To EV or Not To EV: Are You Ready for an Electric Vehicle?

May 10, 2013
Josh Goldman
Former contributor

Q: I’m interested in buying a new car, and am considering an electric vehicle (EV), but am worried that they are too expensive, or I’m going to run out of battery charge and be stranded. Should I still consider an EV?

A: Absolutely!

Hello world! I am your newly minted blogger from the Union of Concerned Scientists Clean Vehicles program and am thrilled to start providing diligent U.S blog readers – or just those passing by while surfing an internet wave – with unique and creative content related to how people and goods get from point A to point B.

Ask and ye shall receive

How will I provide such unique content? Well, this blog is not only a virtual soapbox for me to inform the public of what’s happening in the world of the UCS Clean Vehicles program, but also exists for me to respond to questions from YOU – the well-informed UCS blog reader.

What are you interested in? What do you want to know more about? I’m here to help and am armed with the content knowledge of my amazing colleagues combined with the over 400,000 UCS members and supporters, and also dual-monitors that I’m not afraid to use. In fact, my IT department strongly encourages I use them, considering I requested an additional monitor every day for a month.

So, without further ado, let’s get the ball rolling with the above question I received from my father-in-law.

Get thee to a charging station!

EV Charging Station

Photo: NCDOT

Many potential electric vehicle (EV) owners are reluctant to dive into the world of running on electricity because of range anxiety, which is the fear of running out of electricity without a 50-mile extension cord to plug into the nearest wall socket. This is a fair point, but it is important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all EV technology.

Different drivers need different options, and while a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) like the Nissan Leaf might not be the right fit for someone whose daily commute is longer than the Leaf’s driving range, it might be for someone who has a daily drive of 10, 15, or even 50 miles roundtrip (the 2013 Leaf’s driving range is about 75 miles per charge).

If you’re looking for an EV that you can take out of town on a weekend and not worry about plugging in, perhaps a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) like the Chevrolet Volt or plug-in Prius might be a better fit. These vehicles include gasoline engines as well, and operate like regular hybrids after the electricity runs out – thereby alleviating range anxiety while providing the climate and oil saving benefits of a full electric vehicle on shorter trips and the long range of a very efficient hybrid car.

But don’t take it from me. I don’t own an EV, and rely on my trusty, and rusty, 10-speed bicycle, so I asked Ed Lewis, long-time UCS member, ergonomics engineer, and clean energy and transportation advocate living outside Denver who happens to own a Tesla Model S sedan, what it’s actually like to drive a vehicle without an internal combustion engine.

“It’s incredible. I’m driving oil-free, producing no tailpipe emissions and the electric motor has immediate torque as soon as you hit the floor it goes as fast as its gonna go – maybe spinning the tires a little bit.”

Whoa there Ed. Since the Model S can travel up to 265 miles on a single charge, Ed can drive a fair ways in his home state of Colorado without worrying about running out of battery charge – and when he is driving locally he may go weeks without charging at all. On longer trips, Ed uses one of the 5,800 charging stations publicly available around much of the U.S., including those in the Denver area at stores like the Walgreens a mile from his home. These impressive stats are one of the major reasons why Tesla has forecasted its first quarterly profit and Consumer Reports has rated the Model S as the highest performing car – ever.

Put money in thy purse

Now, perhaps the Tesla Model S is too pricey, or you’re not ready for a battery electric vehicle. No worries, there are a plethora of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) on showroom floors today that combine the climate and oil savings benefits of a full electric vehicle with the long range of a super-efficient hybrid car. UCS members Jim and Barbara Peugh decided to go the hybrid route nearly a decade ago by purchasing their first Prius, and recently took their oil savings to a new level by purchasing a plug-in Prius in 2012.

I asked Jim what their new car was like to drive. “For this car, it’s no hassle. If I forget to plug it in I still get 50 mpg, so there’s no loss, no anxiety. And, I’m saving money on gas, and hardly notice the bump in my electricity bill each month.”

Despite often higher sticker prices, battery electric and plug-in hybrid EVs save owners money on fuel costs. For example, a typical midsize battery EV like the Nissan Leaf could save its owner nearly $13,000 on fuel costs compared with a compact gasoline-powered vehicle with average fuel economy and the PHEV Chevy Volt can save owners up to $890 each year even when considering the cost to “fill up” with electricity. Check out how much you could save with the handy chart found on page 21 of the UCS State of Charge report. Now that consumers are realizing the savings and emissions benefits of these vehicles, it’s no wonder why EV sales are charging (a pun!) forward.

Be not afraid of greatness

So, is an EV right for my father-in-law? Well, if he wants to save money on fuel, reduce emissions, and help cut our oil use in half in twenty years – yes! And if an EV is right for him – it can be right for you too.

Ed certainly agrees that EVs are not only ready for mass consumption, but are a historic opportunity – “this isn’t some pie in the sky technology, it’s a solution that is here today and is a key long-term strategy for addressing the high public health, climate, and economic costs of our oil use.” Now isn’t that something we should all invest in?

Have a question for Josh?  Leave one in the comments section below!