• Autism Speaks

Dec
7

The Electric Vehicle Conversion in the U.S.

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The U.S. automobile market is finally experiencing an electric vehicle conversion with Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf sales soaring. But why did it take so long?

First, and probably foremost in a society that links personal identity with automobile ownership, these have traditionally been, well….ugly. Why was it necessary to make electric cars look like some kind of reject from Mars? Only the most eco-conscious and techno geeks were able to overlook the ‘look’ and step into one of these vehicles. Remember the EV1?

Second, they are expensive. An electric vehicle will set you back an average of $10,000 extra over an equivalent gas burning model. Recently, however, tax credits have offset that cost and made all-electric and hybrid vehicles a more economical choice.

Third, they had extremely limited travel range, low power and top speeds that left you in the slow lane on the highway. Until recently most electric vehicles could travel an average of 45 to 60 miles on a single charge, and would take approximately 7 hours to re-power  Consider how long it would take to travel from Boston to New York using those figures.  But modern-day electric vehicles have answered these issues, mostly by adding gas-powered generators and the ability to switch to gas when the battery is fully discharged, taking a lot of the worry out of driving one of these technological wonders. Consider the Chevy Volt, which only travels 38 miles on electricity alone, but extends that range to 380 miles with a gas-powered electric generator, and accelerates from 0 to 60 in a mere 9 seconds. The Nissan Leaf is truly all-electric and has a range of 73 miles and a top speed of 90 mph.

Fourth, there has always been the issue of where to charge the car when the battery runs out. Not a problem at home, but a decided issue when out on the road. A sure sign that electric vehicles are now mainstream is the appearance virtually everywhere of electric vehicle charging stations. Now EV owners have convenient options for charging their vehicles away from home.

There are still some challenges that electric vehicles must overcome. In order to achieve long-range mileage they do have to use some gasoline, which means they are not emissions free. Even without the need for gas-powered generators, they still use electricity, and that electricity  is more or less ‘green’ depending upon how it was produced. If you live in an area of the country that uses primarily coal-fired electric plants it’s not as green as an area using primarily nuclear sources. Then too, how economical the electric engine is in comparison to its internal combustion counterpart varies with the cost of gas in your region of the country.  The July 2012 issue of Car and Driver has a nifty map (Nissan Leaf Color Tour) showing the equivalent fuel cost in $/gallon across the U.S., and there’s a huge variance. So don’t assume that you are necessarily saving on your fuel costs.

Overall electric vehicles remain a better option for the short-distance commuter than for road travelers, but the technology is advancing year by year. And as the following post states, they are truly becoming mainstream.

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