Who chilled the electric car?
Electric cars have been touted as the wave of the future, but current owners say the kinks aren't quite worked out yet.
Thu, Dec 24, 2009 at 12:39 PM
Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images
Electric cars have been touted as the wave of the future, a fuel-efficient and eco-friendly alternative to most gas-guzzlers on the road today.
But according to car owners and automakers, early generation electric cars have their quirks: limited range, especially in cold weather, and few recharging stations. Indeed, overshadowing the promise of electric cars is the question of whether consumers will go for vehicles that force “drivers to rethink their habits and expectations of convenience,” The Washington Post reports.
The concerns are emerging just as the auto industry is posed for growth in its electric car sector. After years of hype and billions of dollars, auto companies say next year will see an influx of electric cars: Nissan’s all-battery Leaf, General Motors’ Chevy Volt and a commercial van by Ford. “I know we have to have an electric car,” GM Chairman Edward E. Whitacre Jr. has said.
Giving a boost to the industry, the Obama administration has also handed out $2.4 billion to companies producing batteries and parts for electric cars.
Still, the only all-electric car currently designed for average divers is the BMW 500 Mini E, which leases for about $850 a month. But even at that price, the company itself describes the Mini E as a “test of technology” according to The Post.
Indeed, two main problems have emerged with electric cars, namely that there are too few places to recharge and that even when fully charged, the cars cannot travel even half the distance that their gas-guzzling counterparts can. When temperatures drop, the cars’ 100-mile range can drop to 80. (Another problem: There are about 117,000 gas stations in the United States, compared to about 734 public charging stations for electric cars.)
Timothy Gill, a software engineer from New Jersey, made it just over 80 miles before his car broke down during a cold spell, he wrote on his blog: “Towed! After only 87.8 miles … Sheesh!”
But Gill said his new car is a “joy.” His new license plate says “WHY GAS.”
Auto executives also say battery innovation is not far off. And others are working to expand charging stations: In conjunction with Nissan, a company called Ecotality plans to build 7,000 stations in five states with $100 million in federal funding.
“I would argue that the case for the electric car is not proven,” said Jim O'Donnell, chairman and chief executive of BMW North America. “We're not quite sure people are willing to go for it. We're asking consumers to pay more and get less. Our view is: Proceed with caution.”