If limited range was off-putting for car buyers, the latest threshold may prove to be tipping point.
Rich in hydroelectric and wind power, the Pacific Northwest has embraced electric cars like few places in the United States. Considering that Nissan’s Leaf is a common sight in Seattle and Tesla’s Model S appears to outnumber Honda Accords, it’s easy to believe that electric vehicles have gone mainstream.
Nope. Electric vehicles, including those with range extenders like Chevy Volt, racked up only 64,296 sales nationally during the first six months of 2016, according to FleetCarma. In the same period, 8,644,785 total vehicles were sold. Ford moved nearly 71,000 F-150 pickups in June alone.
Certainly, there is a way to go.
Still, this might be the year mainstream buyers put electrified cars on their shopping lists. Additional choices, dramatic range improvements and new flexibility make them more appealing. Plus, they can be a hoot to drive.
Plenty of solid EV choices have been available — BMW i3, Chevy Spark, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV, Kia Soul EV and Nissan Leaf are the main players. However, all but the Tesla Model S and Chevy Volt suffered from limited range, generally less than 100 miles on a full battery, that may have been off-putting to consumers.
Manufacturers understand the tipping point of that 100-mile threshold, so many new and refreshed cars meet or exceed it. The 2017 versions of i3 (114-mile range), Focus Electric (100), Leaf (107), Hyundai Ionic Electric (estimated 124) and Volkswagen eGolf (estimated 124) are far more appealing. People seldom drive more than 60 miles per day (the average is 41, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation), and charging overnight provides full range every morning. The only thing you’ll hit gas stations for is a snack.
Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal, has been at the forefront of electric cars for decades and believes “everything is moving in the right direction to bring the electric car into the mainstream market.”
Whereas the Volt goes 50 miles on electric power before a gas-powered generator kicks in, Bolt EV is purely electric. The Environmental Protection Agency range rating is 238 miles, and early reports corroborate that number. About the size and silhouette of the Kia Soul, Bolt’s efficient shape easily hauls people and gear. Great low-end torque and a low center of gravity (the battery is in the floor) give Bolt a fun flingable dynamic. Prices start at $30,000 after a $7,500 federal tax credit is applied.
Tesla has announced its entry-level Model 3 sedan, with production expected in late 2017 at the earliest. With sleek styling, the projected range is 215 miles. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the waiting list. Prices begin at $35,000 before tax credits.
Katherine Cheng of Seattle bought a Tesla Model X in September, and says she is delighted with her choice.
“It charges fully every night, I never worry about filling the tank. There’s no gas smell and no exhaust,” she says “Plus, there’s just something special about the way an electric car performs.”
Plug-in hybrids, true to their name, plug in to charge and will go 12 to 50 miles on electric power alone before defaulting to a standard hybrid mode.
Chrysler finds people don’t understand that concept so it simply named that version of its minivan the Pacifica Hybrid.
Fully charged, the Pacifica Hybrid travels 33 miles solely on electric power. Afterwards it seamlessly switches to a standard hybrid mode, scoring an EPA average of 32 miles per gallon running on gas only. The impressively smooth system has plenty of power. Available in early 2017, it starts at $43,000 before Uncle Sam’s $7,500 tax credit.
Pacifica Hybrid and the plug-in hybrid version of Hyundai’s upcoming Ionic line of cars are a great way to dip a toe into the EV experience for those needing long-range capability.
My Cadillac ELR’s range of 35 miles covers my daily needs but driving to Portland and back in a single day is possible because of the gas-powered generator. I owned my car for nine months before fueling it for the first time.