Today is my anniversary. No, not my marriage anniversary, but my 7 year EV anniversary. I was going to post a picture of our marriage certificate (purchase contract), but since I’ve traded in my Starter EV for a Trophy EV (same wife, different EV), the new car insisted we get rid of the reminders of the first relationship and I don’t have that. In honor of that 7 year journey, though, this article is a summary of EV life back then, EV life today, and a few competitive EVs.
Back to our story: 7 years ago today, I traveled 54.4 miles to a Nissan dealer to pick up my first electric car. I had put down a $99 deposit 18 months earlier due to high gas prices and a willingness to try something new. The Nissan Leaf started deliveries to California in December 2010, but December 1st, 2011, is the first day Nissan would sell them in Florida, so that was the day I was going to pick up my Leaf.
Ever since I had read about the horribly crippled EVs of the 1970s inspired by the 1973 oil embargo (I remember reading a Consumer Reports review of two tiny death-trap EVs that had 3 significant disadvantages — 25 mph top speed, 25 mile range, and a poor heater), I had been intrigued by the technology. Was now the time to buy one?
The key to my decision was that I had a “spouse and a house.” You see, in Tampa, Florida, in 2011, there were no fast chargers. There were just a few level 1 and level 2 charging stations in the whole city. The Nissan Leaf only had a 3.3 kWh onboard charger, so even if you found a 30 amp level 2 charging station capable of providing 6.6 kWh of juice, the 2011 and 2012 Leaf would only change at 3.3 kWh. That means adding only 12 miles of range in an hour!
The 2012 Nissan Leaf had an EPA range of 84 miles, but I quickly found I could get more or less than that by modifying my speed. I also quickly realized with the combination of limited range and very poor charging infrastructure, that I would need to calculate my mileage needs for the day, add 20 miles for buffer, and then decide if I should switch cars with the wife for the day.
In 2011, you needed a house (since the chance of finding a public charger close to your work or home was next to nil) and you needed a spouse (a flexible one at that) who was willing trade cars any time you needed to go more than 64 miles (84 mile range less a 20 mile safety buffer).
The Elephant In The Room (Range Anxiety)
When you want to go, go, go…
But your car says no, no, no…
The big issue to most potential electric vehicle (EV) owners is range anxiety. This is the rational fear that you will run out of power and be stranded in the middle of the road. I quickly found out it doesn’t work that way. All EVs give you lots of warnings, and even when they get low, they mostly just go into a reduced power state. In that sense, they are better than gas cars that suddenly lose power.
I have had the misfortune to run out of gas 4 times in my life. I’m very lucky that two of the times just happened to be as I was passing a gas station and I coasted in. The 3rd time was in my driveway and I just used some gas from a can in the garage to get me to the station. The 4th time, I wasn’t so lucky. I was on an interstate highway driving to Orlando with some guests from Brazil in my car. On that day, I discovered that when you wear sandals in Florida, you have to watch out for fire ants!
Since EVs only lose power instead of dying when they are out of range, you should always have time to get to a safe place to stop. But you still may not be able to get to your destination. You may have to plug the car into a slow charger (or even a 120 volt outlet) and wait for hours to get the charge you need in order to get to where you need to go.
Running Out Of Charge Is No Laughing Matter
So, how do we solve this problem of range anxiety? The easiest way to solve it is to put a much larger battery in the car so it has a longer range. That sounds easy, but it introduces two new problems. A big battery is really heavy, which can cause you to redesign the rest of the car to support that weight. The second problem is cost. Back when I bought me Leaf, battery costs were around a $1,000 a kWh. In order to have 200 to 300 miles of range to eliminate range anxiety, you would need a battery with about 50–70 kWh of energy storage capacity. That would be too big for a small car like a Leaf (using 2010 technology) and more than double the cost of the car.
Something went BUMP!
How that bump
made us jump!”
Thanks to the laptop, cell phones, energy storage and electric car industries, costs have dropped dramatically and expected to continue to drop to about one tenth of the previous price of $1,000 a kWh to about $100 a kWh.
Can This Zebra Change Its Stripes?
The choices are few
And dealers not funny.
But now we have
More cars coming to spend our money!
Today, we have several affordable and long range EVs either available now or coming in mere months in 2019.
We currently have the Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt as affordable EVs that solve the range anxiety issue. If you are willing to use a plug-in hybrid to solve your problem and extend your range occasionally, Toyota’s Prius Prime and the soon-to-be-discontinued Chevy Volt are top options. The Volt’s selling price may go down since it has been announced that the model is going away. Since it has been made for many years in decent volume, they are numerous used Volts available at reasonable prices as well. Chevy is expected to continue offering service and parts for the car for the foreseeable future.
In 2019, we expect a trio of affordable crossovers and one sedan from the Korean twins of Kia and Hyundai. They are both offering subcompact crossovers that should be very popular in the US.
The Hyundai Kona EV has been getting great reviews. The two most cited reasons are its 258 mile range and a $30,000 starting price after incentives. Availability is expected to be limited, but if you are willing to buy it without a test drive, you should be able to buy one nationwide sometime in 2019.
The Kia Niro gives you a slightly bigger crossover with more passenger and cargo room, using the same drivetrain (battery and motor). That additional size cuts expected range 19 miles to 239. Pricing is expected (by me) to be about $4,000 more than the Kona based on the price of the existing models.
Kia also will continue to offer the delightfully boxy Soul, soon a significantly improved generation of it, in a similar size to the Kona. The 2020 model is expected to have similar range and a slightly lower price. It is expected on dealership lots in late 2019.
Hyundai is expected to use the same 64 kWh platform to upgrade its very efficient (but not very available) IONIQ next year. Based on existing pricing, that model is expected to be $4,000 less than the Soul, $8,000 less than the Kona, and $12,000 less than the Niro! If that can offer over 250 range at a cost (after $7,500 tax credit) of less than $25,000, Hyundai will have a big hit, but probably not be able to satisfy demand.
Availability is expected to be limited for all of these vehicles, but if you are willing to buy without a test drive, you should be able to buy them nationwide sometime in 2019.
I almost forgot about the 2019 Nissan Leaf! Nissan was expected to unveil it this week, but has delayed that until the news about its CEO being jailed dies down. The Leaf is still the best selling EV of all time (although, the Tesla Model 3 will be overtaking it sometime next year), so Nissan has the experience to build a solid EV in volume. The Leaf is also rated one of the most reliable EVs by Consumer Reports. The size is very comparable to the Hyundai Kona.
Unlike This Lion, I’m Not Lying
We’ve had an adventure
And looked at nine cars,
Now you must pick
Unless you are flying to Mars!
Whether you have been waiting for close to 3 years for a Model 3 or just heard about the car recently, I’ve tried to make the case that it is better to order now than wait till later to order a car (depending on your personal situation, of course). Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear from you in the comments section below.
You can use my Tesla referral link to get 6 months free Supercharging on a Model S, Model X, or Model 3. Here’s the code: https://ts.la/paul92237