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Electric Cars and the Path Ahead

Electric cars are slowly becoming more and more accepted by people today. When they first started, people were skeptical that we could have cars that run off batteries and are actually able to go distances and go at normal speeds. As time has gone on and on, things have been changing and they have altered the opinions people have as well. For example, as technology keeps progressing, we get more and more promising in what the future will hold when it comes to batteries (which, if you did not already know, is what powers electric vehicles). This article is going to look at the problems we still have ahead of us and what we need to do in order to make people feel more comfortable with the future and to be more accepting of where we are today (and hopefully will be later on). Please keep in mind that I am in no way an expert on electricity, vehicles or electric vehicles. As such, what I am focusing on is the problems I have seen so far and how they are interpreted by people (as I am in fact a person!).

Early Cars

I really can not think of what the first electric cars I heard of were, although I do remember that they came with a couple of pretty big limits. One was on their speed (limited at around 40 MPH) and the other was their battery life (only being able to go a short distance of, say 20 miles or so). Both of these were some pretty big walls to most consumers, as we need to be able to travel. For example, I know a lot of people who have to drive 40-50 miles to get to work (and then the same getting back home after). Having a car that can not even get you to work is not going to be efficient, meaning that it pretty much has no use.

This is when people started to feel that the idea of electric cars would not be viable. After all, if we can not even get them to go fast enough or be able to last long enough, how are we going to get them to where we need them? Well, things have been changing!

The Modern Tier

Now, the modern tier can go normal speeds (and are more than enough to handle the highway if needed) and are able to go many more miles, such as 80 per charge. This opens up a lot more doors. Now you can head out to where you need to go, and some jobs are giving charging stations (which we will look at a little later). This means that even if you are going 50+ miles from home, you might still be fine; you are no longer limited to a small distance.

For examples of cars that fit in this category, we have the Nissan Leaf, the Chevrolet Volt and the Smart ForTwo. I am sure there are more than that, but these are the ones I can think of.

The Future Tier

What I would consider as the future tier (although really it is not the “future,” so much as the present, are the cars that can go extended distances. The Tesla Roadster, for example, can go 200 or more miles per charge! Compare this to your gas powered vehicle, and you may end up noticing that it is pretty much the equivalent, with the difference being that one runs off gas and the other off electricity. This is a pretty big difference, but it should help show the progress that has been made (and that we can likely look forward to in the other electric vehicles).

Looking At Problems

I did cover some problems throughout the article already, although there are some more that I want to take a look at a bit more in depth.

Long Trips

While the vehicles like the Tesla Roadster can go many more miles per charge (basically making it like a gas powered car), there is one fundamental difference when it comes to long trips: the difference between filling up a car with gas and charging it. When we start to get low on gas, we can head to any gas station around us (which, aside from spotty areas here and there, are all over the place) and fill up within a couple of minutes. On the other hand, charging a car is much more difficult. You not only have to find a place that will allow it, but also have the time to deal with it. And charging these cars can take many hours.

So now instead of just stopping a couple minutes during your trip (which we usually like to do anyways to stretch and get some fresh air), you have to stop for many hours, every few hours. Talk about inefficient!

If you are going on shorter trips this is not so much of an issue. 200 miles could get you 150 miles away to deal with whatever you are doing, and then when you finish you could have the car charged up and ready to roll (assuming there is some way to charge it there).

Charging Stations and Costs

I am going to be tying both of these problems in to one because they really exacerbate one another. First of all, if you look at a location like where I live, we have two charging stations “near” us and they are each 30+ minutes away. This means if I am doing anything closer to my home, I would just have to head home to deal with charging. And to make matters worse, the two charging stations near me are east and west of me. What if I have to go north or south? Now I am completely out of luck! This causes all electric vehicles to lose their viability at this point for me. While I would love to use them, I can not justify the cost for something I have to constantly baby and charge up at home. Not to mention if there are any problems I am probably not going to be near a charging station and I will be completely out of luck.

So now we get to the costs (which, oddly enough, are just as scary as the lack of charging stations that are available while out and about!). The worst part right now is that if you find a charging station, you are probably going to be paying much more than it is worth to charge the car. Some are charging as much as $6 per hour, whereas charging at home would cost only a small fraction of this (to put it in to actual numbers, near me one of the charges is $6 and yet the same cost at home would be $0.26. This means a massive increase, where the cost to the owner is almost free and yet the cost to me is significant). It is things like this that really need to be resolved; after all, this would make the cost of filling a car with gas at about the same price as charging it up. It really should not be like this; using electric vehicles should have enough financial benefit to make people want to change. Making things harder to cope with and use, then making them more expensive just is not going to lure more people in.

Batteries Dying

People like to argue that the battery in their car lasted for x time (say 15 years). That is great! But it in no way means that everyone's battery will last that long. In fact, the majority will not. And the same goes on with the electric cars. I have heard of people whose batteries died within a year; others have still had no problems after many years. When it comes down to it, you just never know what hand you are going to be dealt until after you see the effects. Until that happens, you can sit around hoping and praying but you just never know.

So batteries dying is a bad enough issue on their own. Now we are dealing with cars that rely solely on their batteries though. For example, we recently had to jump our own car because it would not start. Luckily, this was a gas powered car. What if it had been electric? We would not be able to jump it. In other words, we would have been stuck somewhere and I have no idea what you even do when your electric car dies (other than possibly have it towed somewhere to get it charged).

We could, of course, argue that this should be a small fear. After all, we all keep up with how much gas is in our car and therefore we would keep up with how much electricity or battery life is left too, right? Well, this is not true in all cases. I can not count the number of times I have seen cars shut off right next to a gas station or off on the side of the road due to a lack of fuel. For these cars, fixing the problem is easy; you just add some gas to a gas can, take it to the vehicle and fuel it up just like you were at the gas station. Electric vehicles are just not able to be done the same way.

The Cost of Purchase

Now we are leading in to another cost we have to deal with when it comes to electric cars: the cost of purchasing the vehicle. A lot of cars are getting cheaper and cheaper as time goes on, but electric vehicles are still pretty new and carry a somewhat hefty price tag. In this case, you can take in to consideration the best electric cars at this point, created by Tesla. The price tag of these? Two to three times that of most other cars. They are considered as luxury vehicles, but at the same time are the only ones that are viable when it comes to wanting to drive a car more than just a few miles. This should not be a luxury; it should be a standard. But I have no doubts that as we go on, in 2014 and beyond, things are going to get better and we will start catching up to Tesla with other vehicles as well.

Comparing the Cost of Changing

All too often we get caught up in this idea that since something is cheaper to use, it is going to save money by swapping over to it. In some cases this is true, but in others it is not. When it comes to the car situation, you have to run some numbers to determine if it is worth it to you (in this case you will likely find that it is going to end up costing more, but you do get the green feeling!). These include:

  • Compare the sale value of your car to what you can buy an electric car for
  • Multiply your average miles (per day or week or however you want) by the gas price divided by the mileage you get (this should be along the line of MilesPerWeek*(GasPrice/Mileage). This should give you the estimated cost per mile of gas alone
  • Do the same as above but with some different numbers. Here you want to do MilesPerWeek*((ElectricCost*KW)/MilesPerKW). For this one, you will also need to know how many miles you get per KW. You can get this information by seeing how many KW your battery holds and divide that by the number of miles you can go on a full charge

If you take these numbers and compare them (1+2 and 1+3) you should come up with an idea of what the car will cost you. This ignores other important things like maintenance and insurance costs, which you will also likely want to look in to, but it should give you an idea on the gas area alone and whether or not it is likely to pay off. In most cases what you are going to find out here is that you are already going to be losing money on the deal, and if you are doing this to save money you may be out of luck.

Things to Increase Viability of Electric Cars

While making the cars work more efficient is a great thing and will increase the number of people that can utilize electric vehicles (and boost their uses), there are some things that need to be done right now in order to make things better. These are not based on technology progression and the future, but rather what we are already able to do.

Add more charging spots. This one is probably one of the biggest things we can do at this point. Charging stations can be created out of outlets from walls in gas stations, stores, and many other areas. In fact, there are even charging stations that are created as separate entities. The reason why we need these is because it increases the chances that you will be able to charge up at the place you are going, which means you could even charge while shopping, for example.

Lower the costs of charging. Pretty much in line with adding more charging stations, the prices of charging also needs to be lower. We could have stations at every store in the world, but if they cost ridiculous amounts of money people are not likely to use them often, if at all. By lowering the costs it alleviates this and means that charging out can be almost as much as charging at home. Think about the convenience factor here too. I could understand, say a 10-50% markup in price. If the electricity if costing a store 10 cents per hour, they could charge 15 cents. It would leave it cheap enough for us to find it viable, while still allowing the store to make a little profit (which would also help cover the costs of maintenance on their charging station). It could also bring in more customers, as people would go to a store with a charging station over one without since they can charge up while shopping. Everyone wins!

Offer more competitive discounts. When you buy a new car, you usually get discounts from the manufacturer or the dealership. Electric cars are also prone to this, although I think that the benefits could get even better. We are working towards making people go more “green,” and we should have no problems with taking some of the government money to help push that a bit more. We could have tax deductions (like we already have for solar and wind powered systems for homes) or just flat out discounts. While I do think we are a ways off from getting (if we ever do) this, it would definitely sway the decisions of a lot of people who otherwise would not find it worth changing over.

Living in Cities

For people who live in the city and do not have to travel very far to get groceries and get to work, there are now some options available when it comes to electric cars. There is the Fortwo, which can go up to 60 miles per charge (which is perfect for the city, in that we often do not travel more than that). There is also the Spark, the Leaf, and there are some others now. None of these cars are great for long trips, like going out of state, but they are all awesome for dealing with driving around home. They can be charged up in the garage when not in use, and can then be taken for the short trip and be returned to the home to be plugged back in again. The important thing to note here is that if you also do a lot of far traveling, having a second vehicle is pretty much a necessity (unless you want to deal with the very high cost of recharging the vehicle away from home, not to mention the time commitment to do so).

Conclusion

Electric cars are awesome and are somewhat futuristic. I love the concept behind them and I have fully enjoyed following along with them as they get better and better. There are still some problems, though, and while some will probably be resolved naturally over time (like better mileage and more efficient vehicles), some are going to require some intervention. We really need more benefits to using electric cars over those that use gas. Until this happens, I think most people are going to avoid them and continue using either gas cars or hybrids.

Cars


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