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Future electric vehicle comparison

February 20, 2010

If you are looking to buy a car in the next year or two, why not go electric? Probably because of cost. These cars are fantastic in theory, but will enough people be able to buy them for it to matter?

There are reliable electric vehicles (EV) on the market and more to come. They use no gas and most have a range over 100 miles per charge, it’s perfect for commuters or people with a regular driving pattern.

EV’s provide some huge advantages beyond not having to pay for gas. They draw power from the grid, which is currently over 40% coal, but it is easier to clean up those energy sources by adding more renewables than it is to clean up gasoline. EV’s can also cut down imports of foreign oil, something that helps out economically and on a national security level. If this technology can get off the ground, it can have a great impact.

Since there will be quite a few choices, I have reviewed the top three (according to my research). Most of them are somewhat pricey, but the real value of the vehicles is dependent on the prices of gas and electricity in the future.

Tesla Model S
Price: 49,900 (w/federal tax credit)
Date of release: Early 2012
Range per charge: 160, 230, or 300 miles (depending on battery size)
Time to fully charge: 3-5 hours
Cost to charge: about $4
Seats: 7
0-60 time: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 120 mph

My take:
This is the most technologically advanced car coming out in terms of battery power.  They have several battery sizes, and so the range changes with each one. Although charge time is 3-5 hours, they have a battery swap capability for continuous driving and charging to 80 percent takes about 45 minutes, Tesla says.

It is the most expensive of the three, but as a pure electric vehicle it is the best. The battery should last 5-7 years, up to 10 if you maintain it perfectly. Also, I find it very family friendly, as it seats 7. If you are looking to just save money this isn’t the right car because it will take so long to pay for itself. However, if you love the environment and have some extra cash, go for it.

Chevy Volt
Price: $30,000 to $40,000 (no official base price yet)
Date of release: November 2010
Range per charge: 40 miles (plus an additional 300 miles from a gasoline generator)
Time to fully charge: 8 hours (3 hours with 240V outlet)
Cost to charge: about $1, (plus the cost of filling a 6 gallon gas tank)
Seats: 5
0-60 time: 8.8 seconds (estimated)
Top speed: 100 mph

My take:
This vehicle seems most practical, but the price tag has continually gone up since it was first announced. This vehicle isn’t truly an EV, but an extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV), meaning it can continue on after the battery has been exhausted from a gas-powered motor that charges the battery (in this phase it is estimated to get 50mpg). I like this option because it offers the best of both worlds: no gas on short commutes, but leaves the option for a long road trip. I also like the smartphone application where you can monitor the status of the battery.

Again, pricing is an issue, with no certainty on what Chevy will actually decide. I’d recommend this for people who want the versatility in the range of the vehicle. It is estimated to save between $2 and $4 a day in gas costs for most users, which will still require many years to recuperate the extra costs of purchasing the vehicle.

Nissan Leaf
Price: $20,000 to $30,000 (estimated)
Date of release: 2012 (California is getting them in 2010)
Range per charge: 100 miles
Time to fully charge: 16-18 hours (w/110 volt outlet), 8 hours (w/220 volt outlet)
Cost to charge: $2.75
Seats: 5
0-60 time: ???? (said to similar to an average V6 car, 7-8 seconds)
Top speed: 90 mph

My take:
This is expected to have the lowest price tag of the three. However, it is going to require a special charging station. Nissan has already begun the process of creating a charging infrastructure. San Francisco requires new buildings to have them and they have contracted with AeroVironment to build stations in customer homes.

This vehicle will take some time to be feasible because it requires an infrastructure that is not in place yet. California looks like it will be the best place to have one of these. Here in Missouri, it isn’t going to make an impact until charging stations start popping up, and there are currently no plans for such stations. This car is a great deal, but only if you live in a place where it has the support system.

I did not review the Tesla Roadster, although it has the best performance of any EV currently on the market, because they cost $100,000. The Electric Ford Focus will be coming out soon as well, and should compete with the Nissan Leaf, here is a thorough review of the Focus by Clean Fleet Report. Other comparable options are plug-in hybrids coming in late 2011. These models will be similar to the hybrid vehicles of today, but with a battery-power-only feature.  Toyota and Ford have some promising models.

EV’s are mainly going to be for those who can afford it, so they won’t have a big impact for some time. The Nissan Leaf has 10,000 commitments for purchases and Chevy is looking to get 8,000 out in 2011. That’s not even a dent on the number of cars that are on the road. As more are produced they will become more affordable, so get ready for your electric car someday.

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