HANFORD – You may have seen them zipping around Hanford: Subcompact Fiat cars, no exhaust pipe in the back, wrapped in the London Properties logo.
A really creative advertising strategy? Maybe.
But according to some of the agents who work at the company's Hanford office, leasing an all-electric car for around-town use is proving to be a big personal benefit as well.
Seven of them — about half of the total number who work out of the Hanford office — took the voluntary deal offered by the company a few weeks ago.
It works like this.
The company agreed to pick up the down payment and pay half of the $100-a-month lease payment.
For those who accepted the offer, the per-month cost over the three-year lifespan of the lease is $50 plus the cost of charging the vehicle at home every night.
Talk to any of the employees who are participating, and it's not difficult to see why many of them saw it as a no-brainer.
For longtime agent-turned-broker Rene Carson, the math was simple.
Carson said she was spending $50-$70 a week on gas to drive her Lincoln SUV around town on house calls and personal trips.
She said the electric bill to charge her new Fiat comes out to about $1 a day.
For her, however, the benefit goes well beyond dollars and cents.
"They're a hoot to drive, and they're really good for business," Carson said. "I've been doing this for 37 years. It makes real estate fun again."
They're a relative novelty in Hanford, which has few electric cars on the road and few public charging stations.
Carson said people constantly mention them, talk about them and bring them up in conservation. All of that helps stimulate business.
Patrick Conner, president of Fresno-based London Properties, said the idea came to him sort of out of the blue.
"I went down and test-drove one and thought, 'You know what, this would be really fun to help the sales associates out and reduce the carbon footprint,'" he said. "We tend to drive around a fair amount in our business."
"We just thought it would be kind of fun to have a fleet of these cars on the road," he added. "Everybody wins, the environment wins."
Among several London Properties offices in the San Joaquin Valley between Hanford and Merced, Conner said that the greatest participation in the program has been at the Hanford office.
"You never know what kind of traction something is going to get," he said.
The cars fill a certain niche: They have roughly a 100-mile range on one charge. Complete charge times for a fully depleted battery range from 4 hours to 20 hours, depending on whether you have a 220-volt outlet at home or just a regular 110-volt outlet.
Every London Properties employee who is leasing one of the cars has a second gas-powered car for out-of-town trips.
For Hanford-based agent Debbie Nollan, the deal made sense partly because her other car is an aging 2002 Buick.
"The gas cost can add up as you're driving around," she said.
Nollan said she hasn't seen "much of a difference" in her power bill since she started plugging in the Fiat at night.
Nollan said that if she makes just one sale because of having the car, it more than justifies her out-of-pocket costs.
One thing she'd like to see: more charging stations in Hanford.
The lease is up in three years for Nollan and other employees who have the cars.
What happens after that?
Nollan said she'll cross that bridge when she comes to it.
"Well see what's out there at the time," she said. "Maybe the technology will get better. Right now, I'm just enjoying the ride."