The answer to range anxiety for many carmakers is the plug-in hybrid, an electric car with a backup gasoline engine. The Chevrolet Volt, the Toyota Prius Plug-In and the Ford C-Max Energi all use electric power for the first 20 miles to 50 miles (or most daily trips) and then switch to gasoline for longer trips.
3. Charging is a headache.
Charging an electric car can be as simple as plugging it into a wall outlet. But AC outlet charging is slow, taking between eight and 24 hours. So it’s not usually the method of first resort.
That’s why most plug-ins are sold with charging docks that work in a home garage and can charge a car in four to eight hours, allowing drivers to treat their cars like their cell phones: topping them off periodically or charging them up overnight.
I didn’t have my own garage when I first leased an electric car, so I often used a public charging station within walking distance of my home. There are now 5,734 public stations in the United States, many with multiple charging points. The newest generation will charge your car nearly 10 times faster than home stations and 50 times faster than an AC outlet. Tesla just installed several of these supercharger stations on the East and West coasts, and Nissan recently announced plans to install 500 in the coming months.
4. Electric cars aren’t any better for the environment.
Electric cars have clear environmental benefits: They don’t require gasoline, they don’t pollute from tailpipes and they operate at 80-percent efficiency (vs. about 20 percent for internal-combustion engines).
Skeptics will cite a 2012 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists as evidence that electric cars aren’t as green as some people make them out to be. That study correctly notes that autos powered by coal-generated electricity are little better for the environment than small gas-powered cars. But the same report concludes that “consumers should feel confident that driving an electric vehicle yields lower global-warming emissions than the average new compact gasoline-powered vehicle.” That’s because only 39 percent of U.S. electricity comes from coal. With the retirement of old power plants and the addition of cleaner energy sources, electric cars will have even greater advantages for the environment.
Another environmental concern is about batteries. Won’t they end up in landfills like billions of disposable batteries do? The answer is No. Even gasoline-car batteries avoid that fate when they are exchanged and recycled. And electric-car batteries are valuable as energy-storage devices after life on the road. Backup power systems for utilities, businesses and homes create a secondary market for these batteries before their elements are recycled.
5. Most people will never be able to afford an electric car.
At $102,000, the base price of a 2012 Fisker Karma was clearly beyond the reach of most drivers. Tesla, too, was critiqued for the assumptions built into its recent claim that a Model S could be leased for $500 a month. (The Washington Post calculated that the monthly cost would be closer to $1,000.)
But these two luxury cars have targeted the high-end market. By contrast, the cost of leasing a Nissan Leaf ($199 a month with $1,999 down) is equivalent to leasing a compact gasoline car such as the Mazda3 — except you don’t have to pay for gas.
Keeping electric-car sticker prices from dropping right now are low production volumes and the cost of batteries. But a 2012 McKinsey report estimates that the price of lithium-ion batteries could fall dramatically by 2020.
As the cost of electric-car technology trends downward and the price of oil trends upward, electric cars should prove the more affordable and, based on my experience, more enjoyable choice.
Chris Paine is a filmmaker whose documentaries include “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” “Charge” and “Revenge of the Electric Car.”