If you want to be the first on your block to drive an EV like a Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt or Mitsubishi i-MiEV, prepare for some schooling. The experience is not as simple as signing the papers for a Ford Fusion Hybrid or a Toyota Prius, not nearly. Figuring Out The Cost

Normally, figuring out the cost of a new vehicle is straightforward. There's the price on the window sticker, the price you want to pay and the price the dealer will accept. You negotiate and drive off in a new set of wheels.

Determining the cost of an EV is not as simple. What you pay at the dealership is not the final cost of an EV.

If you purchase a vehicle like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt or Nissan Leaf, the Federal Government will grant you a one-time income tax credit of $7,500. You won't get the credit if you don't file your taxes and check the right boxes on the 1040 form. Not to mention that you need to have enough income to qualify for the tax credit (around $54,000).

States including California, Tennessee and several in the Northeast offer incentives on top of the federal tax credit. States handle their incentives differently than the feds. Check with the proper governmental authority to determine which incentives apply to your purchase and how to secure them. A good list of available incentives can be found at Plug In America, here: http://www.pluginamerica.org/why-plug-vehicles/state-federal-incentives.

Be aware that most incentives are limited and tied to a specific quantity of vehicles sold. For example, Tennessee's incentive covers just 1,000 vehicles. It would be a costly surprise to find out that the $2,500 rebate you ciphered recently expired.

Charging Stations

When you buy or lease a conventionally powered vehicle, you don't have to buy a gas pump for your garage. With an EV, at-home charging stations are a necessity. And they're not free or built-in to the cost of the vehicle.

To facilitate the sales and installation of charging stations, Chevrolet recently announced a nationwide relationship with supplier SPX. The company will handle all aspects pertaining to 240-volt charging stations for the 2011 Volt. SPX offers a selection of Volt-compatible chargers ranging in price from under $500 for a basic unit to more than $2,000 for a "smart charger." The deluxe unit made by Coulomb Technologies enables WiFi-enabled Internet control of the charging process.

Importantly, SPX will also handle charger installation with certified, trained, and insured technicians. The process can be complex due to wildly varying local building codes and utility regulations. Additionally, utilities that have thought about the business of EV's (some haven't) require that chargers go on a separate meter like those used for central air conditioning units.

Sure, your cousin Sparky might be capable of installing the charging unit, but think twice before making that choice. Missing details could cost you in building code violations or mean you'll overpay for electricity in the future. Avail yourself of all the assistance and information that's available from your vehicle's manufacturer, the charger's manufacturer, and your utility company.

Early-adopter incentives offered by individual utility companies such as Michigan's DTE and Consumers Energy ($2,500 for the first 2,500 customers) can impact the cost of home chargers and their installation. Contact your local utility to find out about offers in your area.

Power Options

While some utilities have programs in place to meet the emerging EV market, many haven't. Some states, like Michigan, have already agreed to let their utilities charge a special rate to customers with EV charging stations. Michigan's DTE and Consumers Energy now offer a flat monthly rate of $40 or a reduced-rate of 7.5 cents per kW hour. Depending on how many miles a driver accumulates, the utilities believe their rate structure equates to driving around on $1/gallon gasoline, about a third of the current national average.

Being aware of incentives and potential pitfalls will make being EV early adopter easier and safer. It will also likely make it less costly. Not a bad combination.

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