I’ve been driving a 100% electric car for a year now and thought I’d share impressions and results. This might help you decide whether an EV is right for you.
I’ve driven my Mitsubishi iMiEV 7000 miles. I haven’t had any mechanical or operational problems, or complaints about comfort or basic operations (seat belts, wipers, seat comfort, etc). I’ve never run out of charge, as the car keeps me well informed about remaining charge/range and I’m aware of where and how far I plan to drive in a day. The worst logistical problem I had was concern that a valet parking attendant wouldn’t know how to start my car.
I measured the plug-in wattage during recharging. Given the range (see below) and the costs of gasoline versus electricity, the fuel cost-per-mile is roughly the same as a gasoline car delivering 110 mpg.
I’ve noticed a slow but steady increase in the number of other EVs, mostly Leafs and Teslas, driving about town. (There are a few Volts around here. I’ve only noticed one Ford EV, but they’re less recognizable than the other EV models so I could’ve overlooked them). If this increase continues, it means EVs are morphing from “early adopter toys” to “mainstream consumer goods”. In keeping with that, the prices are dropping as with any new tech gizmo.
I think the EV is, right now, today, an excellent solution for some drivers. For others, it might remain unviable for a long time. Arguments about whether it is a perfect replacement for the gasoline car miss the point. A better question is, whether it’s a perfect replacement for your gasoline car.
What’s the range, really?
It’s hard to get straight answers about range. Published answers are full of disclaimers about what type of driving and so on. For my car, Mitsubishi claims a 92 mile range (which I never believed, expecting it to be marketing hype). The EPA rates it at 62. Consumer Reports claimed less than 50 miles. This has shaken my trust in Consumer Reports.
Here are some genuine numbers measured in the real world:
Urban and suburban streets (0 - 45 mph with occasional stop/start) - - 80 mile range(Yes, a battery-operated device will really zip along just fine at that speed. It takes some getting used to ("it works! it really works!"))
Moderate highway speed (60-65mph) - - 65 miles
Fast highway (70-80 mph) -- 50 miles
This is why nobody can give you a simple “range” answer. You need three numbers instead of one. Mixed driving, of course, will average between these numbers.
If you run the air conditioning, deduct about 5 miles at high speed, or 10 miles at low speed (because low speed means you’re runnng the AC for more hours to go the same distance) .
Heat is expensive. Reduce your range estimate by 35% or so when you run the heat. This could be a problem for you northerners. A workaround is to rely on the heated seats, the theory being that if your bum is warm you don’t mind chilly cabin air.
Driving up monster hills (like the one on rt 2222 near Ribelin Ranch Rd) causes a disconcerting plunge on the Remaining Miles indicator. However, coasting back down the hill on the return trip gives the satisfaction of seeing the remaining miles increase again (you even gain bars on the battery gauge) as the car converts gravity to stored charge.
You’re focused on the wrong thing. Range doesn’t matter.
EVs compete on who has the best range, but the real answer is that the range is Good Enough for you if it meets my official Range Equation:
R > C + 2E + 5Where R = Range, C = Commute, E = errand
In other words, your EV needs enough juice to do your daily commute, handle two typical errands, and reserve a cushion of five miles to avoid anxiety on the way home.
Example: suppose your personal stats are
(C)ommute = 30 miles round trip
(E)rrand = 8.5miles, if you average (grocery = 6 miles round trip) and (kids’ soccer = 11 miles)
C + 2E + 5 = 30 + 17 + 5 = 52
If your EV can go 52 miles, you’re all set. It’s a viable solution. After work and the second errand, plug it in to recharge while you sleep, and you’re ready to do it again tomorrow.
If you typically drive all day for work (field service, realtor, etc) then Tesla is the only EV that might be the right answer for you.
Charge time doesn’t matter. Public infrastructure doesn’t matter.
Charge the car at night. Who cares if it takes 3h or 8h? Your eyes are closed anyway.
Who cares if there are recharge stations all over town or not? You don’t need them because you’ve satisfied the Range Equation.
What does matter is that you have a reliable place to plug in overnight (such as your garage). If you don’t have that, then an EV might not be the right answer for you. You can pay an electrician to install 240V service in your garage, or (like me) just not bother, and recharge on an ordinary 120V outlet.
You need a strategy for long trips.
Forget about QuickCharge, utopian infrastructure, and so on. Most days your driving is about Commute and Errands (see Range Equation). Occasionally you want to drive to the coast or mountains, and you need a strategy to deal with this. Solutions include:
> Owning a gasoline car as well (e.g. “the spousemobile”)
> Buying a Volt instead of a pure EV
> Being willing to rent a car every time you decide to go out of town.
The rental might be $100 extra for that camping trip. You can think of it as part of the purchase price of your EV. Twenty camping trips = $2k. You’re still saving money overall, because:
It’s the Maintenance, Stupid.
This is a big plus for the EV.
1. Near zero scheduled maintenance
2. Very low wear-and-tear repairs
There are no oil changes, because there’s no oil.
There are no sparkplug changes (AKA “tuneups”), because there are no sparkplugs.
You never have to flush the radiator, because there’s no radiator.
You never have the following intermittent expensive repairs, because the thing to be repaired doesn’t exist: Leaky/broken radiator, failed starter motor, new belts and hoses, muffler, head gasket, catalytic converter, valves, piston rings (and lots more - - but you get the idea).
This is not only about the cash saved, but the annoyance saved: schedule interruptions due to mechanical failure, dropping off the car, picking it up, returning if your mechanic botched the job… UGH! What a wonderful thing NOT to have to deal with. You can even expect fewer brake jobs, since most of your deceleration is done by generating power rather than friction braking; thus less wear and tear on the rotors.
Actually, no. It’s the driving experience.
All that calculating and logical stuff is nice, but the truth is, it’s just FUN to drive the EV. It’s fun to have smooth whisking acceleration without the herky jerk of your automatic transmission changing gears. It’s fun to glide down the highway with none of the noise or vibration of a gas engine. In the quiet you can hear the music on your car stereo really clearly, or you can have a civilized conversation with your passenger without shouting. Stuck in a traffic jam? No idling; your car is silent and still, which takes away half the stress (Prius owners know this).
And it turns out to be really nice NEVER going to dirty smelly gas stations, standing there holding that cold gas nozzle and fussing with credit cards as the wind blows trash around you.
Okay, now what?
If you meet the Range Equation, and have the garage, give it some consideration. You’ll still be a semi-early adopter, so you have to be willing to take that risk (your new toy obsoleted by a technical breakthrough, the price drops a month after you buy, etc).
You have several choices: Volt, Leaf, iMiEV (they’re coming back with a 2014 model), Ford, Tesla if you have plenty of the green stuff; maybe BMW if they expand i3 distribution beyond Europe ; maybe Honda (Fit) if they get over their commitment issues.
Methinks I strayed from information-sharing to evangelizing at some point. Sorry -- couldn't help it.
11:48 AM PT: I notice quite a few responses here from people who love their EVs. This is in line with a survey I read, which said that an extremely high percent of Leaf owners rated their car as "would definitely buy again". These observations could provide reassurance for potential buyers wondering whether to take the plunge.