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4 Reasons Why the Electric Car Isn’t Ready for the American Driver

The automobile of the future is not ready for the consumer who demands freedom.

by
Becky Graebner

Bio

April 5, 2013 - 1:30 pm

We are the land of the free, home of the brave, and a country proud of the red, white, and blue. However, the color green also seems to be working its way into the fabric of America in the form of eco-conscious automobiles. Although an increasing number of Americans are buying electric vehicles, I am skeptical that Americans will completely make the switch.  It isn’t America’s own cautious nature delaying the transition into electric cars; we have real reasons to be dubious that electric cars can fully accommodate our needs. In short, electric cars are not ready to meet the needs of American drivers.

1. “Reliability” is not its middle name.

As consumers have sought relief from climbing gas prices, interest in electric vehicles (EVs) has increased. In turn, rising sales have put more pressure on EV-manufacturers and dealers to expand service and offer more reliable cars… creating headaches and growing pains for the fledgling industry. Electric cars are still a new idea; thus, not all the bugs have been worked out. Case in point: Tesla.

Many car companies are adding EVs to their lineups, but only one company can call itself “all electric.”  Tesla, the flagship of high-end electric vehicles, is a rising star in the EV world. Its cars are cool and offer some of the longest-range batteries available. Also, uch to the joy of taxpayers, it is set to repay its Department of Energy loans ($465 million) back five years early.  Cha-ching!  Despite its success, this rising “Michael Jordan” of the automotive world has stumbled. Tesla’s VERY profitable Model S was the unfortunate subject of a negative article that appeared in the New York Times a few weeks ago — the writer’s Model S was plagued by low battery, was described as having to limp from charging station to charging station, and supposedly broke down due to cold-weather effects on the battery. A group of electric car owners, literal Tesla “roadies,” got together and decided to clear the name of the Tesla Model S. Their successful trip mirroring that in the Times article, and a foray into the computer of the journalist’s Model S, cast some major doubt on the authenticity of the article; however, it also cast some serious doubt on the capabilities of the Model S and other electric cars.

If batteries start on fire due to salt-water exposure or are possibly compromised due to more extreme air temperatures, electric cars are going to be fighting an uphill battle to prove their usefulness. In fact, in some areas of the country, they might not be possible to operate. To those who live in hurricane-prone areas, the “mini- arctic” in the north of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the oven-like states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas — you live in EV nightmare-land. State-by-state analysis of EV viability isn’t going to fly; these cars need to work everywhere — otherwise, why buy them?

2. It needs more stops than your toddler in potty-training.

Batteries die. They have limited capacity and need to be charged. C’est la vie.

The Tesla Model S comes in three flavors of electric motor: 85 kW-h (265 mi range), 60 kW-h (200 mi range), and 40 kW-h (140 mi range). (*Note, these “mileage ranges” come from EPA’s 5-cycle tests). Compared to the average sedan, such as the ever-popular 2013 Honda Accord (3.5 L, 6-cyl, Auto 6-spd), which has a projected “25 MPG combined” (so, approximately 430 miles/tank), the EV Model S is a bit below in mileage capabilities.  Not horrible—but lacking.

The current lack of charging stations in this country, compounded by the requirement that they exist within 200 miles of each other, everywhere in the 3,794,000 sq. miles of the continental United States, makes charging even one of the longest-range EVs available an annoying requirement and a dangerous gamble. If you are unable to afford a Tesla, which has the longer-range batteries on the market, then your EV will most likely need charging stations every 75-100 miles. Pathetic. Can you imagine stopping every hour and a half to charge the car…maybe even more frequently?  Stock prices for “Charleston Chew” are going to skyrocket from such frequent “battery stops” along the freeways.  Electric cars need batteries that go at least as far as gas-powered cars… otherwise, what’s the advantage of buying them if you can’t drive them more than a few miles?  And don’t say “because they are green” — because the electricity that would be required to charge these EVs every one-hundred miles isn’t magical and 100% environmentally friendly either. It has to come from somewhere — whether it be wind or coal. The less often electric cars need to charge, the better — for the driver’s sanity and the environment.

3. You might need to brush up on your Boy/Girl Scouting skills.

The Tesla trip in the New York Times article was from Washington, D.C., to Milford, CT—approximately 298 miles. For a gas-powered car, that’s less than one tank of gas. For a Tesla Model S, even if the car has the longest-distance battery available (85 kW-h, 265 mi range), it still needs to be charged twice. In New England, finding a station isn’t terribly difficult because they are predominantly located on the coasts. However, since stations are more sparsely located in the Midwest, Dakotas, and Rockies (among other places), finding a place for your car to get its lightning juice may start to resemble a game of “Where’s Waldo?” When driving through these areas of EV purgatory, drivers may need to backtrack in order to find a charging station. If natural selection doesn’t “select out” non-planners, EVs will… without planning your stops, you might end up on the side of a road, eyeing rattlesnakes for dinner, while you wait for AAA.


4. “Electric” comes at a “luxury” price.

Did Home Depot have a sale on money trees that I didn’t know about? Apparently some electric-car manufacturers have been distorted by this magical plant blooming in their dealerships because the majority of these cars are out of reach for most car-buying Americans.

Look at the base MSRP prices below. The most affordable is still over $20,000 and the average price of these electric vehicles is $49,316.67.  Mid-$40ks is considered “luxury range” in cars… the average here is almost at $50,000. I might as well buy a fleet of Alfa Romeos! I hate to sound like a faint echo of the Occupy Wall Street brigade, but if the push to get away from gasoline-powered cars is real, then the alternatives need to be affordable to the average consumer.

Brand Model Battery Price Electric Range (mi.) Gas Component
Tesla Model S 40kWh

$52,400

265

n/a
Tesla Model S 60 kWh

$62,400

200

n/a
Tesla Model S 85 kWh

$72,400

140

n/a
Tesla Model S(Performance) 85 kWh

$87,400

265

n/a
Nissan Leaf S 24 kWh

$21,300

73

n/a
Ford Focus Electric 23kWh

$39,200

105

n/a
Chevrolet Volt 16.5 kWh

$39, 146

38

Yes
Toyota Prius Plug-in 4.4 kWh

$32,000

11

Yes

Some of the more recognizable “electric vehicles” on this chart are only included because they are popularly marketed as “electric cars.” Sorry, everyone, but you should take a break from the exhaust fumes and read the fine print: they aren’t electric vehicles. In fact, they are doing a fraudulent fan dance behind the “electric car” moniker. Both the Volt and Prius Plug-in have gasoline tanks and “seamlessly switch” over to their gas-powered engines when they run out of battery. Their electric battery ranges aren’t very extensive; but with the aid of their gasoline-powered engines, they boast mileage statistics that rival the average gas-powered car. How sneaky…

Also, paying almost $40,000 for a vehicle that is “semi-electric” doesn’t seem to make sense to me; it’s essentially a way for one to sleep better at night knowing that no squirrel families were harmed by your trip from the dry cleaners to the office. Also, really, Toyota, a whopping 11 mile range? Where is that going to get me… to the end of the driveway?

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Road Warriors are here to stay.

No product is perfect — especially something as complicated as a car. But in order for electric vehicles to really take off they must fit into the lives of the people driving them. Right now electric cars are a dream of what we WISH Americans were like on roads: driving 10 miles a day (maximum), rejecting anything gasoline, and never having cause to drive across the country. Sorry to burst the eco-bubble, but Americans do not act like this — and are not likely to give up family road trips to grandma’s house or commuting 20+ miles via car.

Electric-car manufacturers need to think in baby steps. When EVs meet our needs, we will buy them because they will do the job we require.  I think Americans would be more willing to embrace electric vehicles if they were as capable and reliable as their current gas-powered cars.  In order to be a real contender, EVs need to match, if not exceed, the mileage range of gas-powered vehicles and meet a variety of price points. They also need to not explode or refuse to start due to our hometown climates. U.S. infrastructure also has some growing to do in order to support mass-use of EVs across the country. Until these issues are solved, electric vehicles will continue to be a utopian dream that never quite fits into the American way of life.

 

Becky Graebner moved to the east coast from Wisconsin in 2011. She is still a rabid Badger and Packer fan, although she does support the Caps in hockey. She enjoys Formula 1 and Indycar. She likes the eastern seaboard but does miss track days with friends and family at Elkhart Lake and the Milwaukee Mile. Her favorite drivers are Kenny Brack and Robby Gordon.

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