It may not boast the flash of a Model S, but the newest addition to the Los Altos Hills town staff vehicle fleet delivers where it counts in a community of steep inclines: ground clearance. The 2019 Kia Niro bests the Tesla by more than half an inch.
“It’s not trying to make a visual statement – it’s performing a serious job,” said Councilman Roger Spreen, who recently took the black crossover hatchback for a spin. “It doesn’t need to do zero to 60 in 4 seconds. It needs to carry our town staff and supplies up and down our hills, to and from every remote corner of our town, eight hours a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year.”
Council members approved the car’s purchase at their Nov. 20 meeting following extensive research by town management analyst Cody Einfalt. It’s the town’s first electric vehicle, but more could follow.
“We’re kind of using it as a pilot right now,” Einfalt said. “We are going to see how well the staff uses it. It takes, you know, a behavioral change to get in the habit of plugging in a car – it’s different than a gas-powered car – so we just want to see how well it works with our staff, and then we’ll go from there.”
Pursuant to Los Altos Hills’ 2016 Vehicle and Equipment Replacement Policy, the recommended shelf life of vehicles employed for town business is 13 years. Two SUVs operated by the Planning and Public Works departments, a 2005 Ford Escape and a 2006 Ford Escape, qualified for retirement.
When setting out to identify a new vehicle purchase for Planning Department use, Einfalt compared five EV options with battery ranges above 200 miles: the Kia, a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt, a 2019 Tesla Model 3, a 2019 Hyundai Kona and a 2019 Nissan Leaf S Plus. He used a point system and ranked the vehicles against one another within a matrix of features including price, range, turning radius and ground clearance. With 33 points, the Kia scored the highest, one point above the Hyundai, which Einfalt ruled out of the running due to its expensive $47,358.46 price tag. The Kia, priced at $41,000, cost the town $38,500 after a $2,500 rebate from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project.
But how does it handle?
“Now that I’ve seen how well electric vehicles perform, I am myself almost convinced to start looking into that side of the market for when I need to buy a vehicle,” Einfalt said. “I think it’s going to work for staff great. We won’t have range anxiety.”
Spreen marveled at how “normal” the car is.
“It doesn’t look or feel like a video game when you drive it,” he said. “It feels and rides like any other modern car you’ll drive these days.”