Autos with Plugs: The Ecstasy ... and Hurry-Up-and-Wait Agony

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By: SGN Staff

 
 

Nissan Leaf

Do a video test drive of the Leaf

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Chevy Volt

Watch a video about the Volt

On the surface, it would seem we’re racing toward the day when our roads are filled with electric vehicles that plug into the grid at night:

  • Last year President Obama announced $2.4 billion in Recovery Act money to help achieve his goal of one million EVs by 2015.

  • Months later a group of business heavyweights launched the Electrification Coalition to promote mass deployment of EVs, suggesting a national goal that would essentially put 250 million EVs on the road within the next 30 years.

  •  Just this week the trade association representing battery, plug-in, hybrid and fuel cell electric drive technologies and infrastructure unveiled an action plan for Congress and the Administration to fast-track electric drive adoption.

And if you’ve caught clips from the recent auto shows it’s clear the manufacturers are on-board. Just about every major automaker has a hybrid or two in the works; many are touting plug-in hybrids and still others are planning to roll out pure EVs in the next couple of years. For a rundown of who’s planning what, read Is the Electric Car Revolution Finally Here?

 

But as positive as all of that sounds, there’s a hitch - or two or three.

 

1. Availability. Much of what the automakers are showing are concept cars that are still months if not years away from any kind of large-scale production. Exceptions are GM’s Chevy Volt and Nissan’s Leaf, which are expected to find their way to showroom floors later this year. And of course we’ve already swooned over the Tesla Roadster. Meanwhile BMW and Volvo are running limited EV pilots. Mitsubishi and Think City - both planning speedy commuter cars - are looking at 2011 dates ... and so it goes.

 

2. Cost. Until someone develops a lower-cost battery, PHEVs and EVs are going to be spendy. The Tesla Roadster (pictured at right) costs more than $100,000. Yes, Tesla’s Model S sedan expected in 2011 will be half that much. But a base price just shy of $50,000 is still not going to work for everyone. As GM’s Bob Lutz said recently: "Unless the price of gasoline goes up a lot, it's going to be very difficult making money on strongly hybridized cars, plug-in hybrids or vehicles like the Volt, because they contain a lot of cost and technology and will sell at relatively high prices.” The Volt will sell for around $40,000; Nissan is promising its Leaf will be affordable. But Pike Research throws a somewhat sobering curve ball with its projection that owning and driving an EV is not likely to be cheaper than using gasoline.

 

3. Range. If the goal is pure EV, what’s being called "range anxiety” will remain a stumbling block with consumers. They won’t want to get 40 miles away from home and discover there’s no charging station. That’s not a problem with hybrids, but if the goal is to ultimately wean ourselves from petroleum in the tank, extended battery life and ubiquitous charging options will have to be part of the mix sooner rather than later.

 

So where we are on the way to electrification of our transportation system remains a mishmash today - with plenty of fits and starts and differing opinions on who or what will grab market share when That said, we’ve compiled some great resources to help you stay current.

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