Plug In ElectricExcerpt from Chapter 2 of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.

New Electric Vehicles

There are over 40,000 electric vehicles in the United States, with more being made and sold every day. In most situations, the limited range and speed of light electric vehicles are acceptable. Sixty-seven percent of them replaced cars and trucks that required gasoline and caused significant carbon emissions. Most potential EV buyers, however, are waiting for freeway speed and better range at affordable prices. They do not need to wait long.

Several automakers are targeting 2010 to sell electric vehicles in the United States that you can charge in your garage and other places. Some will give you a range of over 100 miles between charges, drive at freeway speeds, and are likely to cost less than $40,000. Big income tax credits are available to buyers of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. As of this writing, tax credits range from $4,168 for vehicles with a 4 kWh battery pack to $7,500 for vehicles with a 16 kWh pack. Check with your accountant for the latest credits.

Lease programs are also available. BMW is leasing the Mini E for $850 per month, including maintenance and a charging station.

The race to market includes Nissan, Chevrolet, Renault, Ford, Toyota, emerging players such as Smart, Think, Fisker, and a host of other companies. Other companies are betting on the plug-in hybrids covered in the next chapter. Given the financial difficulties of many automakers, some of those who announced plans for 2010 will slip on their delivery dates, or even cancel programs. However, several exciting choices are likely to be on time.

If you live in a household with more than one car, the EV may be perfect for one of your cars. A common way to charge your EV will be to run an extension cord from an outlet in your garage to an electrical plug that is conveniently located on the outside of the car.

An electric vehicle will not be for you if you have no place to plug in and charge the batteries. If you park on the street, or have no electric outlet in your apartment building parking, then charging at work or public charging stations will need to be convenient.
Charging at home with a standard 110-volt outlet is known as trickle charging. The vehicle may need four to 10 hours to be adequately charged, depending on the miles since the last charging and the type of vehicle.

Fast charging is also possible, but there is a scarcity of charging stations and a lack of standards. Fast charging takes more electricity, and more energy is wasted as resistance causes heat loses. Fast charging can take as little as ten minutes, but usually requires an expensive charging station using a 480-volt line and special safety requirements.

Most electric vehicles are smaller and lighter than gasoline vehicles so that they can be driven for a range of more miles before recharging is required. This causes some to worry about safety. New electric vehicles, though, will not be for sale until they meet stringent safety tests, including crash tests. Is small less safe? The icon of small is the Mercedes Smart Fortwo car, three feet shorter than most sub-compacts and weighing only 1,800 pounds. Yet the Institute for Highway Safety gave the Smart Fortwo the top rating for front and side crash protection.

Although $40,000 is a lot of money, battery electric vehicles create a number of savings. You never pay for gasoline. Electric charging may only cost 2 cents per mile for charging; adding $20 to a typical monthly electric utility bill this is a fraction of what most pay for gasoline. There is no engine to maintain. Brakes last longer because braking energy is stored in batteries, reducing brake wear and tear. There is less to fix, maintain, and worry about under the hood.

You can get an EV like the Childers’ that costs less than $10,000, but it is limited to 25 miles per hour and 20 to 40 miles between charges. At the other end is the Tesla Roadster with a range of over 200 miles and effortless acceleration to freeway speed. Unfortunately, the Tesla Roadster will set you back more than $100,000.

As prices drop to below $30,000 after tax credits, freeway-speed electric vehicles will appeal to a growing number of drivers. Stylish offerings are coming in sports cars and four-door sedans, not just something that looks like a golf cart. Advanced batteries will have up to 150,000-mile warranties. Enthusiasts will be getting electric vehicles in the next two-years. Most will wait for prices that are closer to today’s fuel-efficient hybrids.

If you want to test drive an EV, it may be easier than you think. Your town may have an EV club. You can spot electric vehicles on any major college or corporate campus. When you take a parking lot shuttle at a ball game or amusement park, ask the driver if you are riding on electricity. You can rent EVs in some beach towns, tourist areas, and at some airport car rentals.