Last month I wrote about how electric vehicles (EVs) contribute to cleaner American transportation due to their significantly lower emissions of greenhouse gasses. Well, the message is really catching on with American auto giant GM’s announcement last week of an all-electric fleet within 15 years!
Not only are EVs a great way to reduce our carbon footprint, but they are really fun to drive. Compared with conventional cars, there is better throttle control and a very even weight distribution, making handling around curvy roads a fun experience. And it doesn’t hurt that the instantaneous torque of electric motors means much quicker 0-60 times.
I ended up getting a lot of great questions about this topic and wanted to follow up with some info on the three basic types of EVs: Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) and the pure Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV).
The HEVs have been popular since the late 90s, starting and continuing with the venerable Toyota Prius. As the name suggests, the HEVs combine a conventional internal combustion engine with an electric motor. This increases fuel economy by turning off the gas engine during idling and very low speeds, but it kicks back in around 15mph. There are lots of reliable HEVs these days, and they may be more accessible to traditional drivers because instead of plugging in, the batteries are charged by their gas engine and regenerative braking systems.
The PHEVs represent a middle-of-the-road choice; a larger battery pack allows for high speed electric performance with a limited range. Once that range is exceeded, a small conventional fuel engine seamlessly kicks in to power the vehicle for longer distance trips. Maximum EV range depends on driving habits (do you have a lead foot?) and climate controls (do you need max A/C?). The more modest the driver habits, the more electric range they get. My family opted for the most popular PHEV, the Chevy Volt, because it’s electric range of 50-60 miles allowed for my daily commute to and from work but had the added flexibility of the backup fuel engine if we want to go to New Orleans.
PHEV batteries can regenerate some charge when braking, but a full charge requires the operator to plug in to either a regular 120-volt wall outlet (12 hours) or a 240-volt outlet (like the one for your oven or clothes dryer) for a quicker charge (5-6 hours). There also are public DC-super chargers in some parts of our country with more coming soon as national infrastructure develops, but they generally are only available for the fully electric BEVs. We paired our PHEV with a 240v home charger and have been very happy.
The pure BEVs come in a wide range; the affordable Nissan Leaf gets about 225 miles while the new Tesla Model X can top 350 before needing a charge. There are some cars with lower price tags and mileage both, but they were designed for urban or European markets where most journeys are only 1-5 miles and only 2% of trips are greater than 50 miles. Here in the Pine Belt, and in much of the country as a whole, sometimes we need to drive a little further.
Now if price tag and charging stations were not issues, I would love to get that Tesla Model S with the performance package and try out the “Ludicrous Mode” acceleration. I’ve never gone from 0-60 in 2.3 seconds, and I might only need to try that once, but it sounds awesome! The new Model X also is appealing, with more space for the family to stretch out and all the futuristic features you could ask for.
But for us, combining an easier price point with range flexibility and the excitement of the electric motor made the Chevy Volt just right. Please keep the questions coming!
Chris Werle of Lamar County is Mississippi state coordinator for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Write him at email@example.com.