Electric Cars Not Ready For Prime Time
by Scott Cox
posted Mar 7 2011 12:00AM
There have been a couple of major electric car launches lately- I know, because I attended both of them. Major car companies are throwing tons of cash into research and development, and I assume that they want to turn that seed money into profits in a few years, but from what i've seen, they may be fighting a losing battle. I'm all in favor of new technologies, but today's batteries may well not make the jump to tomorrow's cars. Before you lay down your hard-earned green on the latest green tech, keep in mind that these cars are designed to be urban transport- getting you from A-B as long as A and B are not too far apart. Fine for most American's commutes, but not quite up to a trip to the coast. I guess the idea is to have an electric vehicle for getting to work, and maybe even a few errands, then have a gas-powered car for weekend trips. Sounds pretty good if you have the means (and storage space) for the extra car, but if you want to be a single-car owner, the practicality factor is just too low for most of us. Also, when you are checking out the electric vehicle of your choice, make sure you know the rate of return of battery power over time. One manufacturer I spoke with told me that their car should deliver about 85% of it's charge after 4 years. One thing i've learned from dealing with car company execs, it's that you should be wary when they use the word "about". Assuming this estimate IS true, after a few years your electric car with an estimated range of 60-130 miles, is now potentially good for 48-104. And these estimates are based on one occupant on flat ground on a test track with no wind and no climate control. Your mileage WILL vary. Mix in a couple of hills or the heater or A/C, and all bets are off. Driving style will also be a huge variable. Keep these things going fast enough to keep the guy in the lifted 4x4 behind you from going all Bigfoot on you, and you'll deplete your precious voltage even faster.
So what is the current (pun intended) hot setup for people who want to go green/save money on gas? After all, fuel prices are rocketing up, and I think to stay this time. Hybrid tech has been hit-and-miss. Toyota stepped up to the plate first, and hit the first pitch out of the park. Remember the first time you saw a Prius? My brother-in-law got one when they first came out, and I can remember my brother and I calling him a hippie on my mom's front porch. That kind of thing seems pretty funny when gas is $3 a gallon. When it starts bumping up against $4, the joke is on us. And so it is. On the other side of the coin is the Chevy Volt. GM bet the farm on this thing, and the reviews have been distinctly unkind. Consumer Reports called it "not very efficient as an electric vehicle, and not very efficient as a gas vehicle in terms of fuel economy". Even Dale Earnhardt Jr.- a guy on the Chevy payroll, said that the Volt is “good product” but the “technology isn’t there yet really to provide the consumer with something that can go a little further [in mileage] than that and do a little bit better job with that.”. I assume that there was some type of meeting with someone from GM after he said that. This car pairs electric technology with a small, 40 hp gas engine, thus increasing it's range. So when you run out of juice, you're driving a very under-powered car. And this thing costs $41K, and uses premium fuel. And last time I checked, they have sold a grand total of 280 volts nationwide. Wow. It just seems to me that the best of the hybrids available today are so good that they will continue to make the most sense for anyone who wants to save gas. Even if the Prius doesn't work for you, There's some great units out there from Ford, Honda, Lexus, Hyundai, and others. I've been driving a Toyota Highlander Hybrid lately, and getting all the utility of a fully capable SUV, while getting 28mpg around town. That might not sound like a game-changer, but consider that most rigs of equal size and heft turn in mileage numbers in the teens. The LOW teens. The message here is that car companies are sorting it out- giving us practical, real-world cars that will do the job with a lot less fuel. Need a family sedan? The Hybrid Camry gets 34 mpg, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid does too. I've driven both, and they're darn good cars. Load them up with people and gear, and drive as far and as fast if you want. And one car is all you need.
I don't mean to knock all these new attempts at building the future of transportation. If you want one, get it while you still get the $7500 incentive check from the feds. And good for car companies willing to invest in ANYTHING that will save us money. As for me, I want to save gas as much as anybody. (The planet too, I guess, but mostly gas). The single best thing you can do to make our country more energy-independent is to burn less gas. Wanna flip a bil 'ol bird to the middle east? Tired of having the price of gas shoot up over "unrest in the Arab world"? Get a hybrid. And at some point in the future, we'll find out what the new tecnology will be. Who knows? maybe the guys and gals who bought electric cars, or Volts, may end up like my brother-in law- having the last laugh. I hope they do. I just think it'll be a few years coming.