why weren't cars electric, like toy trains?

"My dad just said, 'That's not the way it is,'" said John Griffin, who grew up to become a managing partner with Marek, Griffin & Knaupp Attorneys at Law. "But my train was quiet and it didn't need spark plugs or oil changes. I thought cars should be like that."

That childhood wonder eventually led Griffin to jump aboard the electric bandwagon as Victoria County's first Chevrolet Volt owner.

The road to that purchase wasn't exactly a short one.

Griffin kept tabs on the industry through the years, he said, recalling General Motors's EV1. The electric car came out in the '90s and, although he couldn't afford it at the time, it didn't matter.

It was pulled from the market shortly after its release.

A few years later, however, came rumblings about the Volt, an electric car with a backup gas generator. Once rumors proved true, Griffin wanted in.

"I called buddies at Atzenhoffer and put down a deposit," he said of the $34,000 car. "I told them I wanted the first one."

Thus in May, after about a year on that list and a few months after the car rolled out in Austin, his white Volt with its leather seats and high-tech console was in.

Scott McConnell, who sold Griffin the car at Atzenhoffer Chevrolet, Cadillac, Mazda Mitsubishi, said the car was an exciting addition to the showroom.

A demo version arrived shortly before Griffin's, allowing employees a first-hand look at the environmentally-friendly vehicle. Griffin's reaction was another high point.

"He knew just as much about it as I did, and I had to go through excessive training," McConnell said with a laugh. "He was ecstatic."

Griffin's wife, Lynn Knaupp, said she wasn't surprised when her better half purchased the Volt. He'd talked about it for years, she said, and he finally got his chance.

"It's kind of his fancy toy," said Knaupp, who owns a Ford Escape hybrid. "And it's really fun to drive somewhere and not have to put any gas into the car."

Such cars might not be the norm in town, Griffin said, but it isn't difficult to own one.

The Volt plugs into any wall outlet, but powers up more quickly through the 220-volt chargers he has installed at his home and office. The chargers were eBay purchases installed by his local electrician.

After the battery does 40 miles on the road, the car switches over to the gas generator, he said, which runs long enough to keep it going. On average, he gets about 40 miles per gallon.

"It's like a game," he said, noting his speed, air conditioner use and more factor into battery life. "It's fun to see how much you can get out of it."

The hardest thing to get used to, Griffin said, was the quiet. When you push the button to start the car, it sounds like nothing's happening.

"Sometimes the A/C is the only way you know it's running," he said.

Still, it isn't smooth sailing 100 percent of the time.

An electronic code issue once left Griffin stranded briefly at a Houston airport, he said, and the car's alarm once wore the battery down.

Regardless, Griffin said he expected the electric vehicle trend to spread through the Crossroads with time.

Volts already have come down in price, he said, and other models, such as the Nissan Leaf, a 100 percent electric vehicle, have also entered the market.

"I think you'll start to see charging stations more and more places," he said. "I think, ultimately, De Leon Plaza will have one."

McConnell agreed, noting that area power plants are already researching charging stations, where drivers simply swipe their credit cards and plug in.

All in all, Griffin said he was proud of his purchase, and of the movement toward alternative fuel vehicles.

"It's fun to be on the side of ingenuity and engineering," he said. "Once you get in one of these cars, you don't want to burn gas."



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