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Sep 242013

Tesla’s Model S has infatuated the world and taken the electric car mainstream. The Street’s Chris Ciaccia gives his thoughts in this report.

Sep 182013

Bloomberg reports that GM CEO Dan Akerson and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk are locked in a battle to provide customers with a cheaper option in electric-powered vehicles. Both companies are planning to build cars that will be priced in the $30,000 range.

Jul 032013

How many electric vehicles are on the market in the U.S.?

A new Electric Vehicle Guide by Sierra Club features 14 EVs and Plug-In EVs available to American consumers. That’s a significant foothold, compared with four years ago when the EV menu consisted of  the Nissan Leaf and the GM Volt.

Tesla model-s-signature-red_960x640_b

California dreaming: The Tesla S.

The group includes the luxury, well-reviewed Tesla S sedan, which at $60K or so is definitely not the car for the masses, and not even your father’s vehicle, unless he’s a CEO. This paradigm-busting American marvel is a blast to oogle, but few of us will be driving one.

Luckily, the new fleet of electrics also includes the less flashy but more affordable Honda Fit EV and the Mitsubishi i (the MiEV), which land between $22 and $28K after federal rebates. Factor in the gas savings, and these cars are looking more economical by the minute.

Given that many of these cars are just now emerging from the factory, you’ll have to deal with an irritating inability to make exact comparisons. The Fit, for instance, is only being leased (for $259 a month) in California and Oregon, so we couldn’t find its MRSP (Manufacturer’s Retail Sales Price) on the Sierra guide to make a direct comparison with the MiEV, which is sold for $22,475–$24,475 after the $7,500 federal rebate.

You can hop over to the U.S. government site, FuelEconomy.gov., for a side-by-side comparison of any four cars you select. There you can compare price, mileage and features. But that’s a fallible source as well. We uncovered the expected MRSP for the Fit at $36,000 (ouch, but that’s before rebates) but not for the MiEV. Oy.

What’s the difference between an EV and a Plug-In Hybrid?


Do we say Mee-Ev, Meev or My-E-V? Or just “It’s the most affordable?”

OK, that’s a dumb question, but we put it in because this difference does muddy the waters. A pure electric vehicle runs on a battery. Period. It’s an EV. There’s no gasoline engine. So these cars need to get you there on battery power. Consequently, EVs have larger lithium ion batteries that take you farther (and add to the cost of the vehicle and also take up space).

Plug-in hybrids can get by with smaller batteries, but you don’t get the range and you need to supplement with gas. On the other hand, you can supplement with gas, which can be a “range anxiety” relieving feature.

Did we mention that pure EVs include the sleek, amazing, but-unattainable Tesla S?

The MiEV, Fit EV, Ford Focus EV, SmartforTwo EV, Nissan Leaf and the Fiat 500 E are all pure electrics also.

That’s a lucky seven EVs. It would be hard to shelve them all, like automakers did back in the 1990s with the first commercial EVs.

Yeah but how far can I drive before I need to recharge?

That depends on whether you’re talking about you or your car.


The Prius Plug-in only gets a few “all electric” miles, but it’s overall MPG is still impressive.

All-electric vehicles offer ranges of 75 (though Leaf owners say they get more) to 116 miles on a single battery charge, making them a reasonable option for most commutes. Commuters who can recharge at work are especially lucky, and that’s becoming more common. These cars also qualify for the full $7,500 federal rebate because they use no gasoline and therefore emit no pollution, as well as the highest rebates your state offers. That helps offset their higher upfront sticker, compared with conventional cars.

Plug-in hybrids don’t qualify for the full federal rebate, and they don’t go long distances on battery power alone. The Plug-In Prius, for instance, can travel only 11 miles on the battery alone. On the other hand, it offers brand’s signature gasoline engine efficiency, which yields a combined mileage of 95 MPGe (MPGe is the EPA’s way of conveying that the figure somehow accounts for both gasoline and battery miles). That’s a terrific number for anyone looking for high mileage, though it will cost you up to $37,000 if you’re fond of options, from which you can subtract a federal rebate of $2,500.

I’ve still got range anxiety, how long before the batteries are improved?

Battery life could double in 4 to 5 years, enabling a new generation of EVs to go twice as far on a charge, according to one BMW executive who offered this sunny prediction to auto writer Neil Winton of the Detroit News.

Others in the industry weren’t as optimistic, telling Winton that they expected this breakthrough to occur in maybe seven or  up to 17 years from now, if then.

But who’s listening to the electric car naysayers anymore?

Let’s talk about going twice as far on a charge. That would put EVs on par with conventional gas engine cars, only they’d be cheaper to drive.

With a robust national network of charging stations  (the DOE map shows 6,200 public stations right now) you could even see the Grand Canyon or Miami Beach.

And with a whole lot of us (remember your Dr. Suess) driving such vehicles, Miami Beach may even still be there to see.

Jun 212013

Electric car geek alert:

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has announced a system for swapping a depleted battery in its electric Model S for a fresh one in as little as 90 seconds. Musk says the battery swap takes less time that it does to fuel up an Audi sedan.

Here Bloomberg News tests Musk’s assertion.

Sep 242012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Say what you will about the high costs and short ranges of electric vehicles , a good many people who’ve had the privilege of driving or owning one are awestruck in love with them.

We caught up with members of the unofficial EV admiration society  at a Plug In Day celebration in Frisco, Texas on Sunday. The event, one of dozens around the country, showcased commercially available EVs like the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, as well as cars still tiptoeing into production, such as the elegant Karma by Fisker, the popular Prius Plug-In Hybrid (available in selected states) and the petite Mitsubishi MiEV.

Fisker's Karma dazzled. (Photo: GRN)

Families, singles, young hipsters — potential and aspiring buyers — stroked leather interiors, snapped pictures and praised the handsome lines and finishes of their pet vehicles. Charging network reps from Blink and eVgo reviewed the differences between standard Level Two  and Direct Current Fast Charging.  A salesman from Toyota of Plano explained how regenerative breaking can recharge a battery while the car’s in use, and several EV owners shared their experiences, including one fellow who sneaked up in his Tesla Roadster and started giving people mini joy rides.

The Tesla created the usual whiplash among onlookers. But the public literally parted for the gleaming,  sleek and stratospherically expensive Fisker Karma, car of choice for eco-star Leonardo DiCaprio. People stepped respectfully around this monument to auto design, currently available to select buyers and slated for potential production at a refurbished plant in Delaware. The price? If you need to ask, then never mind. If not, you can arrange to purchase this car from Sewell Fisker in Plano.

The Fisker and the Tesla sports cars may be mainly for the wealthy and lottery winners, but they do help burst some myths about the electric cars. A key lesson: They’re not slow. The Fisker boasts 402 hp and zips from 0 to 60 in 6.3 seconds. The Tesla Roadster does even better, accelerating from 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds.

Myth 1: EVs are pokey

Checking out a Leaf at Plug In America event.

That’s not news to Ron Swanson,  president of the North Texas Electric Auto Association (NTEAA).  His group, formed in the 1970s (remember the oil crisis?) by aficionados who made their own electric cars, has been cherishing the idea of electric mobility for decades. Members have swelled and waned with the price of gas, but they know a few things about EVs, mainly that they’re fast, quiet and use no gas.

“Right now the general public doesn’t understand them,” says Swanson, a retired engineer. “They think they’re glorified golf carts. ”

Leaving aside the Roadster and the Karma, the average car shopper who tries out a sporty Volt or even the Nissan Leaf, a family sedan, will be pleasantly surprised to learn that accelerating is not an issue. The Volt claims a respectable 8.5 seconds in a 0-60 test, and the Leaf won’t slow you down on highway ramps either, getting to 60 mph in 9 seconds, according to numerous chat threads.

“These are all really fast cars. They go really fast on acceleration. They’re great vehicles to drive and there’s plenty of room inside them,” Swanson says, sweeping a hand toward his own Leaf, parked at the Plug In event outside the Frisco Square Cinemark, where the owners have installed four Blink EV chargers for theater goers.

Another thing the public isn’t grasping, Swanson says, is the fuel savings, which helps offset the higher upfront costs of an EV.

Myth 2: EVs are too expensive

Since he bought a Leaf in the summer of 2011, Swanson’s been keeping meticulous records of  his electric costs to charge the car, which he plugs in at home every night. The low electricity costs are saving him more than $150 a month compared to what he used to pay for gas driving his Ford 150 pickup.

That savings can be applied to his car payment, he says.

By his calculations, Swanson will quickly recoup the higher cost of his Leaf, which retails for about $35,500, but comes in at $28,000 with the federal rebate.

At that price, the Leaf compares favorably to the comparably sized Toyota Camry (retail $22,000 to $30,000) and other gasoline engine sedans with similar finish out.

It’s not only competitive, it even saves its owner money, because its electricity fueling costs are less than one-third the cost of gassing up the Camry.

For example, the EPA estimates the Camry will consume $3.43 in fuel for 25 miles, whereas the Leaf will cost $1.02  for every 25 miles driven. Using those figures, a driver going 10,000 miles in a year, would spend $1372 annually on gasoline for the Camry or $408 on electricity for the Leaf.

Take away the federal rebate and the cost analysis shifts in favor of the Camry, with the Leaf purchaser needing about seven years to recoup the electric price differential, based on gasoline savings.

EV advocates argue the return on investment would happen sooner, because EVs also cost less to maintain, requiring no oil changes. But this debate could be a wash. EV owners have one significant additional expense; they need a home car charger, which can cost $700 up to $5000 for a super powerful charger.

Raw costs comparisons, of course, don’t take into account the electric car’s zero emissions, or the role that EVs play in reducing oil dependency, both public services that many people value.

Myth 3: EVs cannot go the distance

Perhaps the biggest cloud over the EV landscape is the lingering question about how a person can get from A to B if the miles exceed your car’s range.  The answer to that question: You may not be able to go there, has not assuaged those with “range anxiety”.

Volt and Leafs lined up at Plug In Day

The Volt  (retail $39, 145) jumped this hurdle by including a small gasoline motor that kicks in when the battery poops out, but that adds to the cost of operation if one drives more than the Volt’s battery endows, or more than 35 miles. You’ll get to grandma’s in the next city, but you’ll be using gasoline.

Tesla has a better solution, a battery that will sustain a nice cruise on Highway 1, round trip 200 miles. But who can afford a Tesla?

That leaves the Leaf. You’re supposed to get 100 miles of battery power in a Leaf, but reviewers have reported that can drop to around 80 miles or lower if you’re driving in hilly areas.

As technology improves, we may see robust Tesla-like batteries in more affordable cars. But for Swanson, he says the Leaf works just fine for routine daily driving. He rarely drives more than 80 miles in a given day, so the Leaf ably delivers him home before it needs a recharge.

His solution for longer trips, rent a car.

Myth 4: EVs are not the way of the future

Another lingering debate over EVs is more fundamental.

Some people don’t think we need them, and they’re not happy that the federal government is bolstering  their development with a federal rebate that absorbs some of the sticker shock for early adopters.

Recent news reports have questioned whether the consumer demand for EVs is strong enough to justify their government support, and noting that GM has been deeply discounting the car to increase sales.

Dave Aasheim, Texas area manager for the ECOtality North America, the makers of the Blink charging network , says the tax supports for EV cars are not designed to last forever. (The rebate for most EVs was set at $7,500 in 2010, and is expected to be phased out at a yet unannounced date, just as rebates for hybrids like the Prius expired when they hit certain sales benchmarks.)

But right now, incentives for customers, as well as public/private partnerships that nurture the technology, are critical to launching an industry, he said.

The eVgo network demonstrates its charger at Plug In Day.

“It’s needed to help it get started as in any other industry that’s gotten started. The space program would not be available without tax dollars,” he said. “I tell people all the time that back in the 40s the highway system was criticized because it was tax-funded and only available to rich people.”

Like Swanson, Aasheim also believes that much of the criticism he hears about electric cars is related to the nascent nature of the industry and coming from people who are unfamiliar with their benefits.

With only a couple mass market EVs available to consumers, the electric vehicle market is just warming up, he said. Within two years, there are expected to be more than 20 car models of EVs or variations of EVs on the market. By then, people will better understand the benefits they offer, Aasheim said.

And they will  see that technological improvements and economies of scale will bring EVs into the mainstream, he said, likening the trajectory of EVs to the development of mobile phones.

“We’re at the point when you had a beeper.”


  • (To see all the types of electric vehicles already for sale in the U.S., from delivery vehicles to motorcycles, see Plug In America’s list.)

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Sep 302010

From Green Right Now Reports

Tesla Roadster, the only road-ready American electric sports car, will zip around North America this fall on an introductory tour that will take it from Nova Scotia to San Jose.

Tesla Roadster is on tour this fall.

The Go Electric Roadster Tour will bring the car to 15 locations through Oct. 23, with special appearances and test drive events.

Tesla, based in Palo Alto, Calif. in the Bay Area, has already sold more than 1,000 of its flagship Roadsters worldwide.  The sports car, which uses no gasoline, bursts the common misconception that electric cars lack power,  accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds, according to the company.

Roadsters can travel about 240 miles before needing to a charge and can be recharged in less than four hours on a common household outlet of 120 or 240 volts. Another distinguishing feature: The eye-popping price tag. A Roadster runs about $100,00, sometimes more.

Of course it qualifies for a federal tax rebate of $7,500.

Jan 082010

By Bill Sullivan
Green Right Now

The German government hopes to get one million electric cars on the road by 2020, offering incentives for BMW and Volkswagen to get behind the push. France aims to have twice that many in operation by that same year. Carlos Ghosn, who heads up Nissan and Renault, expects 10 percent of the world’s automobiles to run on electricity before the end of the next decade.

A pre-production Volt goes for a test drive

Wait, wait, waiting for the Volt, shown here on a pre-production test drive

Is your good old fashioned gas guzzler going to be nothing more than a noisy, pollution-spewing bad memory by the time 2020 rolls around? That may be a bit overly optimistic, but it doesn’t mean we won’t see a significant move toward a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly kind of personal transportation in the years just ahead.

Before visions of flying cars and quiet, gasoline-free roadsters begin dancing in your head, however, consider this: If history is an indicator, change will not come about quickly or easily.

For several years now, Chevy has been touting the 2011 arrival of Volt, the manufacturer’s first electric plug-in hybrid (it has a small gas engine).

Volt is expected to run up to 40 miles on a single charge, the assumption being that 40 miles will more than cover the average commute. After that, you either have to plug it in or allow a gasoline engine to kick in to keep the battery pack charged. While the company will wait until May, 2010 to set a price tag, industry analysts expect Volt to debut with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price in the high 30s. Even with the anticipated $7,500 government subsidy, you’re still looking at a $30,000 investment. (This is GM’s second run at an EV; see details of the first here.)

Nissan, meanwhile, plans to roll out its first electric entry in Japan in late 2010. The LEAF can go up to 100 miles on a single charge. Nissan also is being coy about the price, but the company has stressed that it is working on “the world’s first affordable, zero-emission car.”

Tesla Roadster

The Tesla Roadster, an electric car, but not for the masses

If you are ready to go all-electric today, you have an option: The Tesla Roadster. It can reach speeds up to 125 miles per hour and can go more than 240 miles on a single charge. The slight drawback: A sticker price of $109,000, which might explain why only about 900 of them had been sold in the U.S. through the end of 2009.

Tesla Motors has announced, though, that it will be producing a more affordable, family-friendly car, the Model S. The California-based car company is taking reservations for the four-door Model S, which clocks in at a base price of $49,900.  So it’s maybe not for every family.

Hybrids? Plug-in hybrids? All-Electric (EV) cars? Or, the same, old stuff we’ve been driving all these years?

Who should prevail by the time 2020 arrives?

That depends on your vantage point regarding the debate:

  • If you are concerned about emissions and global warming and saving the planet, electric is probably the best choice, even if it isn’t without problems.
  • Weighing cost, longer-range capabilities and a more developed technology against environmental concerns? The electric-gas hybrid may be the best compromise.
  • Own an oil company? Well, what’s so wrong with those darn Hummers, anyway?

With more people thinking about greenhouse emissions and general air quality issues, major players in the automobile industry are at least looking at getting away from the conventional internal combustion engine, whether they are happy about it or not. And, while there is no question that an electric car is more environmentally friendly than any of its rivals, several obstacles stand in the way of becoming a nation of electricity-powered shoppers, commuters and soccer moms.

The LEAF, an all-electric vehicle charges to market...ahead of the charging network

The LEAF, an all-electric vehicle charges to market...ahead of the charging network

Making electric cars viable will require an extensive new infrastructure. As Toyota President Akio Toyoda told the Japan National Press Club, “What electric cars have a problem with is lack of a network of charging facilities like the current gasoline stations.”

If those power stations are built, how will they work? Early estimates on Volt anticipate a charge time of up to six hours when plugged into a 110 volt outlet, about half as much if you bump up to 220. Either way, that’s quite a bit of time to kill while someone is juicing your ride. Others suggest stations where you would switch out batteries, but developing smaller batteries will have to happen first.

Some companies are moving ahead, despite the uncertainties. California-based Coulomb Technologies has already opened four charging stations in the San Francisco Bay Area in addition to pilot ventures in Iowa, Denmark and Vancouver.

Elsewhere, car manufacturers are partnering to help insure a market for the new technology.  In Arizona, alternative energy company ECOtality is working with Nissan to provide charging stations in the Tucson area. In Oregon, both Nissan and Mitsubishi have announced initiatives to partner with the state to establish a network there.

Apr 132009

From Green Right Now Reports

Tesla Motors announced it will open a sales and service center in London, the first of three European stores that the electric vehicle manufacturer plans to launch this year.

The London facility will open this spring at 49-51 Cheval Place in the Knightsbridge district.

Tesla says it is scouting sites in Munich and Monaco. The company, based in San Carlos, Calif., plans to deliver cars to European customers beginning in late June. Tesla initially will sell a Roadster sports car followed by the Model S sedan in 2011.

Teslas qualify for a $7,500 US federal tax credit and enjoy incentives in several European countries and cities, including waivers of luxury tax, reductions in VAT, free parking and free charging. In London, Teslas are exempt from the congestion charge, a saving of up to £2,000 per year for commuters.

The first Tesla showrooms opened last summer in Los Angeles and Menlo Park, Calif. Tesla will open another store this spring in Chicago, and the company says it is finalizing site selection in Manhattan, Miami and Seattle and is reviewing sites in Washington, D.C.