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Good and Green Reasons to Consider an Electric Car This Year

Max Baumhefner

Posted March 5, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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By Felix Kramer* and Max Baumhefner

When it comes to consumer products, environmentalists generally don’t encourage people to buy new and buy now. But that’s what we're about to do because electric cars are significantly cleaner than gasoline vehicles, and driving one can save you serious cash at the pump.

Perhaps you’ve already thought about buying an electric car, but dismissed the idea for one reason or another. Let's look at some common misconceptions, and offer some good reasons why you might want to reconsider:

“I should drive my current car into the ground.”

“Hold on,” you say to yourself, “I already own a car that gets 25 miles a gallon. I want to get my money’s worth from the investment.” The sooner you start saving gas, the better it is for the planet and your pocketbook. There’s no use in throwing good money after bad at the pump, and the sooner you sell your current car, the less money you’ll lose to depreciation.

 “I’d just be switching my pollution from the tailpipe to the power plant.”

If you want to go green, driving on electricity is a clear winner. Using today’s average American electricity mix of natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, geothermal, and solar, an electric car emits half the amount of climate-changing carbon pollution per mile as the average new vehicle. In states with cleaner mixes, such as California, it’s only a quarter as much. To find out how clean your electric car would be today, plug your zip code into the EPA’s “Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator.” You should also know that, because old coal plants are increasingly being retired and replaced by cleaner and renewable resources, plug-in cars are the only cars that become cleaner as they age.

“What I save on gas, I’ll pay in electricity.”

On average US residential electricity rates, driving one of today’s electric cars is the equivalent of driving a 27 mile-per-gallon car on buck-a-gallon gasoline. It’s been that way for the last four decades, and is forecasted to stay that way for the next three decades. Experts basically throw up their hands when asked to predict the price of gas next year, let alone 30 years from now. One thing we do know: the price at the pump will jump up and down due to geopolitical events beyond our control. If you’re tired of that rollercoaster, call your local utility to ask about electricity rates designed for plug-in cars.

“I’ll hold off until prices go down and there are more places to charge.”

 If you’re thinking you’d be better off waiting for a cheaper, better electric car, and a charging station on every block, consider the following:

  • Modern electric cars start well below $30,000.  Even better, there’s a federal tax credit worth $7,500, and states like California have rebates of up to $2,500, which mean you can buy an electric car for under $20,000 or lease one at a very attractive price. Still thinking of waiting for a better deal? Those incentives won’t last forever.
  • A variety of high-quality electric cars are available today. There are over 80,000 of them on America’s streets, with the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius Plug-in, and Tesla Model S leading the pack.
  • Public charging stations are proliferating rapidly, but you don’t need to wait for them to be as abundant as gas stations.  Drivers of plug-in cars enjoy fuel that comes to them, relying on home charging to meet the vast majority of their needs.

 “I often need to drive farther than electric vehicles can go without recharging.”

Broadly speaking, electric cars come in two flavors: all-electric and plug-in hybrid. The second has no range limitations whatsoever; they have batteries sufficient for normal trips (between 10 and 40 miles, depending on the model), and they become efficient gasoline hybrids for longer trips. If you want one car to do it all, a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-in, Honda Accord Plug-in, Ford Fusion Energi, or Ford C-Max Energi is a great option.

If, however, your household has more than one vehicle, an all-electric is an ideal “second car” you’ll end up using most of the time. All-electrics, such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV, Mitsubishi-i, BMW Active-E, Fiat 500 EV, Coda, Chevy Spark EV, Honda Fit EV, or Tesla Model S, have ranges between 60 and 265 miles, more than enough for the daily commute. When it comes time for the long road trip, you can always take the other car.

When you get behind the wheel of an electric car, you'll experience the joy of full torque from a standstill and a super-quiet cabin. You may have a hard time going back to a machine that relies exclusively on thousands of explosions of fossil fuel every minute.

If you’d like to try a plug-in outside of a dealership, you can find an owner on DrivingElectric.org to give you a spin. You'll be surprised in ways you could never expect and you’ll never get tired of driving on a clean fuel for the equivalent of buck-a-gallon gas.

 *Felix Kramer is an entrepreneur who founded CalCars.org in 2002 to promote plug-in hybrids and DrivingElectric.org in 2012 to connect curious people with enthusiastic plug-in drivers.

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Comments

AlexMar 6 2013 04:30 PM

How about those who can't afford one, or are just perfectly fine having fun while driving and prefer to be left alone? How about those who need towing and cargo capacity that only trucks can offer? Not everybody wants an electric vehicle shoved down their throats.

WayneMar 6 2013 05:20 PM

Hi Alex-
Do you feel that these are being shoved down your throat? It seems the authors were just making a case against some of the common reasons people say that EVs are not practical. I don't think anyone is trying to tell you what to get. The authors just want to say that EVs are a good option for most people. If you don't want one, don't get one. I don't think that will anger the authors. It shouldn't anger you that they think an EV is a perfectly good substitute for the average commuter car.

Max BaumhefnerMar 6 2013 05:36 PM

Thanks, Alex. Your comments are always appreciated. Thankfully, more and more vehicle types at various price points, including medium and heavy duty vehicles and more sports cars are beginning to employ electric drive technology. The inherent advantages of efficiency, low maintenance, cheap, clean fuel, and torque from a standstill are too large to ignore.

Jim BarberaMar 7 2013 01:11 AM

I'm with Felix. No EV advocate is for forcing anyone to drive an EV. We're just ecstatic that we now have a choice of fuels, finally breaking the choke hold the oil has had on our mobility. Sometimes it's discouraging to hear people making the case against EVs using blatant falsehoods. There are valid reasons why an EV might not work for some people, but why deny them to those of us for whom they do work?

The fuel cost of my daily 40 mile commute went from $6 in gas to $1.50 in electricity and I've gone over 9000 miles without stopping for gas or getting an oil change. Plus it's way more fun to drive.

Using an EV to commute is about using the right tool for the job. The average commuter is using a sledgehammer to drive a thumb tack. Let's save the gas for the heavy work.

Gary KrysztopikMar 7 2013 11:07 AM

Great summary. As an option for cargo capacity "that only trucks can offer", I use a utility trailer on my small car. It's there when I need it and not when I don't.

I wish people understood how important EV's are for our economy and national security (as well as environment). Our oil driven economy is killing this country, we need to get off it. EV's keep money local and that can turn this country around. I want to be part of a solution, not part of a problem.

AlexMar 7 2013 11:37 AM

Okay, but if the Feds force perfectly okay cars to go to the crusher because they are politically incorrect, don't say that you didn't see it coming, people who can't afford an electric be damned.

JamieMar 8 2013 11:45 AM

I drive a Leaf, and one objection I get all of the time is that the batteries at the end of life cause hazardous waste of epic proportions. What are your thoughts on that issue?

Max BaumhefnerMar 8 2013 02:37 PM

Two quick points in response: 1) EV batteries are too valuable to just be thrown away. Once they are no longer useful in cars, they will likely be re-purposed for other energy storage applications, such as providing localized support for utility electrical grids. In fact, PG&E has a proposal for a pilot to demonstrate this use before the California Public Utilities Commission. The goal is to return the residual value from the batteries to EV drivers, to help reduce the purchase price of the cars; 2) Those batteries that cannot be re-purposed will be recycled. Conventional car batteries are consistently the most recycled product for which the EPA provides data, with a recycling rate of 96 percent. We hope to do even better with EV batteries and the Department of Energy is already partnering with private firms to advance the state of lithium-ion recycling.

Don FrancisMar 9 2013 08:59 AM

For my Nissan LEAF charging I purchase 200 kWh each month of Premium Green Energy from my utility ($10 extra per month) of which 100 kWh are purchased from solar generators. I use about 100 kWh per month charging my LEAF. That makes the car truly "zero emission" from both a criteria pollutant (NOx/VOC) as well as GNG perspective. As far as price, I leased my LEAF and so did others. When the leases begin to expire in 2014, used electric vehicles will be available at the dealers at a much lower price reflecting both the age as well as the impact of the Federal and in some cases State tax credits. Oh, and we still keep a small pickup around for those things that a small sedan like the LEAF does not do well but now it is driven only occassionally. My cost of fuel went from 15 to 20 cents per mile depending on the price of gasoline to 1.5 cents per mile for electricity (Time of Use - PlugIn Electric Vehicle Super Off-Peak Rate). An electric car is not for every body but for a large segment of the population it works just fine.

Kelly OlsenMar 9 2013 04:06 PM

Don't want an EV? Then don't buy one. Simple as that. You have tons of gas cars to choose from. BUT, at least drive one before you start telling everybody why they stink (they don't actually stink of course because they have no tailpipe).

I was hooked the moment I pressed the accelerator the first time a friend let me drive his EV-1. Man, was it fun! And not having to get gas, oil changes, tunes ups, radiator flushes, transmission jobs, etc, all sealed the deal for me.

I recently drove a friends Tesla S. The most exciting automotive experience I've ever had in my 46 years of driving!

I like them so much I make short videos about people's experience with their EV's.

Here's one about parents giving their teenage son his first driving lesson in a LEAF.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_HtcTPYk98&feature=share&list=UUDb0EpKivw1a_LfdpVj-Nww

George LewisMar 13 2013 01:25 PM

There is another great affordable option... The Prius C! It's just $19k With Air, Automatic, Power Windows & Doors plus 60MPG when you drive strategically: (it has an eco meter that let's you drive mainly on electric power in the city by using a pulse and e-drive technique!) So now we have a third option (other than full electric or plug-in hybrid... The Prius C!)

WayneMar 13 2013 04:25 PM

"Okay, but if the Feds force perfectly okay cars to go to the crusher because they are politically incorrect, don't say that you didn't see it coming, people who can't afford an electric be damned."

Now I'm confused. What are you talking about? Have the Feds crushed your car (or anyone-that-you-know's car)? I could see why that might make you upset. Have they threatened this? If it happens, I imagine I won't see it coming, unless you give me a good reason to be worried about this. Do you have one?

A.J.Mar 14 2013 04:02 PM

Some reasonable selling points, and pure electric is an option if you don't have range anxiety and live in a relatively mild area (since heat/AC can substantially impact range), but ..."the sooner you sell your current car, the less money you’ll lose to depreciation" ?

This doesn't seem like much of a selling point, given that new cars depreciate much faster than older ones. And that for many, replacing an older car means taking on more debt in these iffy economic times. That said, I can't wait for policy to recognize the hidden costs of fossil carbon and inefficiency, and make electrics and the latest hybrid tech more appealing to the average American.

NickMar 14 2013 04:38 PM

I was wondering if the authors have a response to Bjorn Lomborg's op-ed in this week's WSJ. I'm generally annoyed by Lomborg, but I haven't seen anything rebutting his claims. His main point is that the manufacture of an electric car (mostly the battery) is much more carbon-intensive than the manufacture of a similarly sized gas car, so much so that it largely offsets any reduction in CO2 omissions from the actual driving of the vehicle.

I really like electric vehicles for the simply reason they're so much quieter, but I was wondering about actual data on carbon efficiency. Thanks.

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