Electric Cars Pros and Cons

By · October 14, 2014

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Like almost anything in life, electric cars have their pros and cons. You can expect a site like PluginCars.com to generally promote EVs as having, on balance, a lot more benefits than shortcomings—but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer an honest assessment of the pros and cons of cars that use electricity rather than petroleum. Here it is, short and sweet.

PROS

Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model S is known as the fastest all-electric sedan, but all electric cars are very quick.

Quiet and Quick

It only takes one ride in a battery-powered car to understand the improved ride quality of an EV compared to a vehicle using a petroleum-powered internal combustion engine. An electric car is very quiet and very smooth. It makes most regular cars seem clunky and outdated. What surprises people more is the high torque (axle-twisting power) offered by EVs. Step on the accelerator and power is delivered immediately to the wheels, providing an exhilarating driving experience.

Home Recharging

Imagine never going to a gas station again. All you have to do is pull into your garage or driveway, reach over for a plug, and push it into the charging inlet. It’s very convenient and takes all of about 15 seconds. Wake up the next morning, and you have a car ready to go another 80 to 100 miles—or longer, depending on the model. That’s plenty for everybody except long-distance commuters. (This equation can be more difficult for people living in condos and apartments, but access to multi-family and workplace charging is improving everyday.)

Cheaper to Operate

In most parts of the world, electricity is ubiquitous and cheap—with a big cost advantage over petroleum. Given the considerable efficiency of electric cars compared to internal combustion models, the cost per mile to fuel an EV is approximately one-third to one-quarter the cost of gasoline (on a cost per mile basis). And because electric cars don’t have exhaust systems and don’t need oil changes, maintenance costs are reduced. To maintain an electric car, just rotate your tires and keep them properly inflated.

No Tailpipe Emissions

Nearly all credible researchers believe that electric cars, even in coal-dependent regions, have a smaller environmental impact than conventional vehicles. In regions with a strong grid mix of renewables—such as hydro, wind and solar—or for electric car drivers with home solar, the emissions benefits are dramatic. You can expect some analysts to argue the opposite. But it's incontrovertible that EVs don’t have a tailpipe, and therefore provide a real benefit to improving air quality for you, your family, and your community.

CONS

Nissan LEAF dash

This Nissan LEAF indicates an optimistic driving range of 85 miles.

Limited Range

It’s everybody’s cool EV term: Range Anxiety! It stands for the worry that occurs because most affordable electric cars only have about 80 to 100 miles of range, and take hours to fully refuel. EV advocates will argue that 100 miles is plenty for most driving. As a result, nearly all electric car drivers rarely if ever experience range anxiety. It’s also true that the range and cost of electric car batteries is incrementally improving every year. Still, unless you drive an electric car with a back-up range-extending engine, you need to properly plan: to assure that routes beyond predictable local driving are within range (or allow for a time to recharge).

Long Refueling Time

Concerns about range are closely tied with issues related to how long it takes to refuel an electric car. EVs commonly can add about 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour of charging from a 240-volt source of electricity. So, while you can’t run down to the gas station and add a couple hundred miles of range in five to ten minutes, and while many road trips are not advisable, drivers putting typical amounts of miles on their cars will not be impinged by recharging times measured in hours—as long as they remember to plug in before going to sleep. (One other factor: public DC Quick Chargers, capable of adding about 50 miles of range in around 20 to 25 minutes, are increasingly available in regions with relatively high numbers of electric cars.)

Higher Cost

The current crop of electric cars are mostly priced between $30,000 and $40,000. That makes EVs considerably more expensive than comparably equipped small to midsized gas-powered vehicles. (For example, the Honda Fit and Ford Focus can be had for less than $20,000. ) In this light, EVs are indeed expensive. However, cost comparisons usually fail to consider a number of factors, including: incentives often valued at $10,000; competitive lease rates as low as $199 a month; lower maintenance costs; and a luxury feel and amenities that far exceed what’s found in those cheaper gas models.

Lack of Consumer Choice

The 20 of or so plug-in electric vehicles on the market consist mostly of compact and sub-compact pure electric cars, and midsize plug-in hybrid sedans. (There are two stand-out exceptions, both relatively expensive: the full-size Tesla Model S sedan, that commonly costs around $100,000; and the limited-run Toyota RAV4 EV small SUV, with a $50,000 price tag.) Unfortunately, the style of the most popular EVs is polarizing: you either love it or, if you hate it, you hold off on purchasing an electric car. EV choice will expand over time, but in an auto market with dozens of brands and hundreds of models, the choice for buyers wanting an electric car is currently limited.

Comments

· · 1 year ago

I would also say that canadian winters are a con as range is further more limited in a battery car and you don't want to get stuck ay night below the freesing point.

· · 1 year ago

I think balancing "Quick and Quiet" against "Higher Cost" is an important way of considering the value question. Too much analysis of EV value focuses on "How soon will it pay for itself?", after which one looks at electricity rates, gas prices, miles driven, etc., and the price of a LEAF vs. a Versa (or if we're being more reasonable, a Sentra).

The thing is, an EV is nothing like a similar-sized compact or subcompact. Before buying my much-maligned Mitsu i-MiEV, I took a test drive in a top of the line Prius C5 (a marketplace darling for whatever reason); there was absolutely no comparison between the two driving experiences. Compared to the i-MiEV's jolly go-kart dynamics and swift, sure, and silent launches, the Prius C was a wretched little punishment box, no matter how much leather and techno-gimcrackery they slathered on it.

If we start with the idea of passenger and cargo space and take a Corolla as our baseline, upgrading to a LEAF is one way of adding value to the driving experience, while upgrading to a Buick Encore Premium is another. Either way, you're moving to a similar-sized vehicle with a more sophisticated drivetrain and various additional amenities. And while it's fair to say the Encore has some virtues the LEAF does not, the reverse is every bit as true. Even with its turbo and 6-speed auto tranny purring along at their best, the Encore doesn't come close to the LEAF's silent torque and on-tap instant power. An Encore Premium and LEAF S are within $1k of each other, and that's at MSRP - figuring in federal tax incentives, even a LEAF SL is thousands cheaper. I think the question of which car is the better value is very subjective, and drivers hooked on that "electric smile" wouldn't find it a close contest.

And all that is based on the vehicle's capacity and driving experience, independent of operating costs, etc. So why doesn't anybody ask how long it will take the Encore to "pay for itself", to justify the hefty premium it demands over the Corolla? Well, one good reason is that there's no objective sense in which it possibly could, so the question's just not worth asking, is it? Ironically, it's because the LEAF in fact CAN reasonably be claimed to pay much of its own way that the argument turns quickly to whether it pays ALL its own way. That's a double standard, based on the reality that we've been trained to pay for brands and luxury features and levels of performance that are meaningless in everyday driving, and don't have any equivalent experience in valuing the unique appeal of EV driving, something that the overwhelming majority of drivers have so far never bothered to experience for themselves.

· · 1 year ago

This is a good objective look at the ups and downs of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are great, but one con is that you still need to pay for the electricity to charge them. A smart way to cut out this cost is to invest in a solar panel system for your home! It makes perfect financial (and environmental) sense; you cut out your gasoline costs and your electric bills! Learn more - http://bit.ly/13ps3Ml

· · 51 weeks ago

Well said, Vike. The experience of driving my Focus Electric or Fiat 500e is totally different than driving their exact ICE counterparts. Much more refined. So many of the attributes of high end cars - smooth transmission, quiet cabin, no engine vibration, no oil or gas smell - simply come with the EV technology.

No knock intended on either Ford or Fiat, but I personally would not have considered setting foot in their dealerships if they didn't sell EVs. The reputation for quality just wasn't there. I had a lot more confidence buying their EVs knowing that electric drivetrains are generally much simpler and more reliable. Although each has had recalls of their EVs for fairly serious issues, they've taken care of those and I have an optimistic outlook that these will be reliable cars. It will be an interesting journey.

Ah, and in the interest of being fair and balanced (to restore some meaning to that phrase?), the Model S has fared no better so far than the Ford or Fiat in number of service incidents. Which I really didn't expect considering Tesla's reputation for fanatical quality control.

Making cars, apparently, is a complicated business.

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