Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Declining Utility of Electric Vehicles

If you're one of the folks who are clamoring for an electric vehicle, you might want to reconsider the utility of these vehicles, especially as compared with the hybrids that are already on the market.

You simply aren't going to recoup the costs, and you are likely to find additional charges that don't go into the sticker price.

If you're comfortable with a 12-hour charge, then you wont need to upgrade your electrical systems. But, if you want to make sure that you are riding with a full charge, then you'll need to install a fast charger station, and that will cost you $490 as per the GM website. However, that doesn't include installation. That may cost you a pretty penny, if your home is already wired for 220 amp service.

If you own an older home, that may mean a further upgrade of your electrical panel to accommodate the power demands, which can run another $2,000 on top of the cost for the electrician to come in and wire the charging station. So, if you're keen on buying the Volt, and have an older home, on top of the costs for the vehicle itself, you may find yourself looking at another $4,000 to install the fast charging station (which only helps when you're at home - if you're on the road, good luck with finding other fast-chargers). Throw the home-based charging station on top of a premium charge for the Volt itself, and it would be cheaper to own and operate any number of hybrids or high efficiency conventionally powered cars on the market.

Then, there's the news that GM has reduced the mileage that the Chevy Volt will run on battery power alone. Far from the 40 miles it had previously touted, we're now down to 25-40 miles, depending on driver behavior and driving conditions. It's a potentially more realistic range, considering that drivers are more than likely to find that they aren't getting the range they had been expecting based on advertising for the vehicle, but this hits directly at the issue of fuel economy and the vehicle's competition among hybrids and the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

By reducing the range to 25 miles, the Volt may see an overall fuel economy of less than 32 mpg. The current production hybrid Prius averages 45 mpg in real world driving and a next generation hybrid Prius could run to 100 mpg. That would eliminate any advantages that an all-electric vehicle would have, even with a gas motor to power for additional range (the Leaf doesn't have the gas motor, so its range (and expected customer base) is more limited).

The hybrids do not require the plug-in technology and cost associated with rapid charges, making them more affordable than the full-electric vehicles.

Simply put, the economics do not work for the Volt or the Leaf, and the hybrids continue to make more sense, particularly if gas prices were to rise. If GM or Nissan can significantly bring the costs of their vehicles down (or include the rapid charge on board (though it would add weight to the vehicle, reducing its fuel efficency in the process), they might have a workable product.

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