Oxford County is at the center of Maine's shift away from the combustion engine — toward electric vehicles
Ever since he was a kid, Tony Giambro has had a passion for both cars and the environment. Those two interests may seem at odds with one another, but Giambro managed to merge them together when he opened his own repair shop, Paris Autobarn, on Main Street in South Paris, in 2014.
"The biggest thing we decided on, number one, was that we wanted to make the business solar powered," Giambro says.
And within a year, he did - with the help of a federal rural development grant. Next, Giambro began checking other things off his eco-friendly to-do list. He found bio-based transmission fluids to use in cars. He discovered a way to recycle and reuse motor oil. He even switched to more sustainable paper made from sugar cane waste to print invoices. Then, a few years ago, Paris Autobarn made another change.
"We started going down the side venture of car sales," he says
This story is part of our series "Climate Driven: A deep dive into Maine's response, one county at a time."
Selling cars may not seem like a logical move for a business focused on environmental sustainability. But Paris Autobarn only sells used electric and hybrid vehicles.
"We really believe in this mission of getting people to electrify transportation as fast as possible. And the only way that we're going to do that is to have those models of vehicles available here in an affordable way."
And once someone drives an EV, says Giambro, they're usually hooked. Even skeptics, which sometimes include his own employees.
"I thought they were sort of, I don't know, they were like a niche market," says Scott Randall, manager of Paris Autobarn. "I thought they were slow, you know, not performance like. And, (I was) totally wrong. "
Randall shares his experience as he prepares to put snow tires on his 2012 Nissan Leaf, one of several EVs in his family's fleet.
"I have three. So I got one as a commuter for me. And then my wife has another one and my daughter who's 17, her first car is an electric car. So her plan is to be electric her whole life and never have a gas car."
This kind of commitment to EVs is not unusual, says Travis Ritchie, a former employee of Paris Autobarn. A few years ago, he says, his wife bought a used EV.
"A 2013 Nissan Leaf," he says. "And we loved it so much that I went back the next week and bought another one for myself to replace my old Subaru."
Having become an devotee, Ritchie wanted to meet others. So he co-founded the Maine Electric Vehicle Association, which is dedicated to promoting EVs, whether through social meet ups or advocacy work.
The Association also partners with the Center for an Ecology Based Economy in Norway to put on an annual EV Expo in Oxford County. Ritchie typically gives an EV 101 talk at the Expo to explain the ins and outs of owning EVs, including the effect that Maine's cold winter weather has on range.
"You have to take power from the battery and generate the heat in your cabin," says Ritchie. "And so it does reduce range, and it's pretty significant on the coldest days."
As much as 40%, he says. But that's the only downside he can think of, even though his 2013 Leaf has far less range than current models - about 65 miles on a good day. Ritchie says he's never been stranded. He plans ahead and uses an app to find public chargers.
"The greatest thing about these cars is the lack of maintenance. It's like....it's a return to simplicity," Ritchie says.
Because electric vehicles have fewer parts than gas-powered cars. They don't need oil changes. Ritchie says his eight year old Leaf with 80-thousand miles is just now needing a ball joint replaced. Before that, he only needed to replace the wiper blades.
Tony Giambro of Paris Autobarn says these lower maintenance needs will bring changes to the auto repair industry.
"Electric cars are going to shake things up a little bit in the automotive world as they start to take over," he says. "I mean, we're already seeing signs of it."
The future of traditional auto shops is uncertain, says Giambro. But Paris Autobarn is expanding. Next spring, it's making room to bring in more used EVs and hybrids to sell - and to service.