Suddenly electric-car prototypes are everywhere. We're not talking about the dubious concept cars that have long been a staple of the big international auto shows. These are actual, drivable electric vehicles (EVs) built by major automakers and assigned honest-to-God production dates as early as late next year. Their arrival suggests that this latest, much-hyped electric-car revival might just happen after all. Here's a look at what's coming.
The Promise The Volt is an "extended range electric vehicle" that will travel 40 miles on a single charge of a 400-pound lithium-ion battery. After that, a small flex-fuel engine kicks in to power the electric motor.
Status This spring, we drove a Volt "mule" (a Chevy Cruze fitted with the Volt powertrain; go to popsci.com/volt for more) and found it to be powerful and smooth, performing like a silent version of your standard peppy small sedan. Since then, GM has begun building dozens of prototypes.
Will it Happen? Despite bankruptcy, GM is unlikely to give up on the Volt, the most hyped vehicle in years. It insists that Volts will roll out of factories in November 2010.
I park in a private parking lot without access to electric. I have 2 2007 Toyota Yarises. I do not plan to buy a new car in the next 18 years.
With a projected price of $40,000 the Volt is only affordable to the upper middle classes. With me living in the upper lower class, a $40,000 car is pipe dream. For $40,000 I can buy a equipped fuel economy vehicle like a Toyota Yaris ($29,000) and have $11,000 left over for fuel. For $11,000, at $2.50 a gallon, I can buy 4,400 gallons of gasoline. The Toyota Yaris has a EPA combined fuel economy of 32 mpg. So I could drive 140,800 miles on 4,400 gallons of gasoline. With me averaging 8,900 miles a year, I could drive for another 15.8 years on $11,000 worth of gasoline. Electric vehicles would have to improve in range and afford-ability before I would consider buying a electric car.
All the Chevy Volt is a gimmick to permit GM to sell more gas guzzling vehicles while still reaching the US Government's new vehicle fuel economy fleet averages.
Who ever dreamed up the Chevy Volt hybrid electric car did not have the lower class of drivers in mind
One possible route to the kind of car you want is a combo of new battery tech that allows much more and faster charging (nano-electrodes, and MIT's channel/band innovation that slashes internal resistance to ion transport). This would allow a much smaller/cheaper battery pack to get a few hundred miles range, and it could be charged at hi-voltage outlets at a gas/charge station for a couple of bucks. Possibly within 5 yrs; the incentive and payoff will be huge for anyone who manages it.
Another option is the idea pushed by Better Place, which is putting up battery-swap stations (it hopes), and may loan you the car for free when you lease/use its battery exchange service (about 1 minute per swap operation, they say.) Pay for the power used plus service charges, I guess.
Ellenbetty: There are lots of people in your position, and I'm sure the market will change in ways to accommodate you. Nearly all new tech-- microwave ovens, PCs, cell phones, GPSes-- start out as affordable only by the wealthy, but dropping in price due to economies of scale. The more people buy EVs or convert their gasoline cars, the less it will cost to drive them-- but it also means there will be less gasoline being bought, which will help to keep the price of driving down for anyone that still has an ICE (internal combustion engine) car.
As Brian H points out, there are many new technologies that will be working to reduce the cost of buying and driving EVs, and as the newer batteries, motors etc. hit the market, there will be rapid turnover as those who are obsessed with the latest bells and whistles trade up. Thousands of people that were too impatient to wait for new EVs have been (somewhat) quietly converting their ICE cars over the last few years, and as Chevy Volts, Nissan Leafs, Tesla S models and other new EVs hit the market, many of those very lovingly converted EVs will hit the market at bargain prices as well.
Don't expect gasoline prices to stay at their current levels... they are likely to rise at least to $4./ gallon, which is the point at which OPEC appears to think is the tipping point at which nearly everyone will be clamoring for electric cars, and ICEs will have seen their last (choking) gasp.
I yearn for the day soon when driving on a freeway is nearly as healthy and quiet as a walk through the mall.
I hear Nissan is playing with the idea of leasing batteries.That would help with sticker shock.I wonder if GM will try leasing? When better batteries come out,you could swap out your old battery pack for a new one.