The Perception of Going Green (Part 2)

Editorial

OK, so diesels may be the best kept secret Toyota doesn't want buyers to know about. Now the question begs, where does the Electronic Vehicle (EV) stand? More specifically, how can it meet ecological demands and at the same time, prove to be a reliable form of transportation at a reasonable price? Most pressing, are the EVs on the market today up to task?

While a look at the Bugatti Veyron will tell us what can be done with a car when money is no object, we need to take a look at the Tesla Roadster to get an idea of what might be done with an EV. With a price tag of $130k, the folks at Tesla didn't exactly hold back, and the lightweight(ish) sports car is packed with 6,831 lithium-ion battery cells, about $40k (more than the price of an entire Nissan Leaf) worth of battery. The result is the longest range of any EV you can buy. Tesla puts this at 244 miles, but practical tests have proven this a bit optimistic.

Testers in the near-perfect battery operating conditions of southern California have been getting numbers closer to 170 miles, and tests done by Car and Driver in the cold of Michigan had the Roadster running out of juice more than a hundred miles short of Tesla's claimed range. This could mean real problems for more economical EVs. The Nissan Leaf, for example, has a range half that of the Tesla, according to the figures quoted by the manufacturers. This means that we can reasonably expect a sub-100 mile range in even the best real-world driving conditions.

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Anyone living in a part of the country which actually has a winter will be looking at some pretty sad range numbers. To start with, cold weather has a noticeable effect on the battery range all by itself, but any days which require the use of the heater, wipers, headlights and defroster all at the same time (of which there are plenty in the Midwest) could be putting Leaf drivers in a position where they'd be lucky to even make it to work in the mornings. This is the much talked-about "range anxiety" that comes with EVs, the fear of the car's limited range leaving you stranded.

Getting stranded in an EV is pretty serious business too, there's no walking a mile down the road with a gas can for a refill. The car needs to be next to an outlet to be charged, and this charging can take more than 4 hours in the very best-case scenario. Many EV supporters tell us that an EV is a second vehicle, longer trips would still be made using a real car with a 300-plus mile range. With the EV being used to take the kids to school or hop to the grocery store.

The trouble with this is that the Nissan Leaf's $32K MSRP is a huge sum for a second car, especially one that faces some fierce competition as a mode of transportation from a bicycle (2011 Schwinn Cutter MSRP: $379).

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