Electric cars, are they really better?
Vehicle electrification is in the news thanks to recent announcements of the planned launch of several electric-powered vehicles, including the Nissan Leaf, Fisker Karma and the Ford Transit Connect EV. Electric vehicles offer distinct advantages over their gas-powered counterparts although their price premium can offset some of those benefits.
Electric cars are nothing new, having been sold a century ago by manufacturers such as Detroit Electric. Gas powered cars began to dominate the market by the 1920s because fuel was plentiful and they were cheap to build.
Credit Henry Ford for figuring out a way to mass produce passenger cars and get them to the masses.
New technologies have made modern vehicle electrification a possibility. These cars are powered by sophisticated lithium-ion battery packs which are smaller and lighter than nickel-cadmium batteries used in many of today’s gas-electric hybrid models.
Look for cars such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid to eventually switch to li-ion battery packs. The all new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid will use li-ion batteries from the get go when it is released later this year.
Though battery systems are complicated, electric cars do not have a gas engine, multi-speed transmission or an emissions system. Fewer parts mean less to maintain, though the long-term maintenance of any EV is not yet known.
We have already seen that ni-cad batteries last a lot longer than what some people thought they would, with many Toyota Prius cars far exceeding 100,000 miles on the odometer.
Electric cars emit zero emissions, run quietly and consume fewer resources while on the road.
However, energy is consumed at the power grid level as electricity is usually derived from coal-fired electric plants. Those plants spew large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, canceling out some of the benefits of EVs.
Electric only vehicles are fast as they constantly operate at peak torque. The Tesla Roadster, for example, can go from zero to sixty in under four seconds. In a culture that prizes speed, the electric vehicle does not disappoint.
Electric vehicles will catch on only with the help of government support and buyers willing to give this technology a try. Rebates and tax credits at the federal and state level will bring prices down which means we’ll likely see a lot more of them on the road in the next few years.
So, are electric vehicles better than gas vehicles? That depends how you define “better” and whether you’re willing to accept certain limitations such as a limited range and higher initial cost in exchange for uncomparable fuel economy and unknown long-term durability.
Photo courtesy Fisker Motors.