Driving 'electric avenue'
Electric cars are turning the corner from novelty to mainstream. Here are five leading examples of battery-powered cars you may be driving soon.
World Car of the Year for 2011 and a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Nissan LEAF is only available in 7 U.S. states, but has already sold over 4,000 units in just 8 months on the market.
Electric vehicles have been around since the 1830s. In fact, they outsold gas-powered conveyances at the turn of the 20th century. But that was short-lived, and soon thereafter the wheels came off the EV bandwagon as gasoline power became cheaper and more readily available to the American consumer.
Jump ahead 100 years. Whether because of public demand or government intervention, electric propulsion is making a comeback these days. In fact, all major automakers should have an electric vehicle on the road within the next few years.
This new breed of electric car is smooth, quiet and quick. Refueling can be done effortlessly at home, meaning no more trips to the gas station. Yes, it takes an electrician to install the special 220-volt outlet needed to realistically charge an electric car overnight, but the hardware has been standardized and electric charging stations are beginning to sprout at corporate offices, shopping outlets and other common parking areas.
So, for better or worse, electric power is here to stay. Here are five leading examples of battery-powered cars you may be driving soon.
Availability: On sale now
Cost: $40,280 (up to $7,500 tax credit available)
The Chevrolet Volt is not a pure electric in that it has an auxiliary gasoline engine that kicks in to generate electricity and refresh its battery. But it's the only car on our list that eliminates "range anxiety" — the fear of running out of electricity and being stranded. Able to drive coast to coast on minimal gasoline or commute indefinitely on zero gasoline and overnight charges, the Volt is a no-excuses transportation solution for single-car families. Volt owners enjoy their cars, reporting good handling and quiet operation. Complaints are few. The rear seats are sometimes cited as tight, but generally the Volt comes across as a normal car that slashes the typical gasoline budget. Performance is good at surface-street speeds and tops out at 100 mph, so the Volt doesn't make you feel like a second-class citizen on the freeway. Charging takes 10 hours with a standard 120-volt outlet or as little as four hours with 220-volt input.
Availability: On sale in a growing number of markets
Cost: $32,780 (up to $7,500 tax credit available)
Nissan began by offering the all-electric LEAF 5-door sedan in major metropolitan areas, and has been widening distribution since. A 5-passenger commuter, it has been warmly received by eco-minded early adopters valuing the so-called zero emissions aspect of a pure electric and by urban commuters favoring the electric's quiet zip. Even more than the Chevrolet Volt, the LEAF comes across as a well-equipped but not overly engaging commuter, the novelty of its electric propulsion remaining in the background. Perhaps its most avant-garde feature is its odd froglike styling. Operation is straightforward, the notable accommodations being the Leaf's variable range and managing the recharging cycle. When fed 220 volts the LEAF easily tops off overnight, typically yielding 80 to 100 miles per charge. As with any electric car, relying on the on-board 120-volt charger is frustratingly slow and, given the LEAF's only approximately accurate state-of-charge indicator, a bit iffy when pushing the range.
Ford Focus Electric
Availability: Late 2011
Cost: Not yet available
While not first to the all-electric party, Ford is charging along with plans to release five pure electric vehicles by 2013. The first significant model is the Focus Electric, which combines battery power with the high value and content of the standard Focus chassis. Ford promises rapid-charging cycles of three to four hours using the optional 220-volt, wall-mounted charging station, but Ford's more unique feature is advanced electronic interfaces. Teaming with Microsoft, Ford's charging strategies include off-peak charging for reduced electric rates, plus Ford's existing connectivity software has been tweaked to keep owners in the loop via their smartphones. Ford is coy about the performance of the new 5-door hatchback, but does admit to a middling top speed of 84 mph. Even so, urban and suburban buyers will be more interested in what should be the Focus Electric's above-average quality and features, the same as delivered by the hot-selling standard Focus.
Tesla Model S Sedan
Availability: Mid 2012
Cost: $57,400 (up to $7,500 tax credit available)
Tesla: The name conjures snapping arcs of potent electrical dynamism, something the new Model S is poised to deliver. Aimed squarely at the heart of the performance luxury-sedan market — read that as "a BMW 5-Series hunter" — Tesla's big, new aerodynamic sedan is bred for the person in a hurry. Acceleration to 60 mph is a mid-5-second experience and the 125-mph top speed pokes fun at lesser electrics. Furthermore, three battery options give increasing range — for a cost. The standard battery is rated for 160 miles, with 230- and 300-mile battery packs available for up to $20,000 extra. Charging is typically 220-volt, but a special high-voltage fast-charger more apt to be found in a commercial environment can fully "fuel" a Model S in 45 minutes. A small company by auto standards, Tesla has set aside its original Roadster to concentrate on developing the Model S, but with plans to deliver 20,000 Model S sedans a year it should be a larger company soon.
Cost: Estimated $35,000
Few details are available, but BMW's approach to electric cars centers on new thinking. A new electric-vehicle division of the venerable German company has been organized to do more than slip batteries and electric motors where piston engines used to live. The mainstream result is the i3, a 4-passenger upright box so dedicated to the cut-and-thrust of urban transport that BMW calls it the Megacity vehicle. The all-new design is to be rendered in high-strength carbon fiber and reinforced plastics for reduced weight, and the i3 should boast impressive cabin space for its exterior size. Also expect advanced electronic interfaces, as BMW says the i3 is designed to deliver a new kind of sustainable personal transport. Above all, the i3 is a BMW, with rumors of a 150-horsepower motor coupled to the rear tires, plus a 160-mile range, which should make for thrilling performance. Also in the pipeline is the BMW i8, a larger, more expensive, longer-ranged sedan for trips outside the city.
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundreds of freelance articles.
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- Why they don't make them solar that be better stead of using regular electric cars that is all good but Solar would be better no need to stop and have the batteries charge all day and be able to drive all night and recharge on day time. only used the regular electricity when needed.
- Thank you