Range is inevitably the Number One question when electric cars come to mind. When people hear about electric vehicles that can go only 60, 80, maybe 100 miles before needing a charge, they get scared.
This happens even if they know that the vast majority of their personal trips are for distances far shorter than these range figures. The average commute in America, for instance, is somewhere around 40 miles round trip, which means even the most limited range would still be satisfactory nearly all the time.
“But what if...?” That’s the typical response from doubtful shoppers. What if I get stuck in bad traffic? What if I need to go somewhere else while I’m out? What if the charging station I planned to use isn’t functioning today? Plus, the big one: what if I’m planning a cross-country trip? Or for that matter, any kind of trip longer than a typical commute.
Weather plays a big role, too. When the temperature turns frigid, approaching even the modest advertised range becomes impossible. Range varies according to other factors, too, including terrain and traffic.
Addressing range concerns is what causes countless seekers of fuel-efficiency to turn to a hybrid, to an extended-range electric like the Chevrolet Volt or the 112e mpg all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV, or to one of the plug-in hybrids that are beginning to appear. When their batteries run low, the car is still able to operate normally.
“Pure” electrics, including the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi i, are drawing customers largely from a more limited community of electric-car advocates. Those buyers are prepared to live with the limitations, in exchange for being able to forget about gas-station stops. Naturally, they also appreciate the electric’s smoothness and quietness.
Only one electric car currently on the market has a range that makes it more practical for something beyond commutes and shorter-distance jaunts: the Tesla S sedan. Now going on sale, the Tesla offers a choice of battery capacities, each with a different range: 160, 230, or 300 miles. Tempting as those figures may be, the price of a Tesla S is considerably more daunting: $57,400 to $77,400, depending on battery choice.
Obviously, those range estimates stretch far beyond what’s offered by any other electric car on sale now. But they still won’t satisfy a lot of people. Even if you opt for the most costly model, 300 miles isn’t all that much if you’re taking a long trip. Sure, you can stop for a couple of hours and get it charged–provided there’s a suitable 220-volt power source near where you need it. The number of charging stations is growing rapidly, and some highways do have enough of them to allow long-distance driving with periodic charges. Still, in most parts of the country, you’re out of luck.
Unquestionably, the day of the electric car has finally arrived. But until the network of charging stations (240-volt or higher) expands considerably further, the number of likely prospects is going to be restricted.
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