Banish the notion of a souped-up golf cart—plug-in electric vehicles are being manufactured that replace the traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) automobile. If you’re looking for an EV, here are answers to the questions you might ask before you buy.
All commercially manufactured electricity-powered vehicles have an electric motor drive, automatic start/shutoff, and regenerative braking (an energy recovery mechanism that slows a vehicle or object down by converting its kinetic energy into electrical energy, which helps charge the propulsion battery). There are three varieties of electric vehicles.
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are powered by an ICE, as well as by electrical energy stored in a battery. The battery is charged through the ICE and regenerative braking. Typically, HEVs are not plugged in to charge (see PHEVs, below). The Toyota Prius is the most common HEV.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are powered only by the battery, which is recharged by plugging the vehicle into an electric power source (and to a small degree, by regenerative braking). Examples are the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are powered, like an HEV, through a combination of an ICE and an electric motor. Unlike an HEV, a PHEV can be plugged into an electric power source to recharge the battery, in addition to recharging it using regenerative braking. There are two types of PHEVs:
This article focuses mainly on EV and PHEVs, as they are the only vehicles that can accept an outside electrical charging source.
Several models are on sale now and more are coming. Plugincars.com maintains up-to-date information on current and prospective EVs. Many new models show a “2012” availability date, which refers not to the model year, but the manufacturers’ best hopes for getting it to market. Plugincars.com currently features 31 vehicles, 12 of which are available now; five more are expected before the end of 2012.
According to Consumer Reports, 77% of EV drivers suffer from “range anxiety”—the dread of running out of energy before your trip is completed and being stranded. But in reality, 78% of Americans who commute by car drive 40 miles or fewer daily. Most people buy an automobile to meet much more than their average, typical, or normal need. They buy a car based on taking a few long trips each year rather than for everyday use. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the vast majority of automobile trips are one to 10 miles, well within the range of any EV. Only 1% of vehicle trips are in excess of 100 miles.