The National Plug In Day event in Naperville

The National Plug In Day event in Naperville, sponsored locally by the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association, drew electric car dealers and private owners who demonstrated some of the latest offerings. (Jack McCarthy, Special to the Tribune / September 29, 2013)

There was no cacophony of revving engines, just the hum of tires on asphalt as a collection of vehicles maneuvered through a Naperville road course.

In fact, there wasn't conventional gas-powered car in sight.

A recent all-electric road rally drew a steady stream of visitors -- both curious and committed -- to Naperville's west side car test track to view and drive some of the latest in vehicles freed from dependence on fossil fuels.

The National Plug In Day event, sponsored locally by the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association, drew electric car dealers and private owners who demonstrated the some of the latest offerings.

"The reaction is positive, overwhelmingly positive ," said Bruce Jones, FVEAA president. "They (electric cars) are doing a lot of good things: they're benefiting the environment, they don't have expensive gas which I think is probably one of the better parts of it."

The Naperville event was among 100 National Plug-In Day activities staged nationwide and co-sponsored by the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association and Plug In America, electric car advocacy groups.

To drivers accustomed to both the advantages and quirks of gasoline-powered vehicles, the first reaction to electric vehicles is to wonder if something is wrong. There's no telltale engine startup, just the push of a button and a silent gliding start.

In appearance, electrics like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are indistinguishable from gasoline-powered cousins. In test drives they handled like typical small cars, with good acceleration and braking and a complement of standard accessories that today's buyers demand.

Private owners brought luxury Tesla electrics, manufactured in Fremont, Calif., and carrying a heftier price tag starting at $70,000 before credits and rebates.

The smaller cars have come down in price in recent years and tax credits make them competitive with conventional gas cars.

Consumer Reports said Nissan's 2013 Leaf S has a manufactured suggested retail price of between $28,800 and $34,840. Subtract a federal tax credit of $7,500 and a Illinois rebate of up to $4,000 and the price falls to the range of its gasoline-powered sibling, the Nissan Sentra.

Chevrolet's web site said Volts start at $26,685 after the federal tax credit.

There's also a cost advantage. FVEAA estimates it costs between two to three cents per mile to run an electric car. Gasoline-powered vehicles costs 10 to 30 cents per mile for fuel.

Electrics can't drive long distances like gasoline-powered cars without recharging. But the Nissan Leaf's estimated 75-mile range on one charge is fine for local errands or commuting.

Many users charge their vehicles at home but an infrastructure of public and commercial charging outlets is slowly being created.

There are at least four charging sites in Naperville, including a downtown location at 65 W. Van Buren, Edward Hospital, North Central College and Gerald Nissan.

"The East coast and the West coast have the infrastructure set up," said Paul Minihan, a locally-based official with Nissan North America. "The Midwest has been a little behind the curve but (the city of) Chicago and St. Louis are real heavy adapters."

Jones said responsibilities of putting his children through college has so far prevented him from purchasing an electric.

"At some point I won't need my minivan to haul their college things," he said. "I have my eye on one and as soon as I am able to (purchase), I will."

triblocaltips@tribune.com