Plug-In Vehicles—Ready for Prime Time?: Page 2 of 4


Inside this Article

Nissan Leaf
The all-electric Nissan Leaf is one of the few EVs on the market.
Chevrolet Volt
The Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in EV paired with a gasoline engine for extended range.
J1772 standard charging connector
Toyota’s Prius Plug-in uses the J1772 standard for its charging connectors.
Five-pin connector
The J1772 standard specifies a five-pin connector for delivering 120 or 240 VAC to an EV. Pins include AC Line 1 and Line 2, ground, controller pilot, and a proximity detector.
Ford Focus Electric
Ford’s Focus Electric has a maximum range of 76 miles before its batteries need to be recharged.
Toyota Prius Plug-in
The Toyota Prius Plug-in costs about $3,000 more than a comparable Camry, and about $8,000 more than the Prius without plug-in capability.
EPA New-Car Label for Electric Vehicles
The EPA’s new-car label for EVs includes both fuel and environmental information for easier comparisons.
Nissan Leaf
Chevrolet Volt
J1772 standard charging connector
Five-pin connector
Ford Focus Electric
Toyota Prius Plug-in
EPA New-Car Label for Electric Vehicles

For those relatively few times your EV won’t go the distance, you can rent an ICE car or use a car-sharing service such as Zipcar or Car2go (see

How do I charge an EV?

Like any other battery-powered device, an EV’s battery will need to be recharged regularly—depending upon how much the EV is used. The table below shows the EV charging options available now—and those coming in the future.

For levels 1 and 2, the Society of Automotive Engineers  J1772 standard connector is the norm. Level 3 and DC fast-charging connector protocols have yet to be standardized. Inductive (wireless) charging, where a vehicle need only be placed near the charging unit for the batteries to be recharged, is also under development.

How does maintenance compare between plug-in and conventional ICE vehicles?

With an EV, there is no regular scheduled maintenance needed for the battery, electric motor, and associated electronics. Fewer moving parts means less maintenance and replacement. Only after many charge/discharge cycles will the propulsion battery need to be replaced. But even the batteries in the earliest Prius models regularly go beyond the warranty period, achieving 100,000, sometimes 150,000, and occasionally even 200,000 miles, with little significant deterioration.

Regenerative braking not only recovers energy that would be lost in braking, but reduces brake wear. With HEV and PHEVs, the ICE isn’t running all the time, meaning longer intervals between oil changes and other engine maintenance.

Are electric vehicles as safe as petroleum-powered vehicles?

It was widely reported in the media that, three weeks after a side-impact test conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a Chevrolet Volt’s crystallized battery coolant ignited from current in the battery. As a result, General Motors has upgraded the steel structure and cooling system surrounding the battery.

But there have been no real-world battery-related Volt fires. NHTSA closed its investigation saying, “Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.” Crash safety information for all vehicles can be obtained from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( and the NHTSA (

As plug-in vehicles are quiet, they can be a danger to hearing- and/or sight-impaired pedestrians. A new government standard is intended to be in place by the summer of 2012 that requires an alert mechanism.

Does driving an EV cause less pollution than driving a petroleum-powered vehicle?

Yes, an EV pollutes less—even if you’re recharging with electricity from a utility that offers the dirtiest portfolio of mostly coal- and oil-fired electricity generation. Of course, you can reduce your EV pollution if more of your energy comes from CO2-free wind, solar, hydro, and/or nuclear sources. Plugging various ZIP codes into the U.S. EPA’s power profiler, we find that California’s electricity mix includes the least coal (1%) and the most nonhydro renewable energy (10%). In contrast, West Virginia generates most of it electricity with coal (69%), with negligible contributions from renewable sources (see

Comments (4)

Mark Smith W4CHL's picture

The lease options for the Smart Fortwo ED proved so tempting, our 2002 Prius is being replaced by a Fortwo ED. The Fortwo ED isn't for everyone, it is our 2nd EV/Hybrid (the aforementioned OT ELF is the 3rd EV).

Interesting the article omitted the Smart Fortwo ED. It's worth a test drive with the incentives (at least until end of Jan 2014) offering a $149/mo for 2-3 yr lease. Interesting that $80 of that is the "Battery Assurance Plan" - time will tell if that is a good idea!

As a "world car" certainly the Fortwo ED has promise as a light weight car for 2 + some storage.

Mark Smith W4CHL's picture

Many of us are still excited about Lightweight EVs (LEVs) such as the Organic Transit ELF from North Carolina, the Bluevelo models from Canada, and the Tripod from Oregon. We believe these are more than just niche vehicles and are making a real change in attitudes among people who would otherwise never dream of riding a bicycle, even an electric bike, in potentially inclement weather!

These LEVs are 10x (or more) energy efficient, and in the case of the ELF and the Tripod, VERY visible in urban or suburban traffic.

We believe that a focus on direct replacement of a bloated vehicle with another bloated vehicle is a stop gap. Rethinking our urban and suburban roadways so that they are friendlier to the far more efficient LEVs and just plain bicycles needs to be mentioned in every article that reviews PHEVs. Yes, my family's "other" vehicle is one of the 1st year Prius models.

jozegovich's picture

As a 2012 Nissan Leaf owner with 13 months of operation, I would like to provide some feedback to your thoughtful article.
These factors should be measured before your purchase:
- As the battery ages, the range will decrease. How much depends on many factors, such as do you charge to 100% or 80% (80% better), less frequent charges (more frequent better), and temperature (West coast better, Arizona, in particular for high temp, and of course extreme cold temps (sub freezing temps). After an initial loss of about 10% after the first year, the loss is not as dramatic. The range loss can can add up to 30% by the end of its life.
Note: I have not seen a noticeable loss after 13 months of operation in the state of TN.
I suggest you calculate your range to/from work, allow for a lunch drive, and an after work drive (shopping). My calculation was 42 miles. I then went to the Nissan dealership to test drive that range, using a mix of city and interstate (75 MPH) driving. My results left me with a 37 mile range on my indicator (4 bars left out of 12).
- More frequent charges are healthier for the battery. Best to not have more than three bars of charge. The life of the battery will decease when near empty and fully charging.
- Use the 80% charge to increase the life by several years. The owners manual does not recommend more than one Fast Charge per day (too much, too fast)
Important note: I average 4.8 M/kWh(160 MPGe) summer/ 4.3 M/kWh (134 MPGe) winter. I used 34.02 kWh per gallon of gasoline in my calculations.

- A comparison of the Leaf to the Versa, is not a fair comparison. While the look of the body is similar, that is about it. The Leaf drives and handles like a premium car, ie Altima. The interior space of the Leaf, is far more than the Versa. However, the interior is smaller than the Altima in leg room and hip room.
I would suggest the comparison be more towards the Altima 2.5 SV, fully loaded at $25,000. A comparison to an economy car is not appropriate, as the Leaf is designed as a premium car, with all the bells and whistles. So the difference, after the incentives in my state, TN, is about $2,000. $4,000. in a state which offers no cash incentive. Not even close to $16,000. stated Test drive the Versa, then the Leaf, and you will see.

- Your article states a "maximum" range of 75 miles for the Leaf. This is not correct. Nissan touts 100 miles "average", and a "maximum" of 138 miles assuming all the best conditions; 38 MPH, temperature 70F, road condition level, no air conditioning or heat, and minimal accessories. The EPA provides a 75 mile "average" economy. This would be more accurate when using the AC or heat, and driving at interstate speeds. I see the 75 miles in range when using the interstate and AC for my commute. When I take the 40 MPH roads, my range increases significantly, due to less drag and more regenerative energy. As one would expect, my commute time increases by 5-10 minutes.

BTW, Nissan offers two years of free towing if you run out of juice, to help reduce range anxiety. They also provide two years of "Carwings" Satellite service where you can see details of your car's efficiency and use, and remote controls.
I have a Prius, in case of operating long distances. Guess how many times, in the last year, I have used the Prius to go to a location outside the range of the Leaf? A whopping "0" times!


Michael Welch's picture

Hi Joe. Thanks so much for giving us your personal experience with your Leaf, and for the corrections. Michael - Home Power

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