Electric Cars; Moving us Off The Grid
Electric cars are starting to make their market debut, and major car manufactures are starting to strut their ‘stuff’. By now were used to see the small, neat looking Toyota Prius cars rolling down the road; the hybrid between an highly efficient combustion engine, with an electric motor to supplement. But the newer electric cars are entirely electric, producing no emissions at all. But of course, it’s not emissions that will decide what kind of car Americans drive.
AAA estimates that the average American drives 12,000 miles per year. Assuming your car gets 22.5 mpg, take 12000 / 22.5 and you get 533 galleons. In my state, we often pay up to $3.89 per galleon or more. So take $3.89 * 533 and it comes out to be $2073.37 per year. In all fairness though, economical combustion engines have been slowly getting more efficient. Here’s some comparison rates from Motor Trend,
Comparing Gas Cars
|MT Fuel Economy||Recommended Fuel||Fuel Capacity|
|2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ RS||23.8 mpg||Unleaded Regular||15.6 gal|
|2012 Ford Focus Titanium||27.9 mpg||Unleaded Regular||12.4 gal|
|2012 Honda Civic EX||29.4 mpg||Unleaded Regular||13.2 gal|
|2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited||25.7 mpg||Unleaded Regular||12.8 gal|
|2011 Kia Forte EX||23.9 mpg||Unleaded Regular||13.7 gal|
|2011 Mazda3 Touring||27.8 mpg||Unleaded Regular||14.5 gal|
|2011 Toyota Corolla LE||27.6 mpg||Unleaded Regular||13.2 gal|
|2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI||32.3 mpg||Diesel||14.5 gal|
From the cart we see the Volkswagen Jetta gets the best mileage from the cars compared. So assuming that’s the car you drive, you’re still likely to spend about $1,445.20 a year at the pump. Now times that by however many years you plan on having it, say you plan on keeping it for 3 years, that’s an extra $4,335.60 that you’re paying for you car. Though, to be fair, pay an extra $4k for your car over 3 years isn’t exactly terrible, but don’t forget oil changes and routine maintenance. Then of course there are the less immediate reasons to ditch the combustion engine, such as its environmental impact, and the politics of where the oil comes from.
However, what if it were possible, to pay almost nothing to refill up your car? Pipe dream? Maybe for today yes, but not for long. More on that later though, for now let’s look at some of the electric cars that are currently coming fresh from the charger.
The Nissan LEAF
Nissan’s electric car, the Nissan LEAF, has already been out for some time and has a lot going for it. As you can already see, it’s not that expensive beyond the price of what an average new car costs now.
Some of the highlights for this car are;
- Solar Panel Spoiler (extra)
- Bluetooth® hands-free phone system
- Regenerative braking system
- Heated steering wheel
- Nissan navigation system
- Quick Charge Port (extra)
- HomeLink® universal transceiver
On the financial side of things, something I know will interest many of you, those of you living in the US can get up to a $7500 Federal Tax Credit, depending on where you live, when you buy an electric vehicle (EV). You may be eligible for other perks as well, depending on which state you live in.
Now we come to the issue of practicality. Of course, an electric car needs to be recharged, but after how long, and well…for how long? The Nissan LEAF comes with a battery that’ll take you anywhere from 62 to 138 miles on a single charge. The range which you get out of a charge depends on various factors, such as whether or not you have climate control on, how fast you’re going, whether or not you’re driving on a smooth flat road, you can also increase your mileage with smooth acceleration and breaking. However, even in the event that you can only get 62 miles n your charge, that is more than enough for a day of driving around town. For those of you who work in the same town in which you live, this should be a nice enough car. On the Nissan LEAF website they have a range estimator, which allows you to input all of your driving destinations, via Google Maps, and then gives you the total distance in miles.
Now many people would rightfully point out that if you simply charge your EV off your home grid, well, not only are you still using coal to charge your car, you’re still having to pay to fill ‘er up. Seems like Nissan has thought of this, and they’ve teamed up with SunPowered, a solar panel company, to make the Nissan Charger compatible with SunPowered solar panels. When I say compatible, what I really mean is, the SunPowered solar panel is plugged into your home’s own power and from there it goes into your EV. It appears that SunPowered does not sell their panels directly to the customer, instead you must find a professional install service to install the panel for you, not a bad idea if you want it done right. However, if you’re a handy man/woman, and you’d like to save yourself some money there are some DIY solar panels for your home that you can get over at Solar Sphere, or Earthtech Products.
Another solar feature of this car, which amounts to being more of a novelty than a convenience really, is the solar panel spoiler. Basically it is a solar panel, affixed to the spoiler, which recharges the accessory battery, so the radio/cd player / Bluetooth system…etc. I’m not sure if that includes climate control, though one would hope so. It’s a nice feature, but there’s no chance of it giving you any extra mileage, rather you can listen to the Bee Gees when you’re cruising on the highway, and switch over to Hank Williams when you’re out of power. Unsurprisingly, the feature doesn’t come with the standard SV model, instead you need to pay an additional $2,050 for the SL model.
Regarding the home charger, it requires a professional to come to your home and install it. There’s a checklist you can go over to make sure your home is ready for the installation before the professional arrives.
If you’d rather just skip the solar route altogether, or if you plan on taking this car on a road trip, you’ll be interested to know more about Nissan’s Quick Charge Port. Essentially, when you take your Nissan LEAF on a road trip, you need to find an electric charging station…of which there are not many (but the number is increasing). Whether or not these EV charging station are going to be a Nissan only deal, I’m not sure. Anyway, when, if, you find an EV charging station, the Quick Charge Port (also not standard, requires the SL model) allows you to go from totally drained, to a full battery in 30 mins as opposed to 7 hours. To the left is a graphic of where you can find Nissan compatible EV charging station via the ChargePoint Network;
ChargePoint offers APPS for iOS, Android & Blackberry devices so you can
restrict plan your trip accordingly to where the closest ChargePoint stations are, based on the address you specify. You can also become a member, sign up for a ChargePoint card and keep track of how much energy you’ve used at each station, as well as reserve a time to charge in advance (I don’t like where this is going).
Ultimately, it’s attractive to think about, at it’s base $35,000 price tag, but…erm, well, where are you going to charge it on the go? There are only so many charging station and the fact that they’re offering reservation times means you’re going to have an unpleasantly long line up to charge your car most likely. Personally, I want to move off of the charging stations, period. I also don’t like the idea of needing a professional to come and install a special proprietary charging dock in my garage, what happens when I upgrade from a Nissan to another brand? Am I going to have 10 different charging ports in my garage? One for each brand? Seems like a waste to me.
2012 Ford Focus Electric Vehicle (EV)
The next electric vehicle to look at is the new Ford Focus 2012. Okay, first thing that hits me when I look at this…doesn’t it kinda look like the Nissan LEAF? Or am I the only one? Anyway, on to the features…
- MyFord® Mobile app lets you schedule when your car charges, as well as control the interior climate so it’s just right when you get in.
- Regenerative breaking; captures 90% of friction energy to recharge the battery
- Single Speed Transmission
- 23kWh lithium-ion battery /w liquid heating/cooling to keep battery at optimal operating temperature
- Brake Coach; an app in the instrument cluster screen that tells you how much energy has been retained when you apply the brakes
- 240 volt home charging station; fully charges the battery in 4 hours, plus, station is compatible with future Ford EV models
- About $38,000
Alright, so, couple things. First, the dashboard is pretty sweet, seems that 2012 is the year of the app because the dashboard can have it’s layout customized using the 5-button control on the steering wheel. Ford hasn’t said anything about 3rd party apps, but you know they’re coming, be they officially or unofficially supported, someone will figure out how to put Pac-Man on there at some point. Oh, or how about porting Linux to it? Could be cool.
Another cool feature is the SYNC® with MyFord Touch®, which basically lets you use voice commands via your iPod Touch to control your car, as well as play music off your iPod.
Anyway, seems like a lot of the apps are all about helping you plan your trip to be in line with the closest charging station, it even tells you how far away the closets charging station is. How many charging stations are there? Well, there are a few thousand worldwide. The vast majority of them are along the coastlines of the US, if you live in Alaska, or Canada…or in the Mid-Western US, you’ll be hard pressed to find a charging station for your car. See a full map, here;
Some good news though! So, one the one hand, yes, there is a 240-volt home charging station for $1,499 that you will need to have a professional from Best Buy’s Geek Squad install for you…BUT, there is also a 120-volt convenience charger that comes standard. The 120-volt charging cord plugs into any regular outlet. That’s a major plus on my list, it makes the car more practical and allows for more convenience in terms of charging.
It’s probably not a very realistic idea, but I’ve always wondered if it would be possible to affix a wind turbine charger to the car itself, thus allowing you to charge the batter as you drive. Maybe someone can come up with a solution using some kind of portable wind turbine, or something similar?
Ford gives the range of their electric car in terms of MPGe (Miles Per Galleon equivalent), they estimate that you should be able to travel 100 miles per charge. Should you be bold enough to go further than 100 miles and your battery runs out, Roadside Assistance will tow eligible Ford Focus EV’s to the nearest dealership or to the driver’s home, within 35 miles. If you need to be towed further than 35 miles, well…that costs extra.
At any rate, my overall view of the Ford Focus Electric a favorable one, at least in terms of practicality. Price, however, still a little high, around $40,000 for a new one, but you can do some customizing online, here.
Tesla Motors’ Model S
For those of you who want to look at a more luxurious style ‘n design, I would say that Tesla Motors does nicely in that category. They were one of the first major manufactures to make an all electric vehicle, starting with their Tesla Roadster a few years back (now sold out in NA). For a long time running, the roadster was, the best electric vehicle on the market, both in terms of speed and the amount of distance you could travel on a single charge.
- Powertrain; 0-60 MPH in 5.6 seconds
- Top Speed 125MPH; making it the fastest electric car on the market today
- 85kWh Performance lithium-ion;>0-60 MPH in 4.4 seconds, Top Speed 130 MPH, go up to 300 miles per charge
- Plug-in Anywhere; All of Tesla’s electric cars are plug into any regular 120v outlet, but with a 240v outlet you can charge at 62 range miles per hour of charging
- Panoramic Roof; with a wider view than any other, it blocks 98% of visible like and 81% of outside heat
- Programmable key; Senses the wireless key dongle, automatically turns on & loads the desired mirror / seat/ steering wheel settings based on the individual driver’s preferences
- Touch Screen Controls; offering wi-fi internet and mobile connectivity, you can even listen to internet radio, or connect your mp3 player via USB or Bluetooth.
The Model S, continues that tradition of being a step above the rest. The look at feel of the car just kind of screams, privileged executive. The fact that Tesla Motors is still a relatively unknown car company just adds to the mystique of their line; you tell people you have a Tesla and they go, “Oh, what’s that?” and you explain to them just how special you are.
On Tesla’s website you can customize how you would like your Model S car to look, picking colors as well as interior finishes and exterior spoilers.
Honestly the more I read about this car, the more I love it. The interior is designed to be as quiet and optimal for music as a recording studio. Using 580 watt Dolby Prologic 7.1 surround sound, it can store up to 3,000 songs and is XM radio capable.
Now, technically I see this is being overkill, but it has an HD rear camera for backing up. Though, personally, I always turn around a look behind me whenever I’m heading in reverse, and I would hope you do too.
There’s another option, to add LED foglights, using less power than CFL’s, LED is one of the most powerful and efficient types of lights we have today.
For those of you with kids, you can even have two rear-facing fold-out carseats built right into the car itself…but for a $15000 option, I think you might be better off just buying your own rear-facing carseat.
They’ve even thought of your vanity (as if the rest of the car wasn’t any indication this is for people who love their cars), you can get a thin filament placed over the car to protect the paint from getting scratched…now that could be handy.
I think I’ve made it clear at this point that this is by far my favorite car, however it is also the most expensive of the 3 we’ve looked at. It comes in several different builds, going from lesser to greater performance and options. The price ranges from $40,000 to almost $110,000 for the Model S performance. Expensive much? But ohhhh would I love to have one at the $110,000 level.
Ultimately, looking back over the 3 EV’s I’ve looked at, I have a few thoughts.
My first thought; I like how Nissan was being somewhat innovative with their promotion of using solar panels to charge your car, but it’s not like you can just take those panels with you on the road. The spoiler at the back, with the solar panel to charge the various dash components is a great idea though, saves on main battery power a tiny bit. Ultimately though, I think the Nissan LEAF, with it’s special requirement for a proprietary charging port makes it just too impractical. Especially since the new Ford Focus allows you to charge either from a special charger or a regular outlet, the Ford Focus beats the Nissan LEAF just for that reason alone.
Essentially, the Ford Focus seems to be an ideal choice for around town driving. The integration with mobile devices to provide voice control and other remote functions is a convenience that, once introduced to it, users will probably regard as a necessity over mere convenience. For a family that doesn’t travel too often or lives along the cost where charging stations abound, it looks like a decent first electric car.
The Tesla Model S is just a BOSS, and most likely, only your boss would be able to afford it’s more outstanding features. While obtaining a budget line Model S is sort of doable for $40,000, the lower model, while still luxurious, is more in line performance wise with the Ford Focus or Nissan LEAF. However, the upper line of Model S, will leave EV critics a gawk. If you have any friends who like to portray environmentally friendly cars as being little more than mobile tin cans that coast downhill, this will be sure to make them rethink their position. 125 MPH top speed is unheard of for an electric car, and being able to take it 300 miles, means you can take a family road-trip just as well as anybody else.
I hope you found this overview helpful. Be sure to leave your own opinions in the comments section below!