While electric vehicles have been with us since the turn of the century, it's only of late that they have really caught our fascination as they've hit the mainstream automobile market. Improvements in range and battery efficiency ensure these alternative fuel cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers are here to stay as part of the nation's next generation fleet.
But how much do you really know about electric cars? Do you understand what makes an EV tick inside and out? Perhaps you do...or maybe there are a few things about electric vehicles that will catch you by surprise. Read on for 10 tidbits of info based on electric vehicle industry facts from the U.S. Department of Energy that just might surprise you about these plug-in modes of transportation:
1. It's sometimes surprising to trace the advancement of technology back to its roots. We sometimes have the perception that government moves slowly and methodically and that all the real innovation occurs in private industry. That's a reputation most government agencies would probably like to shake, often for good reason. For example, did you know that the battery technology for nearly all EVs on the road today was created with a big helping hand from the Energy Department? Argonne National Laboratory is also credited with breakthrough battery technology utilizing lithium-rich and manganese-rich mixed metal oxides that improved electric vehicle energy storage capacity by a whopping 50 percent, making it possible for electric cars to break through to the mainstream market. That technology has been licensed and put to use by several companies supplying automakers. As long as White House Administrations make alternative energy sources a priority in their overall national energy strategy, you can expect the government to continue to give a helping hand toward important advancements for the industry, thanks to testing labs, funding and public-private partnerships.
2. Speaking of batteries, did you know that the battery is one of the most expensive parts of an electric vehicle? Luckily, technological advances are starting to make batteries less costly and that should help EVs and Hybrids compete even more effectively with gas-powered cars and provide payback to consumers for the cost differential over a shorter period of time. Before 2009, a 100-mile range electric battery cost $33,000. Today, that cost is nearly cut in two as it costs about $17,000. More savings are on the horizon; batteries are projected to drop to $10,000 by the end of 2015. One of the primary areas of focus in battery technology advancements has been the development of batteries that are less costly and provide a greater range on a single charge. Look for this to continue to be a primary research focus for the foreseeable future.
3. New and different do not always equate to complicated, and that's the case with electric cars. Did you know that EVs require less maintenance than conventional vehicles? Say goodbye to the routine oil change. Other than wiper blades and tires, all-electric vehicles are saving consumers money over the life of the car. Even the brake pads last longer in electric vehicles because of regenerative braking which converts the energy used to reduce the car’s speed into power that is stored in the car’s battery for later use. And while electric and hybrid cars used to be unusual vehicles, seldom faced by auto repair businesses, with more and more of these vehicles on the road today, these auto repair specialist have had to step up their game, become schooled in the proper care of an EV or hybrid and stand ready to meet the needs of their owners. Other than the routine maintenance already noted, EV owners need only bring in their vehicles once a year for a routine battery check where any worn parts can be replaced by the automaker for free. This lack of maintenance costs also helps contribute to an earlier payback on the higher sticker price of an EV.
4. In the United States, electricity costs between 3 and 25 cents per kilowatt-hour while the cost of a gallon of gasoline may range from around $3 to $4, depending on geographic location. It costs only $1 for today’s all-electric vehicles to travel the same distance as a similar-sized gasoline car would on a gallon of fuel. This adds up to a savings of more than $2 a gallon or $1,000 a year in refueling costs. That sounds exciting and yet consider that the next generation of EVs is expected to yield even greater savings.
5. If you own an EV, this won't surprise you: a majority of the electric vehicle owners charge their cars overnight at home when the electricity costs are lower than during peak hours. But with more than 5,000 public charging stations dotting the country, refueling your electric vehicle while away from home is becoming easier. In addition, federal funding for public-private partnerships aimed at helping communities build infrastructure catering to advanced vehicles is playing a growing role in assuring that EV owners can charge on the go. Look for advancements in the time it takes to charge to full capacity as well.
6.Range has typically been used as an argument against the electric vehicle industry, research has shown that the average American drives no more than 40 miles per day, making the argument that EVs need to get hundreds of miles of range seem pretty hollow. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration has shown through its research that all drivers average only about 29 miles per day. Compare this to the range of the Nissan Leaf which received an official rating of 73 miles on a single charge from the EPA, more than adequate range to meet a wide majority of consumer needs. Those consumers who routinely need to drive longer ranges still have the option of purchasing a hybrid or plug-in hybrid to gain a portion of the benefits of EV ownership.
7. The electric vehicle market is growing faster than you might realize. More than 7,000 plug-in and all-electric vehicles were sold in October 2012 alone. Opponents of the electric car movement have routinely stated that electric car sales are lacking due to consumer disinterest. However, a look at sales data proves this to be untrue. In fact, EVs have gotten off to a much faster start in the marketplace than hybrids did back in 2000 when they were first commercially available in the U.S. Selling only 9,350 in their first year, today hybrid sales top 2 million. Compare that to sales of 17,345 EVs in the 2011, as reported by the Rocky Mountain Institute, the first year the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt became commercially available and it appears EV sales are not off to a bad start at all. Rather than a lack of consumer demand, sales of EVs have been held back by lack of supply, making it easy to believe sales could potentially be trending even higher than evidenced. In 2012, Pike Research reported that its electric vehicle consumer survey showed 40 percent of consumers were extremely or very interested in purchasing an EV.
8. Currently there are over a dozen electric vehicle models on the market, and the number continues to rise. For model years 2013 and 2014, manufacturers are expected to debut at least 18 new plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Changes in the national fuel standards, greater familiarity with EV range and technology, advances in battery technologies and range, and continued tax incentives are expected to spark further consumer interest in EVs with automakers responding with a wider variety of models to meet that demand. Following the example of vehicles like the Ford Focus Electric, look for EV versions of some of the most popular conventional models to hit the showroom floor in coming years in greater numbers so that soon choosing a hybrid version will be much like choosing just another trim of the vehicle you have your eye on.
9. Electric vehicles are a highly efficient mode of transportation. Up to 80 percent of the energy in the battery is transferred directly to power the car, compared with only 14-26 percent of the energy from gasoline-powered vehicles. And more areas of efficiency are on the horizon. For example, the University of Delaware's Center for Carbon Free Power Integration has long pushed the idea that fleets of electric vehicles could actually provide backup power on demand back to utilities, reducing the need for building costly new generating plants and ensuring a more reliable energy supply. The research firm Global Data has projected that building a global market for vehicle-to-grid could end up paying customers back an estimated $40 billion by 2020.
10. Unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, electric cars emit no tailpipe pollutants when running on electricity. That means cleaner air for everyone and a leg up in helping automakers meet the new fuel economy standards. Some critics have countered that because most electricity in the U.S. is generated with the use of coal, that EVs are not nearly as environmentally friendly as they are portrayed to be. But this criticism is mostly unfounded. In reality, electric vehicles emit less carbon dioxide into the environment even if coal supplied the electric power. Carbon emissions will vary, depending on the source of electric generation for any given geographic location, but the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Electric Power Research Institute have both found that in every scenario, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced significantly, even if electric sector remained carbon intensive. Another factor expected to reduce the impact of EVs on the environment in the future? Fewer and fewer coal-fired plants across the nation as well as further development of so-called clean coal technologies.