Today’s EVs Won’t Party Like It’s 1999
For each hopeful soul lining up to see "Revenge of the Electric Car", there is a non-believer who says that today’s EVs are no better than those that came before, and that EVs are a passing fad. While the vehicle technology may not appear to have progressed significantly, the environmental conditions for success (such as infrastructure) clearly have.
The EV critics point to (with some legitimacy) the similarities in the specifications between GM’s EV1 and the Nissan LEAF, the most visible and comparable EV being offered today. The EV1 was rated as 78 miles of driving range, which is not much different than the 80-100 miles that the LEAF will deliver. The LEAF actually weighs more (3,368 compared to 2,922 pounds), and takes longer to recharge through the base charging unit (Nissan is likely to correct this before long) than did the EV1. However, the LEAF's lithium-ion battery pack is likely to last much longer (seven to ten years), and the car is priced at under $33,000, or well less than half of the $80,000 to $100,000 that it reportedly cost GM to manufacture the EV1. Even if you concede that the core technology may not have changed that much, the vast majority of folks who drove an EV1 or today’s EV options are delighted with the acceleration and overall performance.
For the doubters, it’s like dismissing the TV show Mad Men without ever having watched it. Also, those same EV critics don’t complain that internal combustion engine vehicles haven’t changed all that much either, with many sedans offering similar fuel economy and performance, while the price of the vehicles and the operating (fuel) cost continue to rise.
Today’s all electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PEVs) also offer many amenities not present 10-15 years ago, such as remote controlling of charging and monitoring of the battery state, and a fully loaded navigation and information system. The plug-in vehicles also offer a total driving range equivalent to a gas engine, which will satisfy an entirely new audience of drivers.
One significant determinant of success that has clearly advanced is the vehicle charging infrastructure. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, there was a multitude of incompatible charging systems and very little public charging infrastructure. Now in the United States we have a standard plug for charging (a.k.a. J1772), and thousands of charge spots being installed. While many of the early EV enthusiasts tolerated carrying a trunk full of charging adapters, whether you buy a LEAF, Volt, i-MiEV, Prius Plug-In, or Focus EV, you’ll be able to access charging equipment at home or on the road without worrying about the type of equipment provided. This standardization will drive the cost of the charging equipment down while reducing the overstated “range anxiety” of not knowing where your next charge will be. Plugging in will be conveniently available at many office buildings, parking lots, and retail locations. Unfortunately there is a split on fast DC charging standardization that could be a temporary setback for the EV industry, as I noted before.
Also increasing the likelihood of success is the expansion of the political motivations for supporting PEVs. These now include energy security, jobs, balancing the trade deficit, as well as reducing emissions. While there will be bumps along the way, PEVs aren’t going away.
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