EVs Rolling to Market, Will Consumers Connect?

The all-electric Nissan Leaf will be on sale in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Tennessee. The Chevrolet Volt — an electric and gasoline-powered vehicle — goes on sale in California, the New York metropolitan area, Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas.

A group named Plug-In America will soon release humorous Public Service Announcements touting the benefits of plug-in vehicles by addressing topics such as “range anxiety” and the ease of plugging in to recharge.

Consumer Reports has fielded a survey that shows consumers are increasingly interested in electric cars, but have concerns about their practicality. In fact, 94 percent of the 1,713 adult car owners surveyed by Consumer Reports National Research Center find electric cars and hybrids lacking in some way.

Of those surveyed, 66 percent cited a high purchase price as the chief disadvantage; 60 percent were worried about inadequate refueling or recharging infrastructure; and 58 percent about limited driving range.

The new 2011 Leaf and Volt are the poster children for those concerns. When it comes to range anxiety, the all-electric Leaf, which never ever uses gasoline, can go 100 miles on a single charge. However, right now it is a bit ahead of the recharging infrastructure needed to easily make it someone’s only vehicle — unless you lead a carefully planned life free from get-up-and-go spontaneity.
The Volt is more flexible. It gets anywhere from 25 to 50 miles on a single electric charge before a gasoline-powered generator provides electricity to power the wheels for an additional 300 miles. The Volt could be someone’s only vehicle.

Range anxiety actually may be a little overblown. At least that is Nissan’s argument. Nissan says U.S. Census data shows that 95 percent of Americans drive less than 100 miles a day and 75 percent drive less than 40 miles daily. Even 63 percent of those who responded to the Consumer Reports’ survey said they traveled less than 40 miles a day.

Both Nissan and General Motors have formed various partnerships to get some public charging stations in place. But in the beginning, most people likely will be recharging their vehicles at home overnight. Both the Volt and the Leaf come with cords that plug into standard 110/120-volt household outlets.

Using a conventional outlet, a Leaf takes 20 hours to recharge when the battery is fully depleted. A Volt’s battery, with a smaller range, recharges in 10 to 12 hours.
With a charging dock hard-wired in a garage with a 220/240-volt line, a full charge for the Leaf takes eight hours. A Volt takes about four hours.
When it comes to buying an electric car, the more versatile Volt is the more expensive proposition, although the Leaf is not exactly cheap.

The Volt starts at $41,000, including a $720 destination charge, or leases for $350 per month for 36 months with $2,500 due at signing. The Leaf starts at $33,600, including a $820 destination charge, or leases for $349 per month for 36 months with $1,999 down.
Owners are eligible for federal income tax credits of up to $7,500, depending on their tax situation. Other incentives may be available and vary from state to state.

These numbers do not include the cost of buying and installing a home-charging station connected to a 220-volt line, which Nissan estimates to be $2,200 on average.
The Leaf and Volt are interesting alternatives to gasoline-powered vehicles. However, until they have been on sale nationwide, we won’t know whether they are viable mass-volume alternatives, given some consumers’ current concerns. Still, Nissan managed to reach its stated target of 20,000 reservations to buy a Leaf ahead of schedule. — Cheryl Jensen, Motor Matters (original release date: 11/27/2010)

The new EPA label shows a 99 miles-per-gallon equivalent (combined city/highway). The MPG equivalency rating was developed by the EPA as a way to provide a standard so consumers can compare vehicles across the spectrum and make an educated purchase.

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