The electric car movement has vroomed in. And many signs indicate that not only are they here to stay, but their presence is likely to mushroom as technology improves. A recent Consumer Reports survey notes that one out of four drivers will seriously consider an electric as their next car purchase — a staggering, standout figure. The two arguably biggest and brightest electric vehicles currently available, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, will likely comprise the lion’s share of this growth in the immediate future. The most noteworthy sources of appeal for these cars and all electrics are their reduced emissions, improved fuel efficiency, and the feeling that you’re in on an Earth-sustaining trend. But does all of this hype actually hold water? What are the potential negatives that this attention is neglecting?
Cost to buy is inevitably the first hassle to handle in the electric car conversation. As of this year, the majority of electric or hybrid vehicles are priced at $2,000 to $10,000 more than what their traditional counterparts demand from the pocketbooks of would-be owners. If the biggest selling point of an electric car is the amount of savings on gas it offers, then potential buyers of electric cars must consider this differential in price in terms of what is allegedly saved on that gasoline. The MSRP on the 2013 Chevrolet Volt, a popular electric car, averages around $40,000. The Chevy Malibu from the same year costs around $25,000.
Measure the Volt’s value, then, by this price difference of $15,000. Then determine how many gallons of gasoline you could purchase for that sum — the same number of gallons the Volt ought to save you, if it’s actually valuable. In Los Angeles, CA, where the cheapest gas is around $4/gallon, this translates into 3,750 gallons of gasoline. The Malibu earns between 25/57 miles per gallon (city/highway), meaning that 93,750 – 213,750 miles must be economized, over the long haul, by the Volt for it to be valuable.
Luckily, the Volt’s mileage estimates impress. It travels an average of 94 miles per gallon on electric fuel (and, when needed, its gas fuel tank of 9.3 gallons). Although it’s more expensive, the electric car could potentially offer owners a significant value in terms of fuel economy, provided they crunch their unique numbers correctly. What’s more, the government, under President Obama’s administration, doled out $7500 tax credits to everyone who owned an electric or hybrid last year.
Unfortunately, it seems as if only those who lived in urban areas are capitalizing on the potential financial assets of owning an electric automobile. The fact that most electric cars sport only enough power to travel 100 miles on one charge rules them out for those who don’t live in fairly congested communities; those who reside in more spread-out environs are more likely to choose traditional cars that can handle a hire mileage-per-tank figure, according to this article in TIME.
Another of the primary drawbacks to electric and hybrid cars, as they are currently being manufactured, is the powerful rectangle that energizes their engines: their batteries. Unlike in traditional gas-powered cars, batteries for electric and hybrid automobiles take on a much greater workload, which means that they are subject to several limitations. One of these is the amount of charge it can hold over time; not capable of infinite energy, these batteries’ power can only do so much, and will eventually face a significant drop-off in effectiveness. As these batteries dull, they’ll require replacement: another difficult task, as most electric cars’ batteries are made of lead acid, an extremely toxic compound.
From an environmental and moral point of view, electric cars’ controversy still doesn’t completely let up. Though they boast fuel efficiency and emit little to no environmentally harmful compounds into the atmosphere, electrics and hybrids are still constructed from materials derived from sustainability-questionable means, just like conventional cars. Moreover, the electricity that supposedly powers this vehicles without harm to the environment is, for the most part in America, derived from burning coal — the poster-child activity for damage to the planet. Unless an electric car’s owner lives in Northwest of the country (where hydroelectric power grids provide clean, safe energy), charging the car battery will still generate some carbon emissions.
Yet the question still remains: are electric cars worth all the hoopla that surrounds them? An even better question would deal with whether or not an electric or hybrid would harmonize well with your lifestyle, and potentially offer you significant financial advantages. Here are the four most important criteria in determining an electric auto’s aptitude for you:
Where you live. This is a consideration not only of power sourcing, but also of electric auto availability. Nissan’s Leaf, for example, is only purchasable in states and municipalities that tout public charging stations, such as Nashville, San Diego, Tuscon, and (unsurprisingly) the entire state of Oregon.
Your type of trip. Do you prefer to make frequent, shorter trips? Or are you one for regular bouts of long distances? Again, the majority of electric vehicles can travel up to 100 miles per charge. Hybrids like the Volt can exploit their gas tank to extend that mileage per charge to a figure of 200.
Consider the charges. The best outfit for loading an electric car battery is a 220-volt charging station, which may or may not be available for you. Should you buy an electric from Nissan, the car company will actually assist you in either locating or constructing such a station of your very own.
Coughing up the cash. Although the up-front price of an electric may seem steep, do not forget to factor in governmental tax credits: that $7500 for taxes, and an additional $2500 should you choose to install a home charging station. Investigate with your particular state as well for even more financial rewards for electric vehicle ownership.