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?
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.
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