Sure, we’ve all heard about Tesla’s amazing performance but for those who are shopping for a more bread and butter economical work horse, the logic for purchasing a pure electric (excluding hybrids) vehicle may not be readily apparent. You may be thinking “what do I do for those long road trips requiring a mid-trip recharge” and “I’m not ready to pay a premium to help curb climate change.” Actually, there are many practical reasons to buy an electric vehicle that have nothing to do with being an environmental hero. These reasons portend an imminent and rapid global conversion from gas to electric powered cars. Below are some of the practical advantages of plug-in electric vehicles (PEV).
- Convenience – No gas stations, fuel up at home while you sleep. Additionally, a rapidly increasing number of charging stations perform “quick charges.” To use these stations, electric vehicles must be outfitted with quick charge ports, which are a common option. Unlike charging at home from an alternating current (AC) outlet (either 120 or 240 volt, i.e. “Level 1 or 2” recharging), which is converted to direct current (DC) before delivery to the battery, quick charges deliver DC directly to the battery. Quick charges take about 20 minutes for an 80% recharge. (Tesla has supercharging stations that can recharge cars in less than 10 minutes).
- Fuel cost – Take advantage of non-peek hour electrical rates – usually sleeping hours – to recharge. Some stores have free recharge EV stations. Electric cars are cheaper to power than gas powered cars. When you factor in the life cycle of the battery, the savings are not as extreme as indicated on the miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) sticker on the new car window but still significant. EV battery capacity diminishes by about 5% per year and 100,000 mile warranties are typical. Battery replacements for vehicles like the Nissan Leaf run about $5,500, excluding tax and installation. Some car manufacturers also have a battery lease option that covers maintenance and replacement. Of course, gas powered internal combustion engines (ICE) also don’t last forever but generally last longer than 100,000 miles and are cheaper to replace / rebuild than battery replacement – at least at the moment.
- Reliability and Maintenance cost – Fewer moving parts mean fewer breakdowns and less maintenance. There are no spark plugs, fuel filters, air filters, corrosive exhaust, radiators, oil and oil changes, timing belts, transmission gears, or the myriad of other things that require maintenance or threaten breakdown in an internal combustion engine powered car (ICEV). More importantly, there aren’t the electric vehicle equivalent of these parts. In terms of number and complexity of parts, electric vehicles are simpler (don’t confuse technology with complexity). Thus, less maintenance and fewer break downs.
- Performance – Direct drive means instantaneous pedal to ground acceleration. One gear means no delays during shifting (and less transmission problems). See e.g., Long Term Electric Car Ownership: What Its Really Like. Electric cars are capable of tremendous torque and acceleration but still lag ICEVs in top speeds. Nevertheless for most people, the former is the more important performance attribute and PEVs provide sufficient top speed. Additionally, the heavy batteries are typically mounted under the floors, resulting in a low center of gravity and excellent cornering and anti-roll attributes.
- Tax credits and rebates – Plugin electric vehicles come with a $7,500 tax credit (less for hybrids) and California provides an additional $2,500 cash rebate ($4,000 if you are up to 3 times poverty level income). These credits apply only to new vehicle purchases Sure, this offsets a higher than gas engine MSRP but slow sales have caused a lot of dealers to offer discounts off of the manufacturers sugested retail price (MSRP) that when combined with tax credit and rebate can result in some fantastic bargains. The tax credit is limited to 200,000 cars per manufacture. At the time of this writing, there is still a lot of room under the cap for all manufacturers except Tesla but at some point the caps will likely cause a rush to snatch up the last credits. For more about these tax incentives, read Electric Vehicle Tax Credits: What You Need To Know. If you’re in the market for newish used vehicle, 2012 – 2013 Nissan Leafs (the highest selling economical PEV) with under 20,000 miles are being advertized for prices between $9,500 and $12,000 at the time of this writing.
- Infrastructure – Charging stations don’t require dedicated parcels of land or stores like gas stations. There are no underground fuel storage tanks, pipes, or tanker trucks refilling the tanks. Rather they only need an electrical source and very little space. Thus building out the recharging infrastructure is relatively inexpensive and easy. There are already many more recharging stations than you are are likely aware. Because they take so little space, they aren’t as noticeable. Recharging, when not at home, is more like an ATM or parking meter. They will soon be everywhere. For those living in condominiums and apartments, they will be a common feature. The same is true of office buildings and other places of employment. Recharging is more of a passive activity than refueling with gas – a habit that fits into your daily routine while doing other things, e.g., while parked and shopping, or like recharging your mobile phone, coming back to a recharged car. Some stores are offering free recharging as incentive bring shoppers. In any case, most daily driving activity never requires recharging away from home.
- Inevitability – As the public learns that electric vehicle ownership is not just a charitable effort to save the environment, but has immediate economic and convenience advantages; and as the relatively inexpensive recharging infrastructure continues to expand while the expensive gas refueling infrastructure erodes without replacement, electric vehicles sales will surge. These practical advantages, mostly already in place, make conversion from ICEV to PEV inevitable and imminent. The main thing holding back a wholesale shift in demand for PEVs is public perception. The public understanding of PEVs has been slow to catch on. However, this information lag will soon catch up to the current reality, and the shift in demand will be swift. The resale value of gas powered cars will drop precipitously. This circumstance will result in a feedback loop, which will exagerate the conversion such that auto dealerships will be left with excess ICEV vehicle inventory and a shortage of PEV inventory. The shift to PEVs will be enhanced by the increasing number of solar homes making recharging even cheaper, and Tesla-like range and recharging time becoming more affordable. The conversion will likely involve some trauma – typical of human nature and societal, technological, and economic shifts.
Simply put, there is no reason to buy a new gas powered vehicle, which will soon be obsolete and have a low resale value. A better strategy for people in the market for a new car is to puchase an EV for the daily commuting and errands that make up 99% of our driving. Keep the old gas vehicle for those few long road trips, or reserve the ICEV 4 x 4 for off-road trips (with torque and gear advantages, there is a future for 4 x 4 EVs), while the recharging station network gets built out some more.