A co-worker of mine just bought a Nissan Leaf, making him the first person I know to actually own a fully electric vehicle. A recent car buyer myself, I opted for the traditional gasoline powered Nissan Versa, because it made more sense from a value perspective. The very affordable sticker price on a used Versa, combined with its 30 miles to the gallon fuel economy, made opting for a conventional powertrain a better deal than paying $15,000 to $20,000 more for a new electric Leaf. Even with fuel costs at over $4 a gallon, I still have concerns about the cost of maintaining and eventually replacing the batteries of hybrid and electric cars. That said, gas is rising and new electric models are coming out every year, so now is a great time to consider the options for today's electric car buyer.
After the onslaught of new plug-in vehicles in 2011, maybe practical electric cars will finally win discerning consumers away from the gasoline powered engine before the decade is out. With the future of sustainable driving in mind, let's take a look at where the electric vehicle market stands in 2012 (all figures below come from edmunds.com).
Fuel Economy: 106 city/92 hwy mpg
Range: 73 miles
Charge time: 30 minutes at a quick-charge commercial station or 4-8 hours with the home charger
Special Considerations: Consumers get a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Leaf requires a 220-volt home-charging station at a cost of $2,200.
Fuel Economy: 95 city/93 hwy mpg
Range: The Volt can make 25-50 miles running on battery alone, but up to 300 miles when the 4 cyclinder gasoline engine kicks in.
Charge time: 3 hours for a home charge
Special Considerations: Consumers get a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Volt only gets 31.4 mpg after the battery is depleted, making it less practical for drivers with daily round trip commutes of over 30 miles.
Fuel Economy: 110 city/99 hwy mpg
Range: 100 miles
Charge time: 3-4 hours on a 240-volt charger
Special Considerations: Ford is taking an interesting tactic by making its production facilities capable of building gas cars, hybrids, and plug-in vehicles all on the same assembly lines. Consumers will be able to select the engine that is right for them, while keeping the chassis unchanged.
Fuel Economy: 49 mpg when driven on gas engine
Range: 15 miles on electric alone
Charge time: 3 hours on a standard 120-volt home outlet or 1.5 hours on a larger 240-volt outlet
Special Considerations: Given its very limited electric-only range, the Prius Plug-in delivers basically the same performance as the regular Prius hybrid except that it can be plugged in at home.
Fuel Economy: n/a
Range: 160 mile range on the base model, 300 mile range for the signature series ($77,400 MSRP)
Charge time: "Overnight" from a 220-volt outlet or 45 minutes from a commercial fast-charge station
Special Considerations: Set for a July 2012 release, Tesla boosts that the Model S will go from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds with a top speed of 120 mph. However, the company has yet to deliver a mass market car, and the Palo Alto auto start-up arguably would have already failed if it hadn't secured a $465 million Department of Energy loan.