The Next Wave of Electric Vehicles

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Many EVs are a power-train option on a car with other available configurations. The BMW i3 comes with two battery-pack capacity choices and an onboard gasoline-engine charging option.
New high-power chargers are able to put more energy, and miles, into cars faster than ever.
Chevy Bolt Range: 238 miles Size: Compact Starting price: $37,495
Chevy Bolt interior
Hyundai Ioniq Range: 124 miles Size: Compact Starting price: $29,50
Hyundai Ioniq interior
VW e-Golf Range: 124 miles Size: Compact Starting price: $29,800 (earlier model)
VW e-Golf interior
BMW i3 Range: 114 miles Size: Subcompact Starting price: $42,400
BMW i3 interior
Nissan Leaf Range: 107 miles Size: Compact Starting price: $30,680
Nissan Leaf interior
Tesla Model S Range: 259–351 miles Size: Large sedan Starting price: $69,500
Tesla charging stations
Tesla Model 3
Audi E-Tron Quattro
Next-Generation Nissan Leaf

Electric cars are no longer exotic. In the six-plus years since the first modern electric cars showed up at U.S. dealerships—primarily in California—more than 600,000 eco-oriented, high-tech, and relatively affluent early adopters jumped at the chance to drive a vehicle powered by the plug rather than the pump. The EV take-rate has grown in those years, although the percentage of car buyers opting for an EV is still modest—about 1%.

Meanwhile, most car shoppers have remained on the sidelines—even those who believe electric cars are ready for prime time. But that may be about to change. The shift is not just a matter of a potential battery technology breakthrough or a future spike in oil prices, but more mundane developments that should convince new ranks of consumers that it’s time to dump the pump. The trends that may make the difference include:

Greater choice & affordability. There are now more than 30 plug-in vehicles available to U.S. car buyers, ranging from subcompacts to big SUVs and minivans. Prices begin below $30,000 and climb beyond $100,000. The style and performance choices are as diverse as the manufacturers offering the cars.

Multiple power trains in single model. In the 1990s and 2000s, most of the EVs on the road were electric conversions (VW Rabbits were popular due to their small size and light weight) and a few “test-market” models that were usually only sold as fleet vehicles. Today, electric cars blend into the showroom, since they are offered mostly as a power train choice for the same vehicles offered as gasoline-powered. For example, the Hyundai Ioniq hatchback is available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery-electric car—but not as a gasoline-only vehicle.

Longer range per charge. A long-standing objection to EVs has been their limited range. Even though the vast majority of Americans drive fewer than 40 miles a day on average, consumers don’t want limitations like needing to recharge their cars after 80 to 90 miles. General Motors shattered the ceiling on an affordable long-range EV with Chevy Bolt, which offers an EPA-estimated 238 miles of range on a single charge. Before the end of 2017, Tesla is expected to make the first deliveries of its much-anticipated Model 3 with a 215-mile range.

New 200-mile EVs garner headlines, but the more important trend is the increase in battery capacity between first and second generations of EVs. Early adopters buying between 2011 and 2015 bought first-generation models with batteries that provided about 80 miles per charge. For many would-be buyers, that limitation yielded “range anxiety.” Today’s second-generation models commonly offer a 50% range improvement over their predecessors. For example, the first-generation Ford Focus offered about 76 miles on a fully charged battery, while the 2017 Focus Electric provides 115 miles of range.

Quicker charging. The advantage of a larger-capacity battery is longer range, but the catch is that charging time can be longer. Tesla set the fast-charging standard with its 120 kW Superchargers that can add as much as 170 miles of range in about 30 to 40 minutes. Owners of non-Tesla EVs are excluded from using the extensive Supercharger network, so other car companies are teaming up to populate major highway corridors with 150 kW chargers. That means nearly all properly equipped EVs will soon be able to refuel just as quickly as Tesla EVs. In the next decade, a planned network of ultrafast 350 kW chargers could provide ubiquitous 10-minute pit stops for all-electric road trips. EVs can tap into the PlugShare app to easily locate charging stations.

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Comments (5)

Marc Fontana's picture

Thanks for including the Energy efficiency for the EVs in the table on page 39. The Hyundai Ionia EV is the most efficient on the list and the most affordable of that group . I was surprised that the Chevrolet Bolt with its 900 lb battery is more energy efficient than the Nissan Leaf which has a lighter battery at 550 lbs. They must have found a way to compensate for it.

ericvfx's picture

Also check out Tesla's used car page ( CEO Musk does not like the term "Pre-Owned"). Great warranties and prices in the $30k range for the luxury Model S

sdcoffeeroaster's picture

Yes EV are great but beware of high insurance costs. I bought my leav 6 months ago and the insurance just went up by 140%! Changing deductibles did not help much and this EV now costs more to insure than both of my other cars combined. I was shocked and don't know if I can afford to keep the Leaf now.

Marc Fontana's picture

What EV do you drive ? As the owner of a 2011 Nissan LEAF, I've found rates for insuring the Nissan LEAF comparable in costs to similarly sized ICE vehicles. The article mentions discounts for insuring EVs. If anything, I would expect lower rates for EVs given most have reduced range and probably fewer accidents .

ben.powell@gmx.com's picture

Very interesting. Thanks for this information. I had no idea.

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