Plugged In

T he next sound you hear will be…well, I don’t know what it will be but I know what it won’t be. It won’t be an electric car. After a false start or two, quiet, battery-powered, zero emission electric cars are here to stay. General Motors developed a concept electric car in 1990. This car, […]

Navigating electric vehicles requires more than driving

Located at Meijer, 9200 N. Main, near the I-70 and I-75 crossroads, this Tesla Supercharger station serves local and long-distance travelers.

By Marla Boone

The next sound you hear will be…well, I don’t know what it will be but I know what it won’t be. It won’t be an electric car.

After a false start or two, quiet, battery-powered, zero emission electric cars are here to stay. General Motors developed a concept electric car in 1990. This car, the Impact, had a favorable enough reception for GM to offer its first production electric car, the EV1 in 1996. Depending upon whom you ask, the car, which was available by lease only, was far too unprofitable for continued manufacture (GM’s story) or was the victim of (1) GM, which was accused of “self-sabotaging” its electric car program to avoid losses in spare part sales and (2) the oil industry, for obvious reasons (electric car enthusiasts’ story). GM recalled the cars and destroyed nearly all of them. About forty remain in museums.

Fast forward twelve years. Batteries got better. Oil prices got worse. Environmentalist was no longer a dirty word. As of December 2015, there were over thirty models of highway-legal total electric passenger cars and utility vans available. All the major car manufacturers jumped on the battery-powered bandwagon. The electric car is now a viable, functional, reasonably affordable alternative to being a slave to big oil. It’s not total freedom, however. It’s true—there really is no free lunch. Instead of being tethered to a gas pump, electric cars must, at some point during daily/weekly use, be tethered to an electrical outlet of one of three designs to recharge the battery. And this is a much longer process than filling the tank at the neighborhood station. American households run on 110-volt systems and, happily enough, EVs can be recharged at this level (Level 1 charging). That’s the good news. The bad news is, it takes a long time. A 110-volt outlet will charge an EV at approximately 4–5 miles per hour. If your car has depleted its 80-mile range, it’s going to take 16–20 hours to fully recharge. A 240-volt system (Level 2 charging) is also available for household charging, with the requirement of a 240-volt outlet and plug plus 50–60 amp service. This entails an additional $300–$800 in installation costs. A 240-volt system charges at a respectable 20–25 miles per hour. The Cadillac, as it were, of charging is the DC fast charge. DC chargers are, not coincidentally, expensive and scarce.

From an original price of more than $35,000 when the technology first hit the market, Nissan currently offers a DC charger for less than $10,000. BMW sells one for less than $7,000. That is for personal home use. EV owners who want the quick charge away from home are going to have to do some major planning-ahead. There are currently 2,200 DC charging stations throughout the United States. In Japan, a country less than five per cent the size of the U.S., there are 6,000 DC chargers, a density of one every 245 square miles. In the States, our paltry 2,200 chargers average out to one every 2,235 square miles. Tesla owners also have exclusive access to a nationwide network of Superchargers connecting most major cities in the country.

Electric vehicle (EV) owners would very much like to think their impact on the environment disappears. This is where the no free lunch part comes in. EVs recharge using electricity (duh!) but where does that electricity originate? Mostly from power plants. Electricity is usually produced at a power station by electromechanical generators, primarily driven by heat engines fueled by combustion or nuclear fission but also by other means such as solar energy, tidal power, geothermal, or the kinetic energy of moving water and wind. See how that word “combustion” sneaked in there? That means the burning of fossil fuels. Edmunds, an online source for automobile-related research, estimates 30 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity are needed to power an EV for one hundred miles. Let us divert into arithmetic mode for a moment. To drive 15,000 miles, an internal combustion engine car owner will spend around $1,400 on gasoline. The average cost of a kWh of electricity in twelve cents. An EV, driven that same 15,000 miles will cost its owner $540 in electricity costs for recharging. The cost of electricity throughout the United States varies more than the cost of gas. EV owners benefit in the long run, however, because the cost of electricity over time is more stable than the price of gas. Unlike gasoline, there are no high spikes in electric rates reflecting refinery problems or political instability. Some utilities offer EV owners options that allow vehicles to be charged at a lower rate per kWh.

Having said all that, it was amazing to find out just how many places there are to charge an EV while on the road. There are ninety-two charging stations within a thirty-mile radius of Dayton. Some of these are not surprisingly at the same place you can buy your EV: Voss BMW, Matt Castrucci Nissan, Jeff Schmidt Nissan, Beau Townsend Nissan and Ford, and BMW of Dayton. Other sites reflect municipalities’ involvement in supporting EV use. Dayton City Hall Municipal Garage, City of Centerville City Hall, Centerville Downtown Public Parking, Tipp City Downtown, and Tipp City Government Center all offer charging services. Retailers have also discovered that if you charge it, they will come. Dorothy Lane Market, 5/3 Field, the Book Factory, Whole Foods, Kroger (Cincinnati and Troy), Cincinnati Premium Outlets, Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Menard’s in Tipp City, The Greene, and the West Chester WalMart provide charging outlets. You can get an education (Wright State’s Allyn Hall, Sinclair Community College, UD) or get well (Miami Valley Hospital, Kettering Medical Center) or pick up a map (AAA Troy Pike) while you charge your car. In what now seems like an “Aha!” moment, the owners of Park-N-Go at the Dayton airport offer charging to EV owners while those owners are off on a trip. There is no extra charge for this service and customers love having their cars fully charged and ready to go upon their return. Park-N-Go has both Level 1 and Level 2 charging available. The impetus for providing charging actually came from a customer who didn’t want to come home to a depleted or short-range battery. A few other customers also inquired about battery charging so Park-N-Go owner Brian West knew it was a winning idea. He said the amenities at the Dayton airport location are driven by customer requests. On average, two to three customers a week are using this free service.

But enough about logistics. The cars themselves vary enormously in price, performance, and mileage range per charge. Universally, however, they share some characteristics. All EVs have far fewer moving parts than an internal combustion engine car. This makes them cheaper to maintain, although they have not been on the market long enough for a large segment of owners to have to start replacing the batteries. That cost has to be figured in at some point, minus the tax credit available for buying an EV in the first place. The batteries are warrantied for up to ten years but cost a whopping $5,500–$15,000 to replace. That will eat up the $8,000 tax credit in a hurry. The other truly impactful issue is how owning an EV alters driving habits. EVs employ what the automotive industry calls regenerative braking. Regenerative braking recovers energy that is usually lost through friction brakes and engine drag during braking or coasting. This energy is stored in the battery for future use. Pure genius. So instead of cruising or accelerating right up to that red light and then hitting the brakes, EV drivers learn to anticipate traffic patterns, traffic flow, and signal changes. Taking their foot off the accelerator, they coast up to red lights. At worst, they sit at the signal a little less. At best, the light turns green before they get to it and they are in a position not to have to stop at all because a large chunk of power is needed to get the car rolling. In the interest of research, I sweet-talked a friend into letting me drive his Nissan Leaf. There really is something weirdly satisfying about having fifty miles of range left and then idling up to an intersection, only to leave that spot with fifty-two miles of range. It gets to be like a game…how many miles can be deposited back into the range bank by driving differently?

The best-selling EV is the Tesla Model S, with over 27,000 sold. Much more ambitiously priced than its sister car, the Tesla Model 3, the Model S has a base price of $84,300. It claims to go from 0–60 in 2.5 seconds and boasts a range of 335 miles on a single charge. The Model 3 has just two-thirds of that range but is less than half the cost ($35,000 beginning price). Tesla claims a top speed of 130 mph for
the Model S.

The Chevy Bolt is close behind. Literally. Its 0–60 acceleration is 6.9 seconds. With a range of 238 miles and a base price of around $37,000, it still isn’t price-wise or utility-wise the car for everyone. But over 23,000 Bolts have been sold and enjoy a solid reputation for dependability. Top speed is 93 mph.

Tesla makes the top-seller list again with its Model X. This is a luxury crossover utility vehicle that manages to have a range of 280 miles. Still hideously expensive at an $85,000 base price, the Model X is touted by Tesla as the only all-electric CUV on the market. This seems not to be the case. Keep reading. It is, however, inarguably the fastest of the EVs, capable of up to 138 mph.

The Nissan Leaf comes in under $30,000. The 2015 model I drove has a range of 80 miles. The owner bought it used in January and paid $13,900. The 2018 model has boosted that range up to 150 miles. Its acceleration is a modest 0–60 in 9 seconds. It’s the perfect commuter car. If you need to go faster than 92 mph, though, this isn’t the car for you.

BMW is dipping its Bavarian toe into the EV game with its model i3. The $46,000 base price will get you a car with a 114-mile range. Its acceleration is middling: 0–60 in 7 seconds with a speed comparable to that of the Leaf and Bolt: 93 mph.

Other notables in the field include the Kia Soul, the Ford Focus Electric, Fiat 500e, and the VW eGolf. Tesla markets the Model X as the only all-electric CUV but the Kia Soul disproves this claim. The Soul, though, has dismal performance compared to the Tesla. Its top speed is 90 mph with a 110-mile range. Base price is $33,950. Ford’s Focus Electric is just under $30,000, accelerates 0–60 in 9.9 seconds, and has a 115-mile range with a top speed of 85 mph. The Fiat 500e is $33,000, maxing out at 85 mph and taking 9.1 seconds to go from a standstill to 60 mph. It has an 84-mile range. VW’s electric Golf will go 125 miles between charges with a top speed of 85 mph. Base priced at $30,000 its 0–60 acceleration consumes 9.3 seconds.

One of the caveats about EVs is the effect heat, air conditioning, and something as plebian as the window defroster have on how long a charge will last. The Straight Dope reports A/C or heater use can increase battery consumption up to 15–20 %. Another is the faster you drive, the quicker the battery is exhausted and the shorter the range. The Bolt, for example, boasts a range of 238 miles. But in a study conducted by Digital Trends, when the car was driven at a relatively moderate 75 mph, the battery was depleted at 190 miles.

EV owners are aware their new driving habits tend to annoy the gas-guzzling, oblivious, climate-killers behind them but the truth is, motoring in the EV mode saves energy and fuel for every vehicle. You learn to ignore the horn honking and dirty looks.

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Marla Boone has enjoyed a varied career, from nursing to aviation. She is an active volunteer with the WACO Historical Society in Troy. Reach DCP freelance writer Marla Boone at MarlaBoone@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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