Electric Cars – Coming Soon to a Driveway Near You?

Nissan LEAFI’ve been doing a bunch of research lately on electric vehicles to see what might make sense for us at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage for our vehicle co-op. For 12 years we have been focusing on biodiesel and vegetable oil based fuels but things have not always been smooth. The main issues have been related to winter fuel gelling and fuel filters clogging in general. We’ve also never gotten a steady system for  collection of used oil and production going, so we have been using biodiesel made from new veggie oil which is only marginally better for the environment than petroleum.

We are now embarking on a major re-evaluation of vehicle technologies for our co-op, with a team researching things like electric vehicles, hybrids, ethanol (including home made, potentially from cellulose), bio-gas, wood-gas, human and animal powered, and any new technologies in the veggie oil world.

My interest in electric vehicles (EVs) has come out of my research into a village-wide electric power co-op with a largish wind turbine to power our whole village. With an abundant source of renewable electricity, EVs could be our most ecological option. There are ecological issues related to batteries of course, but my research shows that EVs are a net benefit over petro based vehicles and on par with other bio-fueled options currently or soon to be available (more on that in a post soon).

Of course the main issue with EVs is about range – how far you can drive on a single charge. Most all-electric vehicles (sometimes called Battery Electric Vehicles or BEVs to distinguish them from hybrids) still have ranges in the 80-100 mile range. That range is great for most folks daily commuting needs, but our rural location means many or even most of our trips are 80-150 miles.

A further complication, is that a 100 mile advertised range does not always mean you can drive 100 miles. Accessories like A/C, heat, lights, etc. can reduce your range. Higher speeds and hills also reduce range (and while we don’t have mountains we do have hills). Winter temps can also reduce battery capacity and range.  It also matters how you drive – fast acceleration and breaking are inefficient.

So what are our options?

In the All Electric Category I found the following vehicles available now or in the next 18 months.

Vehicle
Range
Cost

Nissan LEAF
100 miles
$33,000

CODA
90-120 mi
$30-40,000

i-MIEV
80-100 mi
$30,000

Mini-E (2 passenger)
upto 150
Unknown

Ford Focus
80-100 mi
Unknown

Ford Transit Connect
80 mi
Unknown

Tesla Sedan (claims to seat up to 7)
160-300mi
$57-75,000

Think City
100 miles
$37,0000

Conversion Kit Vehicle
25-80 miles
$20-30,000

The most appealing for us would be the Tesla Sedan because of the extended range it can provide. The price tag is pretty high though. The Nissan LEAF is definitely more affordable, but its unclear if it would really get us where we need to go (and back that is). The CODA is still limited in its availability.

For folks living in suburban or urban areas with shorter commutes I think a lot of these options would work great.

I also looked into Plug-in Hybrids such as the upcoming Chevy Volt and the 2011 Plug-in Prius as well as the various Prius Plug-in conversion kits.

The Volt is expected to have a 40 mile electric range and get 50 mpg once the gasoline (or E85) engine kicks in.  The 2011 Prius will have only a 15 mile electric range and also get around 50 mpg. With a Prius Plug in conversion you can get electric ranges of 25-50 miles before it goes back into hybrid modde and gets 46-50 mpg (depending on model year).

Its too bad the electric range on these hybrids is so short. If you could get something with an 80 mile range and a gasoline/diesel back up that would really work well for us and for a lot of people I would think. Obviously the cost and weight of having a big battery pack and a gas engine is probably the issue.

I’m expecting that once these EVs are available,  someone will come up with an aftermarket add on battery pack to increase the range, just like there are plug-in Prius kits. That could be just the ticket and demonstrate the demand for EVs with a bigger range.