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Kate on Cars - Nov 2013 - 2013: The Year of the Electric Car


Kate on Cars - Nov 2013
2013: The Year of the Electric Car

by Kate Jonasse

It’s happening.  Electric cars have been around for over a century, but they are finally going mainstream.  This year’s US plug-in electric car sales are up over twice what they were this time last year (according to the EDTA – Electric Drive Transportation Association), and sales so far this year have exceeded all of last year.  Plug-in electric vehicles have made up about 3.9% of new car sales this year so far.

Americans are demanding electric cars, manufacturers are creating them, and they are getting sold.  This is a big step and a great moment in history.  And we are here to be a part of it.  

It seems that suddenly every big manufacturer has an electric vehicle for sale.  Just a few years ago, if you wanted an electric car, you most likely had to make your own.  

Let’s look at the 3 best selling in the US PEV’s (Plug-in Electric Vehicles).

2013 Chevy Volt

The Volt is currently the best selling electric car on the US market today.  Although it can run of either electricity or it’s gasoline engine, it is being promoted not as a hybrid, but as an electric car with a backup generator.  

The Volt can drive for about 38 miles in pure electric mode, at which point the generator will come on and start burning gasoline.  The 2013 model has a new “Hold” feature that let’s the driver command the vehicle to automatically save the electricity for when it’s most useful, like city driving.  

Now that we’re shifting from gasoline to electricity, now is as good a time as any to switch to the metric system.  The 2013 Volt uses a 111kW (killowatt) electric drive motor, supplied power by a 16.5kWh (killowatt-hour) lithium-ion battery pack, and a 1.4 cylinder gasoline engine that acts as a generator.  Killowatts measure electric power.

It takes about 10 hours to charge the Volt using household 120 V, or about 4 hours at 240V if you purchase the optional home charging station.

2013 Prius Plug-in

The 2012 and 2013 Prius Plug-in is a standard Prius equipped with a 4.4kWh lithium-ion rather than the standard nickel metal hydride one.  

The Prius Plug-in gets about 10-15 miles of pure electric range before turning back into the normal hybrid.  It takes about 3 hours to charge it using 120V, or half as long using 240V.  It uses a 60kW electric motor assist just like the normal Prius, powered by the aforementioned 4.4kWh  lithium pack.  The gasoline engine is still the 1.8L.

The lure of the Prius Plug-In, despite of its limited electric range, is that you never need to worry that it will leave you stranded while you wait hours for a charge.  As long as you have gasoline in the tank, you’re good to go.  If your driving consists of a lot of short trips around town, this could be a great vehicle to help save you money on gas.

Now let’s look at the best selling pure electric vehicle in the US.

2013 Nissan Leaf

By now, you’ve  probably seen at least one all-electric Leaf driving around town.  It has a range of about 75 miles pure electric, which is enough to get to work and back if you have no more than the average California commute of about 27 miles one way.   

The Leaf has an 80kW electric motor supplied power from a 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack.  As you can see, the Leaf’s pack is substantially larger then either the Volt or the Prius Plug-in, which is part of what gives it such a large driving range.  It only takes about 4 hours to fully charge the Leaf if you get the optional fast charger that connects to your home or remote charging station.

The navigation system can help you on your trip by showing you where the nearest charging stations are on a map, showing you your driving range, and adjusting it as you drive.  There’s even an app for your phone that lets you monitor and control certain feature of the car remotely – how neat is that?

If you own or are considering owning a plug-in electric vehicle, your range anxiety can be eased by knowing that many fast charging stations are being set up in easily accessible locations such as parking garages.  The electric car charging infrastructure is growing.

If you have any questions about going electric, email me and I’ll do my best to answer them.