Charging ahead with electric vehicles

Charging ahead with electric vehicles

A picture of a parked, white Nissan LEAF

The Nissan LEAF is the world’s best-selling EV. The all-electric LEAF retails for about $30,000 and has a range of up to 107 miles. (Photo courtesy of Nissan)

Those who haven’t shopped for a new car in a while may be surprised to find the cost of new electric vehicles (EVs) is now comparable to that of gasoline-powered cars. With that in mind, it’s not so surprising that the EV market is growing rapidly. There’s lots more, however, that consumers should know about them in order to make an informed buying decision.

There are two primary types of EVs. All-electric EVs — such as the Nissan LEAF — are powered entirely with electricity. Plug-in hybrid EVs — such as the Chevrolet Volt — are dual-fuel cars, meaning they can be propelled by both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine.

Fewer — or no — trips to the pump

Obviously, a key benefit of EVs is that a driver’s trips to the gas station are either vastly reduced or eliminated altogether. Instead, EVs need to be recharged, and charging with electricity is nearly always cheaper than fueling with gasoline — on average, about one-third the cost to go the same distance.

Another benefit of charging with electricity is that, throughout many parts of the country, it’s a cleaner fuel source than gasoline. Although the exact environmental benefits of driving an EV will vary, one recent study found that two-thirds of Americans live in regions where driving an EV is cleaner than driving a 50-mpg gas-powered car.

Now the up-front cost of the cars is coming down as well. Thanks to improving production methods, the cost of the batteries has dropped by more than 35 percent since 2010, and costs are expected to keep dropping. Because of these reductions and technology improvements, EVs are hitting some major performance and affordability milestones. For example, in late 2016, General Motors released the Chevrolet Bolt — an all-electric EV with an estimated range of 238 miles per charge — for about $30,000 after rebates.

Next up: Increasing range

Although even longer-range and more affordable EVs are expected to hit the market soon, one of the key drawbacks of EVs is that most models currently have a range of less than 100 miles per charge. That can be challenging in rural areas, especially since charging stations may still be few and far between away from more urban areas — at least for now.

The average American’s daily driving patterns are well-suited for EV use. More than half of all U.S. vehicle trips are between 1 and 10 miles, and even in rural areas, the average daily drive distances are well within the range of most currently available EVs. But until public charging stations become more prevalent in more areas, that “range anxiety” will still be a concern, and not just for buyers in rural areas.

Pat Keegan writes for Collaborative Efficiency, an energy communications firm.