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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.

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (39)
All Comments   (39)
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The 11 miles quoted for the Prius is by design. The electric motors in the Synergy drivetrain are there primarily to assist during acceleration. Electric only capability was added later with the plug-in models to appeal to those who drove short distances each day. The real costs of an electric or hybrid are hidden as most are sold at a loss or at cost. Batteries simply do not have the energy density of gasoline and will not for decades.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hooray for an article that gives "just the facts, ma'am." Everything said is right on the money. Another thing struck me as i read it. I am not a scientist, but I recall the law of Conservation of Matter and Energy. Is it, somehow, less polluting to generate the unimaginable amounts of electricity with huge power plants, powered by that "dirty" coal, than it is to produce gasoline that allows us to drive the cars we wish to drive? Electric cars! What a stupid vanity trip for the Liberal Socialist Left!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"When we solve the storage problem the electric car will be the future car" Thomas Edison said something close to that in 1890. 123 years later and we are still not there. Electric cars have been around for that long (the Baker?)I do not mind if they make them just don't charge me for your toy or it's needed charging stations. Can you imagine the size of a station that would remove the bohemoth battery then install a "charged" one. One of those every 100 miles, yea thats "Green" living.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are right that this is another problem but one that can be solved with underground storage just like gasoline tanks. I am not a fan of EV. Petroleum is a gift from mother nature - highly concentrated energy, easily and safely transportable and and efficiently converted into useful work with technology like the combustion engine. Enviro-wackos do not see the big picture. My point is that if you are going to insist on EVs, at least try to do it in a way that has a chance of succeeding.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The entire EV industry made one big fatal strategic mistake in conceptualizing. They needed to think of the battery pack as part of the fuel delivery system and not as part of the car. Imagine pulling into the next generation "gas" station with your EV, entering the battery exchange lane where an hydraulic apparatus racks out your exhausted pack and racks in a fresh pack and sends you on your way. Just having a prototype of one of these stations in San Luis Obispo would have sold thousands more Teslas and Fiskers in LA and SF.

I mean really, did anyone even do any modelling of how big a charging station would have to be in a heavily traveled corridor like the New Jersey turnpike if had to collect and hold 4 hours of refueling traffic?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't support electric cars at all. I AM all for natural gas cars. The buses in my area all run on this stuff and they're great! The infrastructure is already in place and just needs to be modified - as well as the combustion engine of cars. If they can do it with diesel engines they can with regular autos.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A comment on the subject of the recent battery fires aboard Dreamliner
aircraft changed my mind about pure electric automobiles;
'The more efficient a battery becomes, the more it resembles a bomb.'

The IC engine is hard to beat for most automotive applications, with
one exception, the Big City - Suburb commute, and even there the
alternative solution includes a rental fleet of standardized vehicles
which generate extra revenue during the day, and a large number
of fueling (or charging) stations, powered by a pocket nuke;
Light rail without the rails.


1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The only electric vehicles that appeal to me cost as much as a Corvette or Viper. The only electric cars produced for the masses couldn't get me to my doctor's offices and back on one charge. They are useless.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I find it interesting that most of the places which are most convenient for electric car owners—places with charging stations, stores and entertainment and work all in short driving distances—are also places with LPG or electric mass transit, the greenest of options for travel at this time.
I live in a city now, but have lived where the closest grocery store was nearly an hour away, even with 60+ mph highways. I live in a city now, but my parents live 200 miles away in the country. Do I rent a car every time I see them? Electric cars hold a lot of promise, but for now, it's only promises.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Current electrics are useless in a rural state like mine. One city to the next can be 50 to 100 miles easily.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
$50k golf carts belong on the swanky golf courses and country clubs around the country not on our streets
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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