04/22/14 - 12:52pm
Jeremy Guthrie considers himself easygoing and comfortable with his beliefs, including how he feels about the environment.
So when one of his teammates on the Kansas City Royals poked fun at him for driving a Toyota Prius instead of, say, a Cadillac Escalade or another car favored by well-paid athletes, he poked back. "I attacked him and said, ‘So you think you’re a better person than me because you have a better car?’ " Mr. Guthrie said, recalling the exchange.
He made his point. But the encounter drew a contrast between the stereotype of the professional athlete and the small but growing number of players who don’t quite fit it. While the best-paid among them can afford almost any car, some are shunning gas guzzlers and driving hybrids and electric vehicles with minimal or no tailpipe emissions.
Their reasons for choosing Teslas, Priuses and other zero- or low-emission vehicles are similar to those given in the population at large. A few are passionate about reducing their reliance on fossil fuels, while others are enamored of the performance of these cars. Not unlike movie stars a decade ago who wanted to be seen driving hybrids, some athletes want to drive the hot car of the moment.
Whatever their motivation, the athletes are, intentionally or not, becoming promoters of the cars, electric vehicle proponents said.
"The connection with sports is important because these are people whose lives are about performance, and they have fans who are interested in what they drive and why they drive it," said Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. "These guys are increasingly sensitive to their personal brands and want to be connected to causes."
It is unclear precisely how many athletes drive electric vehicles or hybrids, but some stars like Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers drive or drove Teslas and other high-priced electric vehicles and hybrids.
More teams are also installing charging stations at their arenas and stadiums — not just for their players and other employees, but for their fans.
The chargers are part of a broader effort by teams to invest in green projects like solar panels and wind turbines, composting and recycling, and energy-efficient lighting in parking lots.
Most teams view these investments as a way to save money, but some fans seem to appreciate that their teams are environmentally minded.
"Doing all these environmental enhancements to our building makes good business sense," said Justin Zeulner, the director of sustainability for the Trail Blazers, which invested $650,000 and said it had saved nearly $3 million through green projects. "There’s incredible value in doing the right thing for your business and the environment. It enhances your brand."
The Blazers now have 28 electric-vehicle chargers at or near their arena, a collection that the team says it believes is one of the largest in the country. Users pay $2 an hour to plug in, and at any given time on nongame days, about half of the chargers are in use. On game days, nearly all are taken.
The chargers are meaningful, Mr. Zeulner said, because about 70 percent of the carbon footprint of the arena is related to transportation. The Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Eagles are among the teams that have also installed charging stations. The Atlanta Falcons are including charging stations in the design of their new stadium.
Having a player behind the wheel of a low-emission vehicle, though, sends a more powerful message. Mr. Guthrie, who was raised in Oregon, is happy to tell fans about riding his bicycle to work, and he encourages teammates to turn off lights, recycle and use less water when shaving.
In 2010, a Toyota dealer in Sarasota, Fla., lent him his first Prius, and he was hooked on seeing how many miles he could squeeze out of a tank of gas. The next year, he bought his own Prius, which he keeps at his home in Utah. Mr. Guthrie, who expects to make $8 million this year, also put down a $5,000 deposit on the Tesla X, which is not yet in production. The car could easily cost three times as much as a Prius, which has a base price of about $25,000.
Last April in Kansas City, where he now plays, a dealer lent him a Chevy Volt. The battery provides about 40 miles of driving, perfect for Mr. Guthrie’s 23-mile commute from home to the stadium, where he recharges the car with a 110-volt plug for the return trip.
"Frankly, it handles much better than a Prius and is much more sporty," Mr. Guthrie said, although he wishes it had more than four seats. For family drives, he, his wife and three children still pile into their 2006 Acura MDX, a sport utility vehicle.
Other players are entranced by the technology in electric vehicles. Andrew Ference, a defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers, bought a Fisker, a flashy plug-in hybrid, after reading about it in Wired magazine. Unfortunately, the manufacturer declared bankruptcy and Mr. Ference decided to keep his car in Boston, where he played last year. He misses driving it. "Once you go one way, it’s hard to come back," he said. "I hate going back to a gas-only car."
Electric cars, and especially their batteries, have advanced to the point where entire sports are built around them. In September, Formula E, a new racing series modeled after Formula One that uses all-electric cars, will hold its first race in Beijing, the culmination of several years of planning. In the first year, plans call for 10 races in city centers including Miami and Los Angeles, and each team (including one partly owned by Leonardo DiCaprio) will have two drivers and two cars. Each car is capable of running about 25 minutes, or about half the race, at full speed.
Racing fans may miss the noise and smell of gasoline-powered cars, but the electrics have many of the same attributes as conventional racecars, while they send a different signal to the public.
"The message is to end the combustion engine," said Alejandro Agag, the chief executive of Formula E Holdings. "That’s what we need to promote. But we can only do that if we change the perception of the electric vehicles. But getting the professionals to drive them will help."