Seattle’s electric vehicle paradox

Seattle is among the nation’s hottest places for electric or hybrid vehicles, but is this really the right time to own an all-electric car?
Hybrids have taken the lead in alternative vehicles. Some owners may come equipped with a sense of humor.

Hybrids have taken the lead in alternative vehicles. Some owners may come equipped with a sense of humor. Joe McCarthy/Flickr

A Nissan Leaf on display (2010)

A Nissan Leaf on display (2010) Washington State Department of Transportation

An electric vehicle plugs into a CenturyLink Field charging station.

An electric vehicle plugs into a CenturyLink Field charging station. Skip Ferderber

If you live in the greater Seattle area and own an all-electric or hybrid car, congratulations! 

You’re part of the vanguard that has made Washington among the Top Ten states in the nation during 2012 for gas-saving (or gas-eliminating), environmentally friendly vehicles.

Washington has taken to the new-generation cars like the proverbial duck to water. The reasons are many: a tech-savvy, environmentally-aware population, a relatively affluent population, and strong efforts by both public and private interests to make the all-but-inevitable transition relatively painless. 

Perhaps you’re getting ready to make the plunge. If so, what should you consider when you’re thinking about having one of those shiny new toys parked in your driveway — if, in fact, you even have a driveway? And if so, which of the many new technologies — plug-in all-electric vehicles (EVs), electric/gas hybrids or some other variation — should you buy?

According to a recent report  by the respected Edmunds.com automotive website, 5.7 percent of all EVs and 3.1 percent of hybrids sold nationally have been purchased in Washington.

Roughly 43 all-electric, plug-in hybrids and diesel-powered vehicles will have U.S. introductions through 2015. (Edmunds’ overview of current and future vehicles is here.)

That’s the good news. But to Seattleites still wedded to the relative simplicity of gas-powered vehicles, the learning curve for understanding the technology of today’s new EVs and hybrids is steep. And then there’s sticker-shock.

According to Dan Davids, president of the nonprofit PlugIn America  consumer group, today's forward-thinking cars fit into four categories;

(Please note these are “Cliff Notes” descriptions; virtually every major car manufacturer is developing new combinations of these technologies.)

  • Pure gas engines. Many purely gas vehicles are achieving high mileage rates such as the EPA-estimated 40 miles per gallon Ford Focus, but the car companies generally know that some form of hybridization will be needed in the future.
  • Gas-powered hybrids require no external electric charging, but use both a gas engine and electric motors powered by the gas engine to power the car. The original Toyota Prius is not only the best example of this technology to date but is well in front of the EV/hybrid pack when it comes to sales.
  • Plug-in electric/gas hybrids use both electrically charged motors and gas motors in various combinations to power the vehicle. Some schemes run on batteries and have a gas generator providing extra electricity to the electric motor powering the car, such as the Chevy Volt; others use an electric and a gas motor to directly power the vehicle such as the new Ford C-Max Energi.
  • Plug-in all-electric vehicles (EVs) run purely on batteries charged by electricity from the nation’s power gird. Electricity can be acquired from charging stations either in your home, or chargers now being installed on some highways, in public facilities, and commercial buildings. While the cleanest-running vehicles, they also have limited range. Charging times, especially on the road, may present problems to some. The Nissan Leaf, as well as the $80,000 Tesla Model S, Motor Trend’s 2012 car of the year, are examples.

“On the surface,” said Davids, "the learning curve may appear to be steep, but once you actually drive one of these, you’ll find them easy, simple and enjoyable to live with.”

Of the four categories, all-electric vehicles offer the greatest promise to end our dependence on gas and improve the environment.  At the same time, they remain the most problematic in public acceptance, according to several experts.

Washington is among the nation's better prepared states with both public policies and public-private partnerships in place designed to aid the future of all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.  

By the end of 2012, electric EV charging stations planned for the tri-state West Coast Electric Highway, stretching from the Canadian border to San Diego along Interstate 5, will be completed throughout Washington and Oregon. Charging station installations along a second “green” highway, U.S. 2 between Sultan and Wenatchee, are also done. Federal funds have been used for both projects.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

I've owned a Nissan Leaf since last January and LOVE it. I generally commute from Bellevue to Seattle, going about 40 miles/day. I've made a habit of plugging it in whenever I get home. I also plan ahead figuring out how many miles I will go in one day. So far there have only been two days when I had to take our other car because I would not have enough miles. So for daily commuting, it's GREAT.

jlevinger

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

I always find it interesting when journalists who are ostensibly keen on tech emphasize politics, edge cases, industry talking points, etc. and cherry-pick for their anecdotes. In the article, the Tesla Model S is "$80,000"--when in fact it starts at $50K, and the buyer qualifies for $7500 in federal tax rebates. (So perhaps the article should also mention $50K Ford Mustangs as comparators?) It's really not as difficult or confusing as it is made out to be, so what is the author striving for exactly? I have a 2012 plug-in Prius. It cost about $2500 more than a similar, but non-plug-in model, after the (modest) tax rebate. It plugs into a standard wall outlet and charges in under 3 hours. Over the first 5000 miles I have averaged 105 mpg without hassle. What is that, about 4-5x the national average? The payback on fuel might take 5-6 years at current prices, but the tradeoffs, too long to enumerate here, are well worth it to me.
It is pretty simple really...

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Tesla's Model S starts at $57,400 for the shortest range version, which makes it $50K net of the tax credit. A Ford Mustang starts at $22,200. To get anywhere near $50,000 for a Mustang, you have to get the top-end version with all the trimmings.

By the way, how far will the Prius go in electric-only mode?

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

As President of the Seattle EV Association, 2nd LARGEST association of its type in the US, we have a lot of EV Road Miles under our belt, since December 5th of 1980 ! The article is well written and for the most part UP-BEAT. Like our friend Ed Bagley Jr. is fond of saying...

"What the detractors and critics of Electric Cars have been saying for years IS TRUE. The Electric Vehicles is not for everybody. Given the limited range it can only meet the needs of NINETY Percent of the Population."

I like to add... 90% of the population, 90% of the time. Our good friend Daniel Davids of Plug-In-America will tell you that research in California has shown that 90% of the charging is taking place at HOME! And a lot of that on simple 110 AC plug. Between my home here, and the closest GAS STATION, there are HUNDREDS of places I could plug in my Mitsubish Mi-EV, in a Pinch.

The paragraph in the article about "Infrastructure Not being up to speed yet" , I feel from 31 years of practical experience is Just Not True.

Steve Lough
President
Seattle EV Association
www.seattleeva.org

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 3:54 p.m. Inappropriate

I own an electric car, and until I get a 240 volt charger I've been recharging on 110. It's working out pretty well, but I think it's misleading to tell people about "hundreds" of places to recharge your vehicle.

You know as well as any EV owner that 110 volt recharging is very slow. It's not a feasible option for recharging when you're away from home, even "in a pinch." It takes too long. We need more 240 volt stations around town, and I'd be happy to pay the going rate for the power as opposed to having them be free.

As for the range, I think the practicality dictates that, as the range of an EV falls below 100 miles on a charge, it starts to become more problematical in use, depending on a driver's specific circumstances.

My vehicle gets about 65 miles on a charge at this time of year, when I use the heater a lot and the lights even in the afternoon. This works for me because I take short trips. But someone who does more driving than I do, even in the city, would need a combination of longer range and more charging stations.

I've followed EVs for a long time and am bullish on them, but I think it's absolutely necessary to be utterly candid about the ups and downs. Besides what I've mentioned, a big "down" is the cost of the batteries, which has driven EV costs too high. We are one big breakthrough away from an EV boom. But until then, EVs will be a niche.

If I were running the show at the federal level, I'd be spending lots of money on cheaper power storage technology. Same goes if I was a billionaire will seed capital to spare. Whoever figures out a much cheaper EV battery with higher capacity will become very, very, very rich, or richer as the case may be. Storage is the holy grail. Everything else has been figured out, or (except for more 240 v charging stations) is pretty much in place.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:37 a.m. Inappropriate

I found a very helpful guide to electric vehicles called "Welcome to the EVolution." It was very helpful. It's online at: http://www.electricdrive.wa.gov/Downloads/EVGuide_WesternWACC.pdf

jimzhook

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:45 a.m. Inappropriate

It's nice to learn that more diesel cars will be sold in the US, but the US still favors gas over diesel at the pump. In Europe, where something like 3/4 of all cars sold have diesel engines, diesel is typically $1/gallon less than regular gas. This is an incentive multiplier to the improved mileage and power available with diesel engines. Here, diesel is typically 50 cents (or more) more expensive than regular. If the tax structure (both at the refinery and at the pump) could be optimized for diesel fuel, we'd see far more diesel cars here, and a significant reduction in oil consumption.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Informative article. Informative comments.

Despite massive Federal, state, and local government spending that supposedly reduces greenhouse gas generation by motivating less use of automobiles in favor of transit, personal motorized mobility is expected to remain dominant nationwide. Main reason is that roads go everywhere all the time, and transit doesn't.

Even in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan of the Puget Sound Regional Council, cars are expected to maintain a travel market share of over 90 percent across all trip purposes through 2040. Transit's best market, commuting to work and school is only 17 percent of travel.

Therefore, consumer decisions to buy cars that reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas generation are important, and it's worth thinking through how to encourage and motivate those choices appropriately.

A few government-sponsored electric vehicle charging stations scattered here and there near available parking can be thought of as a gentle reminder of the new choices. As the article points out, private battery charging at locations where plug-in cars are parked all night is what is really needed.

Another option -- and I'm not urging, just pondering -- is to let plug-in all-electric vehicles (no gas tank at all) use the HOV lanes even with only a solo driver. This could be a temporary policy of encouragement while EVs are relatively few.

jniles

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 5:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Even though I own an EV, I don't favor special privileges on the road. They encourage smugness on the part of EV owners, and resentment on the part of everyone else. EVs ought to stand on their own merits, not on special access to an HOV lane.

By the way, I don't think there's a "steep learning curve" for EVs. Mine has very much the look and feel of a gas car. The difference is that you watch a dial that shows the percentage of your battery charge left. I use the trip odometer to gauge how much range I have left. It's not rocket science.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't see an all electric vehicle future, either regionally or nationally. Right now the three dirty words in electrical power generation are hydro, coal, and nuclear. What will replace them? How many of them, whatever them is, will be needed and where will they be located? Windmills and solar panels? I don't think so.

What we really lack is a coherent energy plan on a national level. We need a thought out plan, not a pie in the sky national policy that has no resemblance to real world problems. We're good at policies but real crappy at long term planning.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 3:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Coal provides one-third of the electric power generating capacity. Electric cars fueled by coal plants are still much less polluting than gas powered cars. Something that hardly anyone knows is that for each gallon of gas it produces, an oil refinery needs to import 5 kW of electricity (or the fuel -- usually natural gas -- to generate the electricity).

This fact makes the "miles per gallon" equivalent of an electric car much higher than is generally appreciated. Electric powered cars, be they fully electric or hybrids, are the future. I think Chevy's Volt will be seen, in hindsight, as a revolutionary vehicle. Its architecture will be what most vehicles use in 15 years.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 4:35 p.m. Inappropriate

It would be interesting to know how much power is expended in the manufacture of electric vehicles, and in the disposition of the hundreds of pounds of hazardous waste (heavy-metal batteries) that they carry around. This information might lower that "miles per gallon" equivalent that makes electric cars seem so compelling.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 5:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Here is a study on that very issue. It did a life cycle analysis of electric cars vs. gas/diesel powered cars and found that there is very little difference in their environmental impact when differences in manufacturing and disposal issues are taken into account.

http://tinyurl.com/8kjhogt

However, as the following rebuttal shows, one needs to be careful when reading "studies" from sources funded by the oil industry. Turns out, for example, that the "study" above used the manufacturing parameters for an electric motor that's 20 times the size of those used in electric vehicles, and for an inverter (converts the battery's output to a form usable by the electric motor) that's 6 times the size of those used in electric vehicles.

And, when evaluating the means of making the electricity used to power electric vehicles, it assumed an energy mix tilted very much more toward coal than the U.S. mix, and to coal that's a lot dirtier than what we use. Finally, it didn't take into account the electricity input into the manufacture of gasoline and diesel fuel.

http://tinyurl.com/a93y3md

I'm not usually big on conspiracy thinking, but I do think that the oil industry wants very badly to strangle electric cars, and is perfectly fine with packaging some outrageous lies within this or that "study" produced by this or that university it controls.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 7:35 p.m. Inappropriate

You missed the point.

If the goal is to move away from fossil fuels, remove dams, and shun nuclear, then an all electric national transportation network complete with commuter vehicles and mass transit isn't going to fly. The power has to come from somewhere and if you take away that production...your argument is specious.

Coal produces over 40% of all electricity in the US. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c01.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_power_in_the_United_States

Djinn

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 8:47 p.m. Inappropriate

I do get your point, and will address it.

I stand corrected, but only partially, on coal. We use more coal than I thought, but the trend is sharply toward natural gas replacing coal. I went to the Wikipedia entry and clicked on the source of their data. Check it out. We've gone from 50% coal to 37% in the first 9 months of 2012. There's a big shift underway as the result of the big finds in Alberta and North Dakota.

http://tinyurl.com/c7mlk92

As for removing dams, environmental removal of a few dams has gotten a lot of publicity, but the vast majority of capacity remains in place, and in some places (such as the Grand Coulee) the power production is being upgraded. Seattle City Light, for example, gets 93% of its power from hydro.

I don't advocate taking away the hydro production. I have mixed feelings about renewables, i.e., solar and wind, but that's a different discussion. I suspect you would find me more at odds with the extreme eco-freak fake "progressives" than you imagine me to be.

That said, the numbers on electric cars and their ecological effect are quite clear. Even if every kilowatt were to come from coal, an electric car would still be better for the environment, not to mention the personal energy budget, than the gas/diesel version.

On an overall national basis, with coal now at 37% of electric generation, there's no contest. In those parts of the Puget Sound served by Seattle City Light, it's a no-brainer. Electric cars are genuinely "green." And I say that as someone who's been sharply critical of the faker crap from Seattle's smug "progressives," such as their idiotic plastic bag ban.

But facts are facts. First the facts, then the opinions.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 10, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

This isn't directed at any commenter in particular.

If coal produces over 40% of all electricity in the US, it must be moved. Hate coal? Then support innovation, ingenuity, invention towards a better energy solution, don't waste wasting time and energy and money tilting at windmills. If neither Washington State nor Seattle can legally block the coal trains, then run the trains. Coal must move, at least until innovation, ingenuity, invention finds something new.

If one assumes that dams are a large reason why salmon runs are reducing, then the cost of hydroelectricity is more than just the cost of building/maintaining dams and producing/delivering electricity. Add hungry whales, even in Puget Sound, who have shown nutritional signs of starvation (too few salmon?) and that electric cost moves higher.

Instead of so many factions arguing about fossil fuels/dams/nuclear/individual vehicles etc etc etc, it would be a productive miracle to see a broad picture be utilized, with a recognition that too many disagreeable factions have crippled our entire economy. Instead of fighting to end use of something, why aren't we pushing to invent/create something that resolves the issue?

The economy didn't just burst because of hyped up spending, bad mortages or lack of savings - it also burst because there has been a controlled and distinct loss of opportunity and ability to get things done. We're regulated to death, equally over-regulated and over-NIMBY'd. Are all those jobs that were outsourced as much to do with over-regulations as they are due to NIMBY's who won't let anything 'dirty' stay home? Profit and low wages are certainly part of the reason, but I can't think of too many companies who really wanted to put their work overseas instead of home. Most send those jobs overseas out of sheer frustration that they cannot function here in an economically viable way.

Every single time nearly anything generates a decent discussion, it finds planners or politicians far too ready to say 'no' in quick response to basically what Not Fan terms fake "progressive" enviro crap. Banning plastic bags is a joke and an imaginary benefit. Are our politicians really this stupid? Don't answer. So are the voters.

Even jhande's comment, "The proponent of the China Coal Ports says 82 permanent jobs, most of which would not be local hires. In what way are is this a significant number of jobs?" becomes a NIMBY comment. The statement is meant to accumulate less support for even just the 82 jobs, instead of suggesting that 82 jobs is a good start, and let's find a way to put those people to work, as well as find a way to ensure safety. We're a society living on the NO, not the YES.

Why can't we find a way to produce mutually beneficial give and take, resulting in a mutually beneficial 'yes'? High pressured 'no' wins everytime. What a waste.

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 3:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Ditto to the comment by ExUngeLeonem about cherry picking numbers: "Often more than $40k"? I bought my car for $31k (no sales tax) and it will be $23.5k after my federal tax rebate. It won't be too long before I've seen the difference for that cost in fuel, even at today's prices.

I'll admit to being an enthusiast when it comes to EV adoption. I drive an EV which is a "garage orphan": I don't even have a driveway in front of my house, let alone a garage. However, as I do most of my charging in the garage at my work this isn't a huge problem for me. If I owned the home, I'd consider putting in a more permanent arrangement than running an extension cord to the street: http://goo.gl/377QT

I also have access to a 220V outlet at a nearby workshop. Between these, it's easy to keep my car's battery charge topped up: http://goo.gl/Mun5w

sparklee

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Running an extension cord to the street is unsafe, and should be made illegal. We do not need pedestrians electrocuted because an electric cords insulation fails on a wet sidewalk.

I have seen some individuals running cords to the street, and it is unsafe, especially in wet weather, like we have oftentimes in Seattle. All it takes is something to go over the cord that cuts its insulation; as the cord gets older and weathered the insulation becomes more brittle.

Cords to the street are unsafe. They should be made illegal before someone gets killed. Not after someone gets killed, before someone gets killed.

jhande

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 12:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Rest easy. In practice, it's hard and maybe impossible to run an extension cord to the street to recharge an EV.

A 110 volt charging unit is roughly half the size of a cinderblock, but much lighter. One end has a cord about six feet long that plugs into an outlet. The other end has a cord about 10 feet long that runs to the vehicle. The connections are standardized. They look kinda-sorta like gas pumps.

If you were to use an extension cord on the charging unit, you'd need to attach it to the part that runs from the charger back to the outlet. Ah, but there's a problem: The longer the extension cord, the weaker the output. It's usually not noticeable with typical appliances, but with an EV charger you need no less than 7.5 amps to make it work. That's a problem at the end of an extension cord, and as a result the recharger unit user manuals tell you not to use an extension cord.

But let's imagine that some EV owner has done an end-around by using a heavy enough extension cord. And let's imagine that this heavy cord is in bad condition. Enter the GFI, or ground fault interrupter. You know those three-prong things? The EV chargers are all three-prongers. Which are plugged into sockets with GFIs. Which automatically shut off if someone is shocked.

Go look in your bathroom or kitchen. See those three-prong outlets? They all have GFIs, which is what keeps you from dying if you drop your corded electric shaver in the sink. Bottom line: If you want to be paranoid, pick something else than the danger of EVs being charged on the street.

p.s.: I looked at the pictures at the link above, and it doesn't look like there's any extension cord involved.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 11:25 a.m. Inappropriate

I believe ground fault circuit interrupters are only required in kitchens, baths, and laundries where hair dryers, etc. might get dropped in sinks. Otherwise shut-off depends on tripping a breaker or blowing a fuse in the service box.
Some users will likely plug their 3-prong chargers into 2-prong adapters and ungrounded outlets.

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually, GFIC's are required in garages as well. This has nothing to do with the 'three prong things' which are simply ground required on all outlets.

I agree w/ jhande though, long extension cords are a hazard. There's a house or apartment complex near where I live with a camper parked on the parking strip and extension cord draped across the sidewalk. Regardless of any possible electrocution, they are a trip-hazard.

jeffro

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I went back and looked at the photos at the link that "sparklee" provided. One of them shows a long extension cord running across a sidewalk that he identifies as being connected to a 12-amp, 240 volt circuit. 240 volts can kill people. No one has any business running a 240 volt cord across a sidewalk. It's irresponsible as hell.

As for 110 v (standard household voltage), the way it works at my place is that I plug the 110 v recharger into an outdoor plug. I've never seen an outdoor plug without a GFI. I don't know how the whole story about how it's done with 240, which is typically what's used for things like clothes dryers and greenhouses.

But I do know that when you run 240 volts to a hot tub, a GFI and a city electrical inspection is required. But who knows what "sparklee" has done? Anyone who'd run a 240 volt extension cord across a sidewalk probably has all kinds of problems with his wiring, both internal and external.

As for the 3-prong cords into two-prong adapters, that's something people with old wiring do. In fact, it's something I've done over the years in places I've lived where the wiring was old and the plugs weren't grounded. Hard to imagine plugging in an electric car that way.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Electric vehicles cannot be compared side by side to gas or diesel run vehicles without a full and true analysis of the amount of fossil fuels used to produce electricity, as well as the cost to build, run and maintain all of those hydroelectric dams.

I think it's great that we have alternatives to 'regular fueled' vehicles, but don't get so jumpy on the bandwagony - things are not that easy.

Inventions, innovations, ingenuity. The American Way still is in process.

Driving is freedom - and freedom is what our forefathers/mothers/grandparenters built this country on.

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:23 p.m. Inappropriate

The dams exist, and the occasional dismantling of this or that one notwithstanding, they will continue to exist whether we have electric cars or not. "Miles per gallon" for an EV is completely theoretical. It's really a cost-based calculation. When I bought my EV, I made those comparisons based on fuel costs at the time.

The wintertime "mpg" of my EV is 330 "mpg" based on those prices. The summertime mpg will be more like 430, because my EV gets better "mileage" when it doesn't need the heater, and the lights don't have to be on until much later in the day.

I didn't jump on any bandwagon. I got it because I've been interested in them for a long time. But there's utterly no question that, especially for someone in City Light's service area, an EV is as green as it gets. As for cars and freedom, I completely agree with you. However they are powered, I am completely opposed to the anti-car agenda of the fake "progressives" who dominate Seattle politics.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:08 p.m. Inappropriate

@not fan, are you against the coal trains? We seem dependent on them, and the jobs they would create cannot be understated.

Posted Tue, Dec 4, 11:25 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm neutral on the coal trains. There are good arguments on both sides. Ultimately, I don't see how local authorities can block them.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 3:10 p.m. Inappropriate

The proponent of the China Coal Ports says 82 permanent jobs, most of which would not be local hires. In what way are is this a significant number of jobs? Usually, proponents overstate employment figures to sell their proposal. The proponents claim 4000 construction jobs for two years. That is a definate over statement, that is about the same number as for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is several thousand miles long. Also, we are not dependent on coal trains in Washington State.

jhande

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 12:24 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't think WA State, or the city of Seattle, has the legal authority to stop them.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Good article, but the challenges mentioned by the author are to be expected in the introduction, implementation and development of any new product. Remember when cell phones required a briefcase?

Many excellent comments in this thread, but I especially like NotFan's rebuttals. Good work, and thank you for the links!

Deb Eddy

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 10:49 p.m. Inappropriate

I would have liked some discussion of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) that are limited to streets no more than 35 miles per hour. I've owned a 2007 Zenn, an NEV, for three years now. These vehicles are half the size and cost of the Leafs and Volts. They are excellent second cars, good for the errands and other short trips around town. They are re-charged primarily from home electrical outlets. Most, like mine, utilize lead acid batteries, which are completely recyclable. Range: about 20 miles. Cost of electricity: about $ 10 a month. Initial cost: $ 10,000 used. Unanticipated cost: replacing the batteries twice at total of $ 2700. Downside: learning how to use batteries efficiently (recharge frequently). Zenns, which were assembled in Toronto, Canada, are no longer made, due to lack of government acceptance and of poor marketing -- maybe the market just wasn't ready. I think if you have a car for highway and have family needs for a second car, as well as access to a convenient elecrical outlet, you should definitely consider an NEV.

Posted Wed, Dec 5, 11:49 p.m. Inappropriate

I wrote above that I've been interested in EVs for a long time.

The first EV I test drove was an NEV, about five or six years ago. It was available from a dealer at the downtown edge of the International District. The ride was very rough; the internal fit and finish was terrible; it had no safety equipment whatsoever -- not even safety glass; hill-climbing ability was quite weak; and the lead-acid batteries had a very short range. I considered buying it anyway, but decided to wait.

If you like your NEV, great. But from my standpoint, it wasn't so much a car as it was a barely glorified golf cart. I could live with some compromises, such as a practical range of 50 to 75 miles depending on whether you have to use the heater. But I couldn't live with a top speed of 35 mph, a terrible ride, and such a short range.

As you know, the maximum range of a lead-acid battery pack is completely theoretical. In actual use, you need to cut the range in half, because if you use the whole range you'll dramatically reduce battery life. Therefore, a stated 20-mile range is actually a 10-mile range. Or maybe your NEV has a stated 40-mile range?

The bottom line, at least from my viewpoint, is that NEVs were "cars" that only a hobbyist could love. My EV is fully street legal, with airbags, a safety cage, and side impact protection. It looks, feels, and drives like a typical subcompact econobox. I'm glad I waited until EVs got to the "real car" stage. From here, broader acceptance awaits breakthroughs on battery cost and range.

NEVs will never be anything more than the vehicle equivalent of a Heathkit radio, or the first Hewlett-Packard four-function calculators, or the radio telephones that predated cellular, or one of the old TRS-80 ("Trash 80") computers from Radio Shack. The current generation of EVs can be likened to the first wave of "IBM compatible" PCs that ran DOS, or to an analog cellphone, or to one of the "beeper" pagers that doctors had in the 1970s. They'll get better, cheaper, and more popular as the technology improves.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 7:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Our city road policy has been to reduce traffic capacity in favor of bike lanes (and now bikeways) and dedicated transit routes. But the personal vehicle is going nowhere because, ultimately, it is the most efficient way to move millions of people to millions of destinations in a certain period of time.

Personal mobility is here to stay, and the transportation planners have to keep that in mind. If our population is going to double in the next twenty years, as we're being told, then reducing our traffic carrying capacity by half on major arterials to install bike tracks is short-sighted.

talisker

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for your informative column. I live in the City (520 Seattle Eastsider) and put less than 3,500 miles a per year between two drivers driving a 2010 Mini Cooper. I asked my Mini dealer about turning it in early on the lease to acquire an electric Mini and they said Mini has abandoned the California test electric version, electing to instead come out with a 3 cylinder engine. So, I’ll have to shop around and appreciate your listing the current options.

One thing rarely mentioned and I think is worth pointing out is the enormous amount of relatively carbon free electric generation here in the Northwest and how plugging in your car here makes even more sense from an environmental standpoint. It only takes the carbon necessary to build the turbines and the construction of a damn to have a very clean system. Like you imply and I infer, the easy use of electric cars will come when the infrastructure is in place – “if the manufacturers want people to buy their cars”. The costs of the infrastructure will no doubt be another political squeeze and subsidy to the manufacturers, but so be it. It seems worth it to clear the air…

Best regards

giorgio

Posted Thu, Dec 6, 2:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Keep an eye out for the 2014 Chevy Spark. It will be available in gas and electric versions. As a City Light customer, 93% of your electricity comes from hydro and 5% from wind, so an EV is genuinely green as opposed to the fake "progressive" enviro crap like (for example) McGinn's ban on plastic grocery bags.

NotFan

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »