Marion looks to lease, not buy electric cars

Jan 22, 2019

MARION — A newly reopened state grant may give Marion additional opportunities to replace its electric vehicles this year. 

On Jan. 22  at a Board of Selectmen meeting, Town Administrator Paul Dawson delivered an update on the work that Bill Saltonstall and the Energy Management Committee have done on replacements for the four electric cars that Marion currently leases.

Marion began leasing three BMW i3s and one Nissan Leaf using state grants more than two years ago. The vehicles replaced four Crown Victorias from the police department, and saved the town about $35,000 in gas and maintenance costs.

Voters at the fall Special Town Meeting approved a proposal to purchase the cars at the end of their leases, which will end at various times before the 2019 fiscal year. 

However, as the committee continued discussing the issue, it realized that leasing other cars would be more effective than purchasing them, since electric cars are evolving so rapidly that the distance they can travel increases almost monthly. Leasing the cars would allow the town to only make a three year commitment, and to pursue even better models much sooner. 

The Board of Selectmen is still looking into various car options, including (among others) a Honda Clarion which would cost $8,500 to rent for three years, and a Mitsubishi Outlander which would rent at $10,000. They will have a demonstration with four of the various cars on Jan. 23. 

Massachusetts also announced recently that it would resume funding grants to lease electric vehicles, which Dawson said was unexpected and could significantly cut the town’s rental costs.

“Having already been in the program may give us a leg up if we decide to apply again, but it is a competitive program, so it’s hard to say,” Dawson said.

Town employees have complained about the range of the vehicles, which have required charging after driving to the dealership in Norwood where Marion purchased them. The building inspector also requested a heavy duty truck so that he could more easily navigate at building sites.

Town Planner Gil Hilario pointed out that the state also recently established a grant for medium-duty or heavy-duty electric vehicles, which could remedy the inspector’s complaint.

Marion resident Stephen Howe approved of the Selectmen and Energy Committee moving toward all electric vehicles.

“Be careful about going down the hybrid route,” Howe cautioned, explaining that he believes the market will move away from hybrids in the long-term.

He also approved of the Selectmen continuing to lease the cars, as the batteries will eventually expire and require expensive replacements.