Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More thoughts on EV's

As I mentioned in my last post, we're in the market for an electric car. I specified why in my last post and it was mostly financial. But I have a few other thoughts to add:

Every person I've talked to has tried to talk me out of this (I'm not convinced myself yet either). Every person. Think about that. Have you ever talked to someone about buying a car and had every single person try to talk you out of that specific car? I've been told they burn people's houses down, I've been told I should "just buy a prius" (sorry, no) and I've been told that it will cost me as much or more for electricity as I pay for gas. The sheer amount of misinformation is astonishing. I want to start by addressing those things:

Looking online there was one person whose GEM (glorified golf cart) burned down their house in 2002, and one garage fire that "might have been related" to the Chevy Volt parked inside, or (much more likely) might have been related to the home made electric car sitting next to it... Really? How many people have burned down their house with gasoline? I have a good friend whose garage caught on fire when the fuel lines in his old Chevy burst and ignited. We didn't all abandon gasoline cars because of this, and I'm sure his story is not unique.

Buy a Prius: The hybrid is a bad proposition to me. A Prius costs about $10,000 more than a Honda Fit, and a Honda Fit is a car that I much prefer. The difference in mileage is around 15MPG. In other words, it would take about 8 years to save the money spent on the Prius over the Fit, and I'd be stuck driving a Prius for 8 years. No thanks.

It will cost as much as gas. Sorry, not even close, but it IS possible. I've talked with people using my electric company who say that with the EV time of use rate, it costs about $2.50 to fully charge the Nissan Leaf overnight. That means a maximum of $75 per month in electricity, versus $479.42 to drive those same miles in our van, a savings of over $400 per month. That's at the EV rate from Southern California Edison. If you don't make changes to your electric plan with Edison, you could spend a lot more though.

So, lets move on to some other thoughts, because it's not all roses either.

The electric rates are huge in the value proposition of the electric car. They make the difference between worth it or not. Unfortunately, to get the EV (Electric Vehicle) rate you have to have a second meter that is only connected to the EV. While Edison will provide the meter for free, you still have to have it installed and wired, something that is not cheap. Then you need to buy a home charging station. All of this will add $2000-$3000 to the price of the car.

There are federal incentives, yes, for buying an electric car. These will go away, hopefully soon (we need to cut over a trillion dollars from our budget and stuff like this should be first to go), but you still pay tax on the purchase price of the car. Thus, tax and license adds another $3000 or so on the purchase price of the vehicle.

Reselling an electric car is most likely more difficult than reselling a gas car. It's a smaller market, and on top of that, there is the HUGE question of long term battery life. The battery is the single most expensive part of this car, and rechargable batteries do not last forever. With a laptop when the battery life gets shorter it's annoying, and you find yourself using it plugged in more. It is difficult to drive an electric car while it is plugged in :-) As the range decreases, the value of the car severely decreases, particularly with an all electric vehicle like the leaf.

I firmly believe that resale values on early electric cars like the Leaf is going to be poor. Competition is good, and right now there isn't any. If Ford, BMW, Honda etc. all jump into this market, then there will be vastly better options when its time to get rid of the Leaf. And unlike a gas car, the leaf won't be as good then as it is now, because there will be age and miles on the battery.

For us, the mileage we plan on putting on the vehicle makes a lease a bad option. At 25,000 miles per year, the mileage penalty would kill us.

The things I like about an electric car are easy. No more trips to the gas station, simply plug it in at night, at work (if they will let you, a leaf can take a slow charge from standard 120v electric at a cost of about $.15 per hour), or both. Complete isolation from the oil market, and some isolation from the currency market. Since power grid energy is produced domestically, you are also sending money into the US economy rather than the economy of the OPEC nations, and that's a very big deal. If you buy solar or wind, you can eliminate your fuel cost for your local transportation altogether.

I'm not sure what we will do yet. I'm less interested in the Leaf the more I get to know it, probably because it feels like a $35,000 Versa, and I've never thought the Versa was a very good car to begin with. I also agree with the chairman of BMW who says that electric car subsidies should go away and the cars should compete in the marketplace on their own merits. I think the merits are there, but the cars definitely have to make a case for themselves.

But as I said before, it is a huge uphill battle. The reason is simple: as Americans we are very prejudiced against electric cars. They are inadequate as an only vehicle due to their limited range. When I was a kid my family had one car. That one car could not have been electric, we traveled all over the country in it. But despite the fact that many families have more than one car now, we still hold to the idea that a car with a limited range is a useless car, even though we almost never take more than one car on long trips. That is something we have to get past intellectually. Electric cars are a great option as an additional car.

Now to find the right one.



Armor and Sword said...

Joel, why not look at the Tesela. This way you get your electric car, but also support a USA company.

renewingmind said...

As cool as a Tesla is, they are two seat cars. Not going to work for Patty, two kids and a Tuba :-)