Comparison Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius & Prius Plug-in

Comparison Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius & Prius Plug-in

The Hybrid Sales Leader Continues Its Market Dominance By Plugging In Its Icon.

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in, Hybrid,EV

Toyota – expanding the leading brand with a plug

In the world of automotive sales, earning the ranking of top-selling model in any category is a considerable achievement. In an internal combustion engine world, when the Toyota Prius became the best-selling vehicle line in the State of California in 2012 and then backed it up with a repeat in 2013, it was huge for a hybrid to take the prize. The Prius had a strong national presence in 2013 where it was No. 16 in sales for all cars and trucks and No. 10 among cars. To round-out the sales story, Toyota has sold 1.5 million Prius models in the last ten years, easily making it the best selling hybrid car in the United States.

The Prius four-door hatchback first went on sale in the United States in 2000 and the smaller Prius c and larger Prius V came along in 2011. They were joined by the plug-in version in 2012.

Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to drive, in back-to-back weeks, the 2014 Prius Hatchback and the 2014 Prius Plug-in Hatchback. Here is a look at the two, where the similarities are many and the differences few.

Drivetrain

The front-wheel-drive 2014 Prius is powered by a parallel hybrid drivetrain, which Toyota calls their Hybrid Synergy Drive. In the parallel hybrid system the electric motor can power the car by itself, the gas engine can power the car by itself or they can power the car together.

 

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in,EV,HOV lane

Plug-in Prius gets you to new places

The Hybrid Synergy Drive system comprises a 1.8L DOHC, four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor producing a combined 178 horsepower (hp). It adds a 26 hp/60 kW nickel-metal-hydride (Ni-MH) battery and through the electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) delivers 51 city/48 highway for a combined 50 mpg.

The Prius Plug-in is powered by the same gasoline engine and electric motor but adds a 80 hp/60 kW lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack that can power the car solely on electricity for about 11 miles. The Prius Plug-in fuel economy is a bit different with 51 city/49 highway but the same 50 mpg combined, but the Plug-in also delivers a 95 mpge when run in EV mode. As with all plug-in hybrids, the driving style and charging regimen will determine actually mileage in the real world.

The Prius Plug-in Li-ion battery is charged by plugging in or through the regenerative charging system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. There is a standard drive mode “D” or the “B” mode, which recharges the battery at a faster rate when coasting downhill.

In addition to the regenerative charging, the primary method to replenish the batteries is by plugging in. Here’s how much time it will take:

120V           3 hours: discharged to a full charge

240V           1.5 hours: discharged to a full charge

The Prius Plug-in does not come with a 480V Quick Charge option.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The four-door Prius Hatchback 2014 weighs in at 3,042 lbs, with the weight well distributed due to the under-seat battery placement, resulting in a low center of gravity. The electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, the front MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar and rear Torsion beam suspension delivers a smooth, although not necessarily quiet, highway ride. The Prius with the 15-inch alloy wheels (17-inch ones are an upgrade) corners so-so with little body roll, but with no sense of feeling sporty. Acceleration 0 – 60 is listed by Toyota at 10 seconds, but that may be the minimum time it takes. No head snapping going on with the Prius,

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in, EV, HOV lane

The Prius models plug along

but off-the-line drag racing is not why a million and a half of these have been sold. So, expecting a performance level that Toyota never promised is unfair. But let’s get real on what is fair, fuel economy!

The Prius Plug-in (which weighs in at 3,165 lbs.) offers up-to 11 miles on pure electricity if you go no faster than 30 mph. Other than that, there is little difference in the two models. Once up to freeway speeds, both Prius models shine, delivering 50+ mpg. And if you are into hypermiling, the practice of energy-efficient driving aimed at improving fuel economy beyond the EPA ratings, you may want to see how far you can squeeze that gallon of gasoline or kilowatt of electricity. You don’t need to own a hybrid or EV to practice hypermiling, but it seems this is a hot topic among Prius owners trying to out-distance each other.

Toyota has mastered combining the regeneration system with the four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Both Prius models stop straight and true with no brake fade.

Driving Experience: Interior

The 2014 Prius has a spacious interior with a twin cockpit design with a “floating” center stack separating the bucket seats. I say “floating” because where most cars have solid sides to their center stack, on the Prius this area is an open tray. Once I got accustomed to fishing around for my stashed items, it was quite handy. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel has all the usual control buttons (audio, phone, cruise control, climate, Bluetooth,

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in,dash

Just quirky enough

etc.) including the ability to switch between fuel and battery (hybrid) gauges. Another unique design feature is that the gauges are off to the right a few degrees. Toyota makes-up for this by having a heads-up display (standard on the Four Model–Prius Liftbacks come in Two, Three, Four and Five trim levels) that appears on the windshield directly in-front of the driver. All-in-all it’s a workable system after a short learning curve.

The Prius comfortably seats four full-size adults (five in a pinch), but the front bucket seats could use more thigh bolstering. There is plenty of storage space with or without the 60/40 rear seats folded flat. The car has good sightlines once you get over the spoiler cutting horizontally midway through the rear window. One oddity is that a beeper goes off inside the cabin when shifting into reverse. Odd because as the driver you know you put the car in reverse, the Rearview Camera pops-up on the screen and the beeping is not heard outside of the car where it would be the most useful.

The 2014 Prius is well equipped for safety with remote keyless entry, power door locks, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), projector beam halogen headlights, seven airbags, adaptive cruise control, vehicle stability and traction control and the optional intelligent parking assist and lane departure warning.

Driving Experience: Exterior

The Prius is one of the most recognizable vehicles on the road. Its wedge-shape has not changed much since redesigned in 2004 and, either you like it or you don’t. The shape is driven completely to reduce wind resistance and drag to increase fuel economy (both Prius models have an excellent .25 coefficient of drag). Rumor has it a new Prius design is a couple of years away, but it would hard to believe that Toyota would venture very far from the general overall shape of the current car.

Pricing

The 2014 Prius base price is $25,010, including the $810 destination charge. The nicely optioned Prius Four I was driving is priced at $33,290 including the $810 destination charge. The Prius Plug-in, which starts at

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in,EV,storage

Ready to swallow

$29,990 including the destination charge, qualifies for Federal and State tax credits that could reduce your final cost. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a Prius Plug-in purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.

Also worth noting is that in California the Prius Plug-in qualifies for the coveted car pool stickers allowing the driver, with no passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State, but those stickers may only be available for a few months as the demand for them has been strong.

The 2014 Prius comes with these warranties:

  • 3-year/36,000 Comprehensive
  • 5-year/60,000 Powertrain
  • 5-year/Unlimited-mileage Corrosion
  • 8-year/100,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage
  • 15-year/150,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage (applicable states are: CA, MA, NY, NJ, VT, CT, ME, NM and RI) with the exception of the hybrid battery. The hybrid battery is warraned for 10 years/150,000 miles

Observations: 2014 Toyota Prius Hatchback and Prius Plug-in Hatchback

Whether tooling around in-town or venturing out on the open road, if you value paying as little as possible for each mile driven, then the Toyota Prius should be on your shopping list. Not many cars get the outstanding fuel economy of the Prius family.
You will pay more for a hybrid versus a gasoline-powered car and you will need to calculate if the additional cost makes sense for your driving patterns. But, if you are putting a lot of miles on your car or like the ability to cruise around town in pure electric mode like the plug-in version offers, then the additional initial expense may be worth it to you.
You will also pay additional for the Prius Plug-in, with a base price of $29,900 versus the base Prius Hybrid at $24,200. Both prices do not include the $810 Destination Charge. So as you can see, a $5,700 premium for

Toyota,Prius,Plug-in,EV,sales

Still leading the hybrid way

the plug-in will be a consideration at purchase time for what amounts to the ability to drive approximately eleven miles on pure electric charge and if you live in California, apply for the stickers that allow a single driver to use the car pool lanes. Hence, the conundrum.

Clean Fleet Report cannot recommend one model over the other as your lifestyle and daily driving needs are the determining factors. But, the Prius reliability and its being the market-leading hybrid should give you confidence that this car will be in your garage for many, many years.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

 Words and Photos by John Faulkner

Posted on March 23, 2014

Related Stories of Interest:

Top Ten Best Fuel Economy Cars for 2014

Toyota Is “All In” on Fuel Cell Electric Cars

GM & Toyota Go Opposite Directions in Pricing Their Plug-ins

 

Road Test: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

Road Test: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

Fun But Ultra-Responsible – A New Midsize Hybrid MPG Leader at 50 MPG. 

Honda,Hybrid,Accord,MPG, fuel economy,fun

The New MPG Leader Adds Fun To The Mix

Honda built a legacy of innovation by taking the high road when engineering automobiles that became known as the “Honda Way.”  This determined focus resulted in the Civic CVCC engine, the first engine to comply with the 1975 Clean Air Act without a catalytic converter in 1974.

Several other “firsts” followed:

  • The world’s first mass-produced aluminum-body automobile, the NSX sports car in 1990;
  • First to develop a production-based gasoline engine certified as meeting Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) exhaust levels in 1995; and
  • The Honda Insight became the first gas-electric hybrid car sold in the U.S. in 1999.

Of late, however, those who write about cars and the auto industry have suggested that over the past few years Honda has “lost the Honda way” or “lost its mojo.”

Enter the 2014 Accord Hybrid as evidence that the automaker has found its way again; its revived mojo engineered a remarkable hybrid system that delivers an EPA fuel economy rating of 50 mpg city/45 mpg highway and 47 mpg combined.

By comparison, Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, the top-selling midsize hybrid in 2013, has EPA numbers of 43 city/39 higway/41 combined for the LE model, 40 city/38 highway/40 combined for the XLE edition.

For the introduction of its new hybrid system, Honda wisely chose the Accord, a midsize sedan with an unbeatable brew of smart engineering, efficient packaging, and rewarding road manners. It also happens to be Honda’s best-selling vehicle.

Honda offers the Accord Hybrid in three levels. The base model, referred to as Hybrid, is priced at $29,945 including $790 destination charges. Next is the EX-L, $32,965 followed by the top-end Touring, $35,695.

Here are the details.

“Earth Dreams” Hybrid System

The hybrid powertrain architecture employed by the 2014 Accord Hybrid is a mirror of the Accord Plug-in system with the exception of different-sized battery packs. It falls under the umbrella of Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology, an initiative in which the efficiency of internal combustion components, including the engine and transmission as well as electric motor technology, is improved. The goal is a significant reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Honda calls the Accord’s system: Two-Motor Hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) System. A mouthful for sure, but it is an elegant engineering design.

i-MMD combines a newly-developed engine dedicated for hybrid vehicles, an electric continuously variable transmission (CVT) coupled with two built-in motors, a lock-up clutch and a lithium-ion battery pack. The system switches between three drive modes – electric-only, hybrid and engine-only drive. The mix of power sources is managed largely by onboard sensors that combine the optimum acceleration and energy usage according to the driving situation.

Producing 141 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque of gasoline power, the new 2.0-liter I-VTEC four-cylinder engine incorporates an Atkinson cycle operation, a first for a Honda engine. For added efficiency, the air conditioning compressor and water pump are both powered by the electrical system, and electric power steering eliminates the traditional hydraulic power steering pump. The automaker says it is the most efficient internal combustion engine in the world.

Coupled to the engine are two built-in motors. A 124 kW propulsion motor powers the front wheels while a generator motor that is always connected to the gas engine generates electric energy to drive the propulsion motor when the vehicle is operating in the hybrid mode. Combined, the two motors have a maximum output of 166 horsepower. When they operate in conjunction with the gas engine the powertrain delivers a competitive 196 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque.

EV Mode will operate the car on electricity only until the energy from the 1.3 kW battery pack located in the trunk is depleted – around two miles in careful city driving.  But, it also will also kick in during cruising speeds on flat or downhill roadways.

In hybrid mode, the Accord Hybrid operates similar to the Chevrolet Volt. The gas engine only powers the generator motor, which delivers electrons to the propulsion motor that alone turn the front wheels. If additional energy is produced, it is directed to the battery.

Engine drive mode mechanically couples the gas engine to the drive wheels via the single-speed transmission. This occurs at highway speeds where the 2.0-liter four is most efficient.

The Accord Hybrid’s transmission operates with some of the characteristics of a continuously variable transmission but the E-CVT, as Honda calls it, isn’t actually a CVT. In fact, it’s not like what we would normally call a transmission: no pulleys or belts, no torque converter or drive clutch.

Instead, the E-CVT uses the two electric motors to control both the engine and electric motor rotation via the lock-up clutch. At highway cruising speeds, the clutch is engaged, connecting the drive motor to the generator motor to transmit engine torque directly to the drive wheels. In EV mode, when the battery-powered drive motor is used for either acceleration or regenerative braking, the clutch disengages the gasoline engine from the drivetrain.

The Honda’s standard straight-gate shifter has two selections. The D position is for normal driving, the B (Brake) position provides significantly increased regenerative braking.

Exterior Styling

Accord received a clean sheet redesign for model year 2013, breaking precedent by shrinking rather than growing in size. It may look longer and sleeker than its immediate predecessor, but the body lost 3.5 inches in

Honda-Accord-Hybrid-interior-MPG

Big Where It Counts

length while interior space was increased.

This latest Accord sedan is a model of family car design. Its relatively flat roofline contributes to exceptional headroom, smart packaging creates generous rear-seat legroom, and large side windows let in lots of light.

Its exterior appearance is not the most alluring car in the class – Ford’s Fusion and the Mazda6 are top contenders for that honor – but it is not without style. An expressive, but not aggressive, grille combined with a curvaceous hood and body sides suggest that the adjective handsome applies here.

What isn’t apparent is low-drag exterior surfaces, including nearly flush windshield glass, that combine with careful underbody tailoring to contribute to fuel economy.

There is little to differentiate the 2014 Accord Hybrid from your basic, garden-variety Accord. But eagle-eyed observers will notice its hybrid badging, blue-accented grille and headlamp lenses, rear spoiler and unique wheels.

The Inside Story

Give credit to the interior designers for continuing Accord’s heritage of near-class-leading roominess. Preserved as well is high-grade passenger-compartment materials and workmanship. All automakers are struggling to cut costs and reduce weight, leading to thinner, hard plastic panels in place of more luxurious padded surfaces.

The Accord avoids this compromise. Every surface the driver and passengers are likely to contact is suitably padded with high-quality looking materials. Panels feel solid to the touch and workmanship is top drawer.

 

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Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button

The dashboard also reflects the designer’s eye. There’s a balanced proportion to the instrument panel shape and layout, and dashboard sophistication is up a notch this year thanks to a standard 8-inch diagonal information screen mounted at its center.

However, there’s a fussiness to the controls that’s bedazzling. Buttons are everywhere, seeming to overtake the center of the dashboard. After a week of driving the Accord Hybrid, I couldn’t grasp the markings and the logic of their groupings to use them casually.

The Hybrid has its own dedicated gauge cluster. Centered is a large, round speedometer with simple numerals on a field of matte-black. To the right, battery charge and fuel level gauges are shown and on the left is a power use gauge. There’s also a power flow meter that shows where the power is coming from – engine, electric motor or both.

Efficient interior packaging delights good engineers and the Accord makes the most of a slightly shortened wheelbase to provide abundant front passenger room.

In-cabin storage space is plentiful, and while the standard Accord’s trunk is family-vacation generous, the Hybrid’s is whittled down in size to a couple’s weekend thanks to the placement of the battery pack.

Tech Feature Rich

The available features list witnesses Honda’s commitment to bringing technology front and center. Standard on the base Hybrid is Smart Entry and Start, a rearview camera system with Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot display, Bluetooth, Pandora integration, SMS text capability, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-way power driver’s seat and a six-speaker audio system.

A step up to the EX-L model adds Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning systems, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a moonroof, premium audio and the new HondaLink that connects the car via the

Honda-Accord-Hybrid-quality-MPG

Still Right To the Touch

owner’s smartphone to music and media resources such as Aha by Harman, Internet apps, roadside assistance and more.

The high-feature Touring model adds adaptive cruise control and a voice-recognition navigation system.

Standard features on all Hybrid models include Honda’s double-pane Expanded View driver’s mirror, cruise control and a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls.

Behind The Steering Wheel

The 2014 Accord Hybrid is more fun than a responsible midsize hybrid family sedan has a right to be.

A characteristic of the Hybrid’s handling package is torque steer, which plagues many overpowered front-wheel-drive cars. Put your foot to the floor and the Hybrid will reward you with a slight tug to one side on the steering wheel and a chirp from the tires, which is only the churning brew of gasoline and electricity under the hood trying to assert itself.

But who thought that would ever be said about a five-passenger hybrid family car?

OK, a 0-to-60 time of 7.1 seconds isn’t sport sedan quick, but it beats the four-cylinder gasoline Accord with a CVT by a half a second. Oh, it is also quicker than those other hybrid family sedans. You know, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

Of course rapid starts and exuberant driving takes a toll on fuel economy and isn’t what the Accord Hybrid is about. After a couple of hours and 67 miles of “having some fun,” the instrument panel readout was 37.2 mpg.

A week with the Hybrid and the odometer had added 362.3 miles. Part of our time spent was in Seattle where we logged 63 miles with its steep hills and often narrow streets. The balance of our driving included 167 miles of Interstate and two-lane highways plus, 65 miles of the typical in-town daily errands in our hometown of Olympia.

With the exception of our having-some-fun time, we engaged the Eco mode that softens the powertrain response and operates the climate controls at a conservative setting.

The combination of Eco, a light foot on the accelerator that resulted in driving on battery power much of the time and careful braking, our 65 miles of in-town driving yielded 59.8 mpg. At week’s end, our combined mpg tallied 51.1 – 4 mpg better than the EPA rating.

Honda is the uncommon mainstream carmaker directed by an engineering mindset, and the engineer’s desire for mechanical parts to operate in harmony pervades the Accord Hybrid. There’s a distinct natural feel to the control effort – turn the steering wheel and response is smooth and linear. What you ask the car to do, it does, and in just the doses you request.

A new front suspension employing vertical struts communicates the tires’ interaction with the pavement to further boost confidence. But it’s really a matter of degree, because the Hybrid is not embarrassed by a twisty road.

No midsize car beats Accord’s firm but composed ride quality. A new mechanical damping system uses two pistons. One is tuned to small imperfections on smoother roads; the other tames rough roads, potholes and sudden steering or braking action.

Engineers crafted a more efficient regenerative braking system called Electro Servo Braking. It’s a hydraulic system activated by an electronic actuator, and regenerative braking begins the moment the foot is lifted from the accelerator. In addition to the payoff in efficiency, the brakes stop the car with reassuring quickness without the mushy feeling associated with regenerative brakes.

Using the electric motor as the transmission, like an all-electric car, the motor’s instantly available torque accelerates the Hybrid rapidly from stop. The E-CVT replicates the feel of a traditional set up quite well, however while accelerating at around 28 mph, engine revs wanted to catch up with actual speed much like a conventional CVT. This was a little disconcerting at first, but after a couple of days wasn’t noticed.

The overall handling and ride quality of the 2014 Accord establishes new standards for the midsize class. Add to that an interior that is pleasantly hushed with only appropriate feedback of road noise and the package is likely sending competitors back to their drawing boards.

Bottom Line – Competition/Pricing

At first glance Honda’s pricing of $29,945 for the base model 2014 Accord Hybrid is anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 more than midsize hybrid competitors. Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is the lowest priced starting at

Honda-Accord-Hybrid-MPG-fuel economy

Fun & 50 MPG – Honda Accord Hybrid Hits It!

$26,445. It’s followed by the Kia Optima Hybrid, $26,700; Toyota Camry Hybrid, $27,140; and the Ford Fusion Hybrid, $27,990.

Take a close look and you will find that Honda doesn’t offer options ala carte. Instead, it favors a model hierarchy in which equipment multiplies as you ascend the price ladder. This can make the Accord Hybrid’s prices appear higher than those of direct competitors, but optioned similarly, bottom lines among the group aren’t usually far apart.

If you’re comparing the Hybrid with the standard Accord, the base Hybrid is equipped similarly to the Accord EX, priced at $26,470, which makes for around a $3,000 price differential compared to the standard Accord.

Once upon a time, we all figured extreme fuel efficiency would be the modern hair shirt – righteous but painful.

Honda gives lie to those dire expectations with the 2014 Accord Hybrid. With it, we have entered a new world of mainstream motoring: Look around at all the inefficient, uninspiring cars on the road. Given the option of driving the one that is ultimately efficient and surprisingly fun, who wouldn’t come up with the extra three bills?

Photos from the manufacturer

Posted Jan. 24, 2014

Other related stories you might enjoy:

My Top High-MPG Cars of 2013

Top 10 Best-Fuel Economy Cars of 2014

Honda Plug-In Accord Hits Emission Milestone

Honda Plug-In Accord Review

 

 

My Top 10 High-MPG Cars of 2013

My Top 10 High-MPG Cars of 2013

My Year of Driving the Latest Electric, Gasoline and Diesel Technology Cars.

silicon valley,advanced car,tech car,future car

At Silicon Valley Reinvents the Automobile

What a year! No one should doubt that 2013 was a breakthrough year for advanced technology vehicles, whether running on electricity, gasoline, diesel or some combination of the three.  The choices expanded, prices dropped and infrastructure exploded (for plug-ins). This year presents an abundance of riches; as I wrote earlier, we (at least we in California) now have 10 pure electric vehicles to choose from–and 2014 promises and expanded roster of choices. I had the opportunity this year to sample more than half of those available. Add in plug-in hybrids and the list of EV choices almost doubles, while traditional hybrids, clean diesels and high-MPG gasoline vehicles ranks keep growing both in number and popularity.

This year I also had the opportunity to help organize two glimpses at the automotive future — the Western Automotive Journalists’ “Silicon Valley Reinvents the Automobile” and “Future Cars-Future Technology” events. Those programs whetted my appetite for what is coming soon and alerted me to much that is already making its way into our cars and advancing their efficiency.

I didn’t get into every vehicle available this year, so this comes from a limited sample that focuses on the new vehicles. My biggest takeaway from 2013–the toughest job for a new car purchaser is sorting out what vehicle or vehicles can deliver the best for his/her situation. It’s never a matter of pure MPG (or MPGe for the plug-ins), but the type of vehicles that functions for you.

Here are the highlights of the year from my drives with some notes about how the vehicles fit into the many lifestyles out there. The choices are amazing and have been getting better every year. I’m really looking forward to 2014!

Also, I have to add a few more to the Top 10 in a couple categories just because so much has happened this year.

1. 2014 BMW i3 – both EV and range-extended EV.  I had the opportunity this year to help out BMW on a project introducing the new 2014 i3 to some folks just after its official “launch” and managed to spend several days squiring around three versions of the lead vehicle in the company’s new “i” division. With this car, available as a pure electric and also with a range-extending motor, BMW follows its Mini-E and Active-E programs with “the real thing.” This car has so much going for it, from a carbon fiber monocoque to a plethora of environmentally friendly features to a price that makes it one of the more affordable BMWs, it’s hard to step back and analyze it.

In my time in the preproduction i3, the reactions to it were almost universally positive. Some skeptics questioned its unique

BMW,i3,electric car,i brand

BMW introduces the i3

styling, but that appears to be one the points BMW is making. When you see an i3, you won’t mistake it for any other BMW – or any other car on the road. Though small, it’s highly functional, with decent room for four adults (with rear seat access through a hidden rear half-door) and cargo space via the rear hatch. The lightweight car has ample power from its 125 kW electric motor and carried 22 kWh of liquid-cooled lithium-ion batteries underneath its floor panels. Range is expected to be somewhere south of 100 miles and its EPA (MPGe) will probably slot it right in the pack of current similar-size electric cars. With its small range-extender engine and 9-liter gas tank, the i3 will cost a little more but still only deliver about 180 miles or range, keeping the i3 as primarily an urban vehicle.

BMW’s approach with the i3 is to present a unique vehicle, a la the Toyota Prius, that is identifiable not only as an BMW and an EV, but one that the company hopes will become the icon of electrics. If that happens, it will displace the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, who, along with the less common Tesla Model S, currently hold that mantle. Early orders from dealers (it will be available nationwide before midyear 2014) have BMW execs excited that they may have a hit on their hands. Tracking the rollout of the i3 during 2014 is one of the stories we’re looking forward to for this coming year. Our experience up to this point indicates that the i3 will delight purchasers the same way the Mini-E and Active-E have. In fact, we predict the i3 will let BMW put its mark on the EV world very quickly.

2. 2013 Ford Fusion Energi – a versatile, stunning cruiser.  Spending a week with the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi, the plug-in version of Ford’s best-selling midsize sedan, was eye-opening.  After driving small  EVs, the Fusion seemed and was a spacious vehicle.  A midsize sedan, it could handle five passengers in comfort, or in my use scenario, three adults and luggage for a 600-mile weekend roundtrip. With the battery taking up a portion of the trunk, space was at a premium, but the Fusion handled it all with aplomb.  Most enjoyable of all, it didn’t miss a beat on the open highway, delivering a great, comfortable ride balanced with good road feel and handling. Fuel economy was not the 100 MPGe you get plugging it in for local drives, but solidly above 40 MPG on the highway and combined.

The 2-liter Atkinson-cycle gas engine was fine around town and on the highway at speed, but strained on steep hills. The test model came loaded with all the latest technology, including optional active park assist,

adaptive cruise control, rear view video camera and driver assist package with lane keeping and cross traffic alert. With all this technology and a 17-mile all-electric range, the Fusion Energi is the harbinger of future automated cars. It’s standard technology is designed to aid the driver in his/her quest to obtain the best fuel economy. The system teaches you quickly how to brake to maximize captured energy, extending the EV-only range and increasing efficiency.

All in all, the $39,495 (including $795 destination charge) Fusion Energi is full of style and substance. According to EPA

Ford,Fusion,Energi,plug-in car, hybrid

Ford has a plug-in version of its best-selling Fusion sedan

calculations, this model will save you $6,850 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average midsize sedan. Of course, if you have a short commute and can plug in at home and work, you can extend the electric range and increase those savings. As it is, Ford’s 2014 pricing has the Energi model starting $8,470 more than the Hybrid model, which in turn is $4,300 more than the standard Fusion. Some quick addition and you can see the Energi models costs almost $13,000 more than the base Fusion. While it may have a higher level of standard equipment, it’s clear that five years of “normal” driving are not going to recoup the additional cost. However, you also can factor in cash incentives in some states and a federal tax credit. In addition, because of its EV-capability the Energi is eligible for solo HOV-lane access in California, which offers a value for commuters that is sometimes hard to measure in dollars.

Fiat’s fun 500e

3. 2013 Fiat 500e – spunky gas-free fun. I gave this little electric car two thumbs up when I drove it earlier in the year. It remains the most fun EV I’ve driven and, while not the most practical car because of its small size (and miniscule back seat), it delivers so much in power and handling that it should be on the shopping list of anyone looking at electric cars. The best news is that, while eligible for all of the EV incentives and perks, the Fiat has a retail lease for the same price as its gas cousins.

4. 2013 Toyota RAV4 EVthe only SUV EV. This would seem like a no-brainer. Take Toyota’s bulletproof reputation for quality and hybrid leadership, add in some Tesla EV powertrain magic and drop it into a proven model (one that even has an EV heritage). The 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV has all that and its only limitations appear to be a high sticker price ($49,800 for the 2014 model) and limited availability (Toyota plans to build only a few thousand RAV4 EVs to meet its obligation under the California ZEV Mandate).

With a 100-mile range from its 115 kW electric motor and 845 pounds of battery (with a 35 kWh capacity), the RAV4 EV delivers the typical quiet, smooth and powerful electric vehicle experience. The preproduction prototype I drove was well put together. The model offers the high driving position of an SUV and all of the SUV functionality as the battery doesn’t intrude into the cargo area. Charging on anything less than a 30 amp, 240-volt charger is tedious, though, taking 12-15 hours on a 16-amp station and almost two days using a 120 volt wall plug. Toyota does

encourage installation of a home charger and works with Leviton as their preferred provider, offering reasonable prices for the chargers and installation.

My only issue with the RAV4 EV is one I’ve found on several Toyotas I’ve driven–it doesn’t seem to have much personality. It’s

Toyota,RAV4 EV,electric car,SUV

RAV4 EV assumes the position

functional, does everything asked and performs as well as much of its competition, but the steering and road handling lack the input I’ve come to expect from the best models coming from Europe, America and Asia. Unlike the Fiat 500e or some of the other models on this list, the RAV4 EV doesn’t leave a memorable driving experience. But what it has going for it is that it’s the only pure electric SUV available, offering the same 70 cubic feet of cargo space (behind the front seats) as the gasoline version. Of course, it’s front-wheel drive only, but then again it’s not likely you’re going to take a 100-mile range vehicle too far into the outback.

5. 2014 Jeep Cherokee – taking Jeep into new territory in looks and efficiency.  Jeep hasn’t made its reputation on styling and fuel economy. It’s know for outstanding off-road ability wrapped in a traditional-looking package and a variety of comfort features that have made it more and more car-like over the years.

The new Cherokee, which I took on a brief test drive, is an impressive step forward. As someone who spent more than half a decade at a magazine dedicated to Jeeps and 4x4s, I witnessed the introduction of the midsize XJ Cherokee in the 1980s, a revolution for Jeep that brought unibody construction to an off-road vehicle and started the movement to upgraded interiors in SUVs.

Jeep,Cherokee,fuel economy,mpg,suv,awd

Jeep’s new Cherokee is a looker that can perform

The old Cherokee was surpassed by the Ford Explorer and a variety of other SUVs that expanded the category to become essentially beefed up station wagons, some of which would potentially go off-road. The new Cherokee is a gauntlet tossed down by the new Chrysler/Fiat management, challenging this category once again to find a balance between style, rock-crawling capability and adding in fuel efficiency.

Pricing on the Cherokee appears to be as attractive as the stylish exterior, starting at $22,995 for a front-wheel drive version and ranging up to $29,995 for a 4WD Limited model.

My time in the Cherokee was brief so I didn’t get a chance to test its off-road abilities or do a full-tank fuel economy run, but the vehicle promises 31 mpg highway with its 2.4-liter MultiAir and 9-speed transmission. In Trailhawk trim has all of the 4WD features that have helped Jeep build and keep its off-road reputation. I’m looking forward to some extended seat time and a chance to see how this model lives up to the Jeep reputation.

6. 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel – the survival of the big SUV.  This is almost a no-brainer as well. Take an SUV with a solid reputation as both an off-roader capable machine and a smooth highway

Jeep’s New MPG Tool

operator and boost its fuel economy by 30 percent without sacrificing any performance. The Grand Cherokee, which once boasted a diesel engine borrowed from Mercedes, now gets one from Fiat. The 3-liter V-6 is quiet and powerful (240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque), capable of towing more than competitors’ V-8 engines. It’s fuel economy is 20 percent better than the Grand Cherokee’s base V-6 gas engine and more than 40

percent better than the V-8 option.

Again, I only had a brief drive, but as has been the case with the diesel option in the big German SUVs (Mercedes’ GL, Audi’s Q7 and BMW’s X5), I would expect that this will be a popular option in the Jeep. Chrysler added an 8-speed transmission to the diesel (and other engine offerings) as part of the MPG-boosting package. It looks like with 2014 models where the EcoDiesel is available, prices will start at around $46,000. This is another one I hope to get more time in during 2014 to get a better feel for how it operates in the real world.

7. 2013 Nissan Leaf – still the leading pure electric car. Like my colleague John Faulkner, I spent a week in a Nissan Leaf this year and came away impressed with the car’s capability. We may dwell too much on the shortcomings of an EV when the real story is how much utility they have. With its real-world 70-80 mile range, the Leaf can handle most commutes (especially if workplace charging is available) and make around town trips for days without recharging. I tested its range on one evening excursion and found that, combined with a smartphone app that shows available charging stations, trips at the edge of the range could be handled without stress.

The Leaf takes on the country

In addition to my week with the Leaf, I also had the opportunity to take one on an extended drive from the Nissan plant in Tennessee. That drive pointed out two shortcomings of the car: (1) long-legged drivers taller than 6-foot-2 are likely to find the cabin cramped and less than comfortable, and (2) the Leaf is not really cut out for freeway passing. As is always the case with EVs, you’re going to spend more time calculating the length, terrain and outside temperature on a given trip (compared to a conventional gas car), but the learning curve is short and your experience will quickly raise your confidence for making longer drives. However, it remains an unnerving experience to watch your range steadily drop as you power down the freeway at 70 mph; ironically, it reminds me of the gas guzzlers of the 1960s where you could sometimes see the gas gauge needle move when you got on the accelerator. The Leaf remains a smooth, quiet performer. It’s easy to operate and can actually accommodate five adults, at least for short runs, and still retains some storage space in the rear hatch. Its styling is distinctive without being too eccentric. With the price drop that Nissan engineering this year, the Leaf appears to be reaching an audience beyond the early adopters and is starting to find its way into the garages of folks just interesting in low-cost, low-emissions transportation.

The Leaf remains one of the premier ways of getting there on electrons alone and, at least in California, is one of the models dealers are offering with discount pricing, special lease deals and a variety of options.

8. 2013 Chevy Volt – the best of both worlds.  The Chevy Volt, like the Nissan Leaf, has made its mark in the EV world. Intrepid Clean Fleet Report reviewer John Faulkner called it “the best GM car for the money” and I would be hard-pressed to disagree. From the beginning more than two years ago the Volt has been a bargain given the technology involved in the car. It’s fascinatingly smooth and responsive, delivering a great driving experience along with its excellent fuel economy. Unlike my experience with the Leaf, trip planning was effortless as the gas-engine backup was always available. On the other hand, plugging in regularly made around-town driving a pure electric experience.

I found the Volt very stable in crosswinds, probably due to its low center of gravity created by 435 pounds of batteries arrayed down the center of the car. The electric drive was more than needed for freeway

Volt offers versatility

acceleration. It featured less aggressive regenerative braking than the Leaf, but still managed to extend its EV range. Even with an extended trip, I averaged just under 50 MPG with the Volt. It’s purely a 4-passenger vehicle, but the Volt has good room in the back seat and luxury appointments throughout. The luxury touches differentiate it from the Leaf, which has more of an everyman feel. Of course those luxury touches include options that took the price of the Volt I drove from just under $40,000 to more than $45,000.

It’s a lifestyle choice. The Leaf is a solid second car, potentially a commuter and definitely a go-anywhere-around-town champ. The Volt can do all of that and adds the ability to throw in a long-distance trip (250 miles round trip in my case) as well. Beyond functionality, the Volt does have more luxury appointments and imparts a more upscale aura. It’s not surprising the two models have become the poster children for the move to electric drive.

9. 2013 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI – a highway cruiser, SUV substitute. Let’s get this out of the way first. I really like diesels. Yes, the fuel is typically more expensive than gasoline. Yes, the stations are a little harder to find. Yes, the engines make a little more noise. But look what they offer in return for these “inconveniences” – great, consistent fuel economy, turbocharged power and, in the wagon version, a luggage-gobbling vehicle that keeps a sedan profile and road manners.

So, Volkswagen in the not-too-distant past had a period when it was known as the “diesel Rabbit” company since that was its best-selling (and almost only) product in the U.S. Those diesels, for those who remember them, were very fuel efficient, but also slow, loud and smelly. Thankfully, as VW enters a new diesel era, those attributes are, like the Rabbit diesel, a thing of the past. Today’s diesels, such as the Jetta Sportwagen TDI I drove, have great highway manners and are smooth around-town performers as well. It’s not hard to see why the vast majority (more than 80 percent) of Sportwagen’s leaving American showrooms sport TDI engines. My test model featured a smooth-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, black leatherette interior and a panoramic sunroof. At its heart (and soul, when you think about it) was a 2-liter, 140-horsepower, 236 lb-ft of torque four-cylinder diesel engine. As sweet as this engine is, delivering a consistent mid-40s MPG on the highway, VW is about to replace it next year. The new model will be smaller and lighter, get better fuel economy but produce more power and have even lower emissions.

The lack of options on my test Jetta kept its price down ($28,390 including destination charges), but other than an HVAC system that seemed overmatched by the California-Nevada deserts even in springtime, it didn’t seem to be missing much. The car was a comfortable highway cruiser, topping its EPA 42 MPG highway regularly even with the speedometer pegged between 75 and 80. Around town it delivered the 34 MPG as advertised and offers the height of functionality in a compact package.

10. 2013 Smart ED – finally getting it right. Up front, I should disclose that I owned a gasoline Smart for several years. I had no issues with the car, although it was limited in use because of its size. Smart cars are not long-distance highway runners and with only room for one passenger and several grocery bags, taking one on a Costco run would only end in frustration. So, in some ways, the Smart is one of the most logical cars to turn into an EV. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that its design from the beginning is suited for electric drive and other alternatives. Daimler AG’s decision to electrify the Smart makes sense since it already has limitations like most EVs – it’s primarily a city car built around short trips, tight parking places and fuel economy-minded individuals.

Mercedes-Benz,Smart,electric car, Smart EDThe Smart ED I drove this year represented the third generation of the electric Smarts, one that finally appears to have nailed it. The first round used zinc-based batteries that caused a variety of issues, according to reports at the time. The second generation, which I drove last year, leveraged Daimler’s relationship with Tesla for battery management and related technology. My brief drive at the time left me wondering whether Tesla really would make it (a concern since answered by the company’s solid performance this year). It lacked power, was wholly inadequate on the highway and just seemed ill-suited for anything but short, flat city drives.

Thankfully, the third generation of one the most oddly named (check out the disambiguation under “health”) cars on the market appears to have things sorted out. Daimler has again changed batteries (now a 17.6 kWh package from Deutsche ACCUmotive) and uses a 55 kW electric motor that I am happy to report from a short drive is more than adequate to California’s typical roads. Though only boasting a 60-80 mile range and costing almost double the gas version of the Smart, the Smart ED deserves a look for those into a city car lifestyle. The range is not an issue running around most urban areas and Smart is already running discount deals like the other EV makers.

Small but finally right.

——————————————————-

That’s my 10 best, most-interesting vehicles of the year that I had the pleasure of piloting. It is not everything I have driven or written about and unfortunately one of the downsides of this kind of format is that some deserving cars get left off for no reason other than they’re the 11th or 12th most interesting cars of the year. In a field with the potential of hundreds of vehicles, ranking that “low” is not really a negative mark, so here are a couple just below the Top 10.

One that my colleague John Faulkner has had a chance to evaluate fully is the Jetta Hybrid. I was fascinated by the technology involved. Unlike many other hybrids out there, the Jetta focuses not only on fuel economy (which it delivers quite well, though I was never able to equal the EPA highway or combined ratings of 48 and 40 MPG) but also on performance. The turbocharged engine delivers great low-end torque and also was responsive throughout the powerband. Jetta’s hybrid features aggressive regenerative braking a feature that was unnerving at first – coasting on the highway the engine will shut off, then instantly restart whenever you touch the accelerator.

Another model that didn’t make my list, but is worth mentioning in a positive light is the latest version of the Honda Civic Natural Gas. Having been in earlier versions of the Civic GX, I was expecting to be underwhelmed. The experience was just the opposite. The Civic running on natural gas was as close to a gasoline Civic as one could expect. Filling up on CNG is getting easier as well, though I still consider this model as much of a challenge as an EV and in some ways even more because of lack of development of a home refueling infrastructure.

Those two are relatively easy (and I could probably expand the list as well), but there were also two vehicles I experienced this year that not only would not make my Top 10 list, they would be unlikely to end up on my recommended list at all. That said, both vehicles have their adherents.  The Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Prius c are two vehicles that live at the bottom, price-wise of their respective classes. Unfortunately, my experience with them only reinforces that sometimes you get what you pay for.

The i-MiEV is the adaptation of a Japanese market vehicle and while the changes for this country are noticeable and positive, it’s not enough to make this a competitive vehicle among electrics. With the price wars, EV affordability has become something of a level playing field and Mitsubishi’s competitors offer much more in vehicle comfort and features. It’s not that the i-MiEV is not a competent and functional electric car. It works, but acceleration lacks what is found on the Fiat 500e or RAV4 EV. Its steering is somewhat vague after driving European or most American sedans. If there were no other EVs out there or no other price competitive EVs, you could probably make a case for the i-MiEV, but that is not the case.

The smaller Prius – less is less

My time in the Prius c was limited, but I did get a chance to give it a pretty thorough challenge on the road, heading up over the Laureles Grade in Carmel Valley and hitting some high-speed roads around Monterey. The “c,” which adopted the Prius name even though it is based on the smaller Yaris platform, is a compact car based on the EPA’s interior volume characterization, but it feels more like a subcompact. Toyota advertises the “c” as the “snug Prius,” which I can’t argue with. It’s small and has a proportionately small engine that didn’t appreciate the extreme grade I pushed it up. Handling also seemed kind of soft, but not out of line for Toyota’s approach to the U.S. market.

The Prius c’s main appeal seems to be its low price. Since its introduction, the “c” has been the entry-level Prius, allowing the larger original Prius to move upward in price and options. It does deliver on fuel economy, but for me the sacrifice in performance and space is not worth the meager savings.

My final category is a twofer – the prototypes I’ve driven and the ones I’m looking forward to in the coming year, some of which are the same. First up is the E-Golf, which I’ve driven in several prototype forms over the past couple years. The models I’ve driven seemed ready to head to the showroom, but it will probably be late next year before the electric Golf shows up on these shores. I did take a short drive in the Chevy Spark EV (and John Faulkner gave it a full review). I plan to put some time in one soon to see how it fits in the developing hierarchy of electric cars. My initial impression is pretty positive. Of course, high on my list of unobtainium is the Tesla Model S. I have a neighbor with one and see them daily (haven’t seen one on fire yet–that’s a joke, Elon), but haven’t given one a proper test, although again all reports I’ve seen and heard have been quite positive. And add the new fuel cell Hyundai Tucson that goes on sale this spring. And I’m sure there will be some good surprises as well. Happy New Year, indeed!

Story & Photos by Michael Coates

Posted Dec. 30, 2013

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Elon Musk Explains Electric Car Energy Density

Elon Musk Explains Electric Car Energy Density

And May Reveal More About the Hurdles EVs Face Than He Meant

Tesla model S-Elon Musk-energy density

Energy Density Limits EVs

After a fire apparently caused by a Tesla Model S hitting some debris on the road, Tesla CEO jumped into the media fray with a letter addressing the incident.  While Musk’s defense of the safety of the Model S, particularly in relation to a gas-fueled car, is well-taken, part of his letter responding to the fire (which was followed by two other fires soon after) also revealed one of the ongoing hurdles faced by electric vehicles. In spite of EVs’ great efficiency, their “fuel” doesn’t approach the density of gasoline. Here’s the key portion of Elon’s letter:

Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse. A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground. In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10% of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1% that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan. [As printed in AutoWeek magazine]

As Musk noted, the combustion energy of the Model S battery pack is only about 10 percent of the energy contained in a typical gasoline tank. But it is not only the combustion energy of a battery pack that is significantly lower than gasoline, but it’s energy density, particularly when looked at on an energy/kg basis. According to a good summary on Science 2.0, gasoline has an energy density of 44 MJ/kg while lithium-ion batteries are about 1/16th of that. In a nutshell, that helps explain why it takes only a few gallons of gasoline to take a car the same distance that would require several hundred pounds of batteries in an electric car.

The Science 2.0 author adds – and I would agree – that the energy density issue does not negate the value of EVs or their technology, it merely points out the challenges of the real world. Of course, Musk can counter that his $80,000+ Model S can take you more than 250 miles, but for those looking at electric cars in the price range of an average car, the real world limit on a charge is closer to 100 miles at best. The energy density issue remains the challenge that battery developers must overcome, along with cost issues, in order to offer an electric car that is a true alternative to today’s efficient gas and diesel cars.

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Electric Cars Are Cleaner Today and Will Only Get Cleaner Tomorrow

Electric Cars Are Cleaner Today and Will Only Get Cleaner Tomorrow

By Max Baumhefner and Cecilia Springer*

Uncovering a fraud is uniquely satisfying, which is perhaps why news outlets continue to provide electric car deniers with a platform to proclaim they aren’t as green as they appear. But close examination reveals the latest round of skeptics to be lacking in substance. Numerous peer-reviewed articles have reached the same conclusion — from cradle to grave, electric cars are the cleanest vehicles on the road today. And unlike cars that rely on oil, the production of which is only getting dirtier over time, the environmental benefits of electric cars will continue to improve as old coal plants are replaced with cleaner sources and manufacturing becomes more efficient as it scales up to meet growing consumer demand.

“Did you account for the pollution from the electricity it takes to power the vehicles?”

This question has been asked and answered. Using today’s average American electricity mix of natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, geothermal, and solar, an electric car emits half the amount of harmful carbon pollution per mile as the average new vehicle. In states with cleaner mixes, such as California, it’s only a quarter as much. To find out how clean your electric car would be today, plug your zip code into the EPA’s “Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator.” Those benefits will only improve as the electric grid becomes cleaner over time.

Before NRDC began advocating for vehicle electrification, we did our own homework, publishing a two-volume report in partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute. The work took almost two years and concluded that a long-term shift to the use of electricity as a transportation fuel provides substantial reductions in carbon pollution and air quality benefits.

It’s essential to take a long view when examining vehicle electrification because the electric grid doesn’t stand still. Since the time we published that report, the EPA has adopted power plant standards for mercury and other air toxics, ozone-forming emissions, fine particulate pollution, soot and coal ash, proposed standards for greenhouse gases from new power plants, and has been directed by the president to adopt greenhouse gas standards for existing plants. Meanwhile, twenty-nine states have adopted renewable energy targets to reduce emissions. Driving on renewable electricity is virtually emissions-free.

“Did you account for the resources it takes to build the cars?”

Producing an electric car today requires more resources than producing a conventional vehicle, generally due to the large batteries. However, comparing the efficiency of relatively nascent and small scale electric vehicle manufacturing to the efficiency of conventional automobile production, which has benefited from more than a century of learning-by-doing, is misleading. Automakers are racing to save money and materials through recycling and more efficient production. Those who win the race will win the market.

Even with today’s technology, on a lifecycle basis, the electric car is still the cleanest option available. Higher emissions from manufacturing are more than offset by the substantial benefits of driving on electricity. We examined six peer-reviewed academic studies and found that in every case, electric vehicles win by a substantial margin, with estimates ranging from 28 to 53 percent lower crade-to-grave emissions than conventional vehicles today.[1]

Opponents often rely upon the original version of a Norwegian study (Hawkins 2012), which has much higher estimates of emissions associated with the production of electric cars. Those skeptics generally cherry-pick from the original version of that article, and ignore the fact it was corrected post-publication, resulting in its estimate of the comparative emissions benefit rising from 22 percent to 28 percent. In other words, even the source relied upon by skeptics shows a substantial lifecycle advantage for electric cars.  The Norwegian study finds the lowest benefit relative to the other articles examined partially because it includes an estimate of emissions associated with the disposal of advanced battery materials that is higher than other studies, which brings us to the next question:

 “What about mining and disposing of the materials needed to make the batteries?”

First off, there is no shortage of the materials needed to make advanced vehicle batteries. A recent article in the Journal of Industrial Ecology concludes, “even with a rapid and widespread adoption of electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, lithium resources are sufficient to support demand until at least the end of this century.” Another analysis of the trade constraints associated with the global lithium market came to a similar conclusion, and noted that even a “five-fold increase of lithium price would not impact the price of battery packs.” Furthermore, companies like Simbol Materials are already finding innovative ways to acquire lithium by harvesting materials from the brine of geothermal power plants — no mining required.

Secondly, advanced vehicle batteries are unlikely to be simply thrown away; they’re too valuable. Even once they’re no longer suitable for automotive use, they retain about 80 percent of their capacity and can be re-purposed to provide grid energy storage to facilitate the integration of variable renewable resources, such as wind and solar. Automotive batteries can also be re-purposed to support the electrical grid at the neighborhood level, preventing the need to invest in costly distribution system equipment. Pacific Gas & Electric plans to use money saved through the strategic deployment of used battery packs in neighborhoods throughout Northern and Central California to provide electric car drivers with rebates to reduce the purchase price of new electric cars.

Finally, those batteries that aren’t re-purposed will likely be recycled. Conventional vehicle manufacturing is one of the most efficient industries in the world – around 95 percent of vehicle parts are recycled, reducing the energy needed to make more parts.  It is worth noting that conventional lead-acid car batteries are consistently the most recycled product for which the EPA provides data, with a recycling rate of 96 percent. Advanced battery recycling could cut associated emissions in half, according to a 2012 study from researchers at Argonne National Laboratory.  Companies are already investing in such technologies.

In summary, a sustained and serious examination of the cradle-to-grave impacts of electric cars reveals they are the cleanest option available today, and that the environmental benefits of vehicle electrification will only increase over time. That’s not only good news for the eco-conscious, but for any consumer interested in driving on a cleaner fuel at a price equivalent to buck-a-gallon gasoline. For more, see Real Oil Independence: Buck-a-Gallon Electricity for Life.

History and Forecast

*Cecilia Springer is an associate at Climate Advisers, where she manages projects on transportation and sustainable supply chains.

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