If you want a really powerful car—one that can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in fewer than 3 seconds—consider the NIO EP9 electric vehicle. The downside is it costs more than $1 million.
But modest versions of electric cars can offer a respectable kick. The Chevy Bolt and Ford Focus—with price tags in the $35,000 range—make the jump to 60 mph in 6 to 11 seconds, which is about average for U.S. cars.
There is a built-in reason electric cars hold their own in performance, says Brian Sloboda, a program and product manager at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
“In an electric car, all of the power is going into the wheels,” he says. “With a gas-powered car, a lot of power is lost inside the mechanical engine. If you sit in an electric car and the driver smashes down on the accelerator, you are going to be thrown into the back of your seat, much more so than many gasoline cars.”
Electric vehicles—which some people traditionally have viewed as a glorified golf cart—hold a lot of other surprises.
“The battery is at the bottom of the car, so you have a lower center of gravity, which means you can take the corners crisper,” Sloboda says. “If you do a lot of driving in the hills or mountains, they are fun.”
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration projects electric vehicle sales to grow from about 1 percent of the market today to 12 percent by 2050.
About 700,000 electric vehicles drive on U.S. roads today, according to CoBank, a financier for electric co-ops. It projects that number could jump to
3 million in the next five years.
Many drivers buy electric cars for environmental reasons. Sloboda says there is no doubt an electric car is cleaner than a gas-powered car.
The biggest roadblock to growth in the electric vehicle industry is range anxiety. But Sloboda says the fear of getting stranded far from home with no way to refuel may be overblown, and is becoming less of a concern.
While electric cars won’t work for someone regularly commuting 100 miles a day, “for most people, even in rural areas, that number is under 40 miles a day,” Sloboda says.
The Federal Highway Administration reports the average American drives 36 miles a day. Most electric cars on the market today have a range of 120 to 200 miles.
Sloboda says electric car acceptance doesn’t need to wait for a network of charging stations to appear around the country.
“No more having to stop and fill your tank up once or twice a week,” Sloboda says. “You can charge it at home while you’re sleeping and wake up to a full tank every single day.”
He notes electricity costs less per mile than gasoline.
There are three ways to charge an electric car:
Level 1. The simplest and slowest charging technique is to plug the car into a standard home outlet. That charges the battery at a rate that will add 2 to 5 miles to its range each hour.
Level 2. Faster charging requires a professional to upgrade the home’s voltage for a unit that adds 10 to 25 miles of range for each hour of charging, which would fully charge the battery overnight. The equipment costs $500 to $800. Labor is at least that much.
Level 3. DC fast charge—which requires specialized equipment more suited to public charging stations—brings a battery up to 80 percent of capacity in 30 minutes. Sloboda warns this technique should only be used for long-distance driving, since it can degrade the battery over time, and is why DC chargers shouldn’t be used to bring the battery up to 100 percent.
Electric cars also can save on maintenance, Sloboda says.
“With an electric vehicle, you don’t have oil changes, and you don’t really have transmission fluid changes,” he says.
Regenerative braking in electric cars uses the electric motor to slow the car rather than relying only on brake pad friction.
“A lot of electric vehicle owners are saying they’ve never replaced their brakes because you just don’t have the physical wear and tear on the brake pad,” Sloboda explains.
The initial cost of the vehicle affects the economics, although tax breaks at the federal level and in some states can reduce costs by several thousand dollars.
In terms of price, “these cars are really in the luxury and performance car categories,” Sloboda says.
Today, the average electric car costs close to $40,000, compared with less than $30,000 for an internal combustion engine. By 2025, that gap is expected to close thanks to electric car research, development and production increases.
One of the most radical new notions about electric vehicles is to think of them not as cars or trucks, but as consumer electronics, Sloboda says.
“The internal combustion engine is a perfected technology, so those cars aren’t improving at a very rapid pace,” he says. “But electric vehicles are evolving at a very rapid pace, so you’re really kind of comparing it to a cellphone or a computer.”
Like they do with cellphones, Sloboda says, consumers might consider leasing an electric car rather than buying one, making it easier to trade in the car to take advantage of the annual improvements in battery life and other features.