If you listen to our podcast or read our personal commentary here, you know that I live in Wyoming. In our podcast, I often say I am broadcasting from a “windowless bunker in Wyoming.” This state is not what most people would think of when they think about people who buy electric cars. People in Wyoming are not, in general, the target market for the current crop of EVs being offered by Tesla, Mitsubishi or Nissan. Our average driving distances, weather, and interesting definition of “road” are not generally conducive to electric vehicles.
So imagine my surprise when I found out that a dealership in Cheyenne, Wyoming became LEAF certified by Nissan. It was even more surprising when I found out not through the local news grapevine, but via Nissan corporate, who contacted me to ask if I wanted to talk to anyone at Halladay Nissan about their choice to become LEAF certified.
Obviously, I wanted very much to find out more. I especially wanted to find out why, exactly, a dealership in Wyoming would put up that kind of effort towards an electric car.
So I contacted Jim Casey, the general manager of the Halladay Auto Group, and set up an appointment to go in and speak with him and his sales manager, Rob Schumacher. Schumacher’s office looks right out the front window of Halladay Nissan and into their parking lot full of shiny new cars. It also has a good view of the new charging station and the three spots it covers in that lot. One of those spots is where he parks his own 2014 Nissan LEAF every day. Rob proudly told me that the LEAF is his company car and he commutes in it daily and occasionally gives customers rides when they need to leave their car for service at the dealership’s shop.
A shop which is, as of three months ago, fully certified to work on the Nissan LEAF. They can do everything from make general inspections and replace windshield wipers all the way to removing the batteries and repairing or replacing them as needed. While at the dealership, I met with shop foreman Don Rodriguez, who is LEAF certified as the shop lead and can do general repair work on the LEAF. I also met lead technician Larry Failor, who took the same virtual courses Rodriguez did, but then continued with hands-on courses in Texas to become fully certified on the LEAF as a tech.
Failor explained to me the intense process of gaining that certification and showed me some of the specialty tools the dealership purchased for that. These include a specialized battery lift, protective clothing, and other items meant specifically for working on electric cars like the LEAF.
After talking with the guys in the shop, Schumacher took me out into the lot to see his LEAF, proudly showing me how it was plugged in as Rodriguez explained that when they installed the charging station (there is another one in the shop itself), they piped it for high voltage so that they can easily upgrade it to a 220V charger if the need arises. For now, it’s a slower charger, but adequate if only one or two cars need a top-off during the day, as is the case now.
It was now that my questions about “why would a dealership in Wyoming care about EVs?” got answered. Schumacher explained that when the LEAF first arrived on their lot, he wanted to be proactive about having them available for sale. He assumed they would be a fairly hot ticket. He was right about that, but wrong about to whom they would be a hot seller. The LEAF sold quickly in Colorado, just south of Cheyenne, but not in Cheyenne itself. The first half-dozen cars Schumacher had on the lot ended up getting sent down to Colorado dealerships who were otherwise back-ordering them for customers.
All but one. The one we were looking at that Schumacher claimed as his own and drives daily. Rob said that then, as things seem to go, someone came in the door asking about buying a LEAF. With none in stock, one had to be ordered. Then more people asked about the car. So Schumacher asked these buyers why they were thinking about the car and how it was going to fit into their lifestyles in Cheyenne. That’s where it dawned on him that there is a bigger market in Cheyenne, Wyoming for the electric LEAF than might have been expected.
He immediately sat down with Casey and they came up with a plan. The first step was certification and having ready access to vehicles for sale should someone ask about the LEAF again.
Now, three months after certifying, they’ve sold three LEAFs. That may not sound like much, but Cheyenne is an uphill market for electric cars. People in Wyoming don’t tend to think about an EV as an option. But the market is there.
The typical profile of a Wyoming buyer is simple. The person is probably looking for a commuter car, probably lives in one of the cities (ala Cheyenne or Casper), and is probably looking at a second or third car, not an only car. Most families in Wyoming will have two, three, or more cars and many families living in Cheyenne have a “small economy car” as their primary daily driver. That econo-car can be the LEAF.
For charging, there aren’t many choices in Cheyenne. Yet. Right now, that charger at Halladay Nissan is the only one publicly available for the LEAF (there is also a Tesla Supercharger station in the parking lot of Frontier Mall). Another one, though, is about to go online. Cheyenne Regional Medical Center had the infrastructure put in place when they remodeled their parking structure recently. Now one of their employees is one of Halladay’s customers and commutes with his LEAF. So the Medical Center is in the process of putting their charging station online. According to their office, it will cover two parking spaces, but they do not have a firm date for it going live.
Who knew that Wyoming was the new hotbed for electric vehicles? I certainly didn’t. Kudos to Halladay Nissan for being proactive and many thanks to everyone there for the time spent with me.