Looking Ahead to an Electric Car Future

The growing appeal and emergence of electric cars may prove to have a downside.

Published: 01-Feb-2010

Currently in the United States hybrid electric vehicles represent 2.5% of new car sales. The majority of hybrids are concentrated in California but as more plug-in and pure electric models come into the market, the vehicles will become more ubiquitous. Some experts expect the number of electric autos on American roads to increase by a couple million over the next few years.

The growing appeal and emergence of electric cars may prove to have a downside. Unlike hybrids like Prius which use gas-fueled engines to recharge its battery while driving, the next generation of electric cars will be a giant appliance that needs to be recharged by plugging in and getting its electricity directly from the grid. Ideally, the cars would be recharged in the garage over night. But realistically, that scenario doesn’t necessarily fit drivers’ behavior. And unless the consumer has rewired their garage to use 220-volt wiring, it will take up to 18 hours to recharge a modern electric car.

The Chevy Volt, which will be called the Ampera when sold in Europe, can go 40 miles – or 64 km – on a fully charged battery. That is a far enough distance for 75 percent of U.S. workers to commute to and from work. But going over 40 miles necessitates the cars 1.4-litre engine to activate to generate electricity while it also recharges the batteries. Nissan’s Leaf has more range and can carry five adults 100 miles on a single charge. To give additional travel time, Nissan is partnering to develop a network of rapid-charging stations.

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The range limitations of most early electric cars will matter less in tightly packed urban areas, where the daily driving distance is likely to be much shorter than in the suburbs or rural areas.

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