By Felix Kramer* and Max Baumhefner
When it comes to consumer products, environmentalists generally don’t encourage people to buy new and buy now. But that’s what we're about to do because electric cars are significantly cleaner than gasoline vehicles, and driving one can save you serious cash at the pump.
Perhaps you’ve already thought about buying an electric car, but dismissed the idea for one reason or another. Let's look at some common misconceptions, and offer some good reasons why you might want to reconsider:
“I should drive my current car into the ground.”
“Hold on,” you say to yourself, “I already own a car that gets 25 miles a gallon. I want to get my money’s worth from the investment.” The sooner you start saving gas, the better it is for the planet and your pocketbook. There’s no use in throwing good money after bad at the pump, and the sooner you sell your current car, the less money you’ll lose to depreciation.
“I’d just be switching my pollution from the tailpipe to the power plant.”
If you want to go green, driving on electricity is a clear winner. Using today’s average American electricity mix of natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, geothermal, and solar, an electric car emits half the amount of climate-changing carbon pollution per mile as the average new vehicle. In states with cleaner mixes, such as California, it’s only a quarter as much. To find out how clean your electric car would be today, plug your zip code into the EPA’s “Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator.” You should also know that, because old coal plants are increasingly being retired and replaced by cleaner and renewable resources, plug-in cars are the only cars that become cleaner as they age.
“What I save on gas, I’ll pay in electricity.”
On average US residential electricity rates, driving one of today’s electric cars is the equivalent of driving a 27 mile-per-gallon car on buck-a-gallon gasoline. It’s been that way for the last four decades, and is forecasted to stay that way for the next three decades. Experts basically throw up their hands when asked to predict the price of gas next year, let alone 30 years from now. One thing we do know: the price at the pump will jump up and down due to geopolitical events beyond our control. If you’re tired of that rollercoaster, call your local utility to ask about electricity rates designed for plug-in cars.
“I’ll hold off until prices go down and there are more places to charge.”
If you’re thinking you’d be better off waiting for a cheaper, better electric car, and a charging station on every block, consider the following:
- Modern electric cars start well below $30,000. Even better, there’s a federal tax credit worth $7,500, and states like California have rebates of up to $2,500, which mean you can buy an electric car for under $20,000 or lease one at a very attractive price. Still thinking of waiting for a better deal? Those incentives won’t last forever.
- A variety of high-quality electric cars are available today. There are over 80,000 of them on America’s streets, with the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius Plug-in, and Tesla Model S leading the pack.
- Public charging stations are proliferating rapidly, but you don’t need to wait for them to be as abundant as gas stations. Drivers of plug-in cars enjoy fuel that comes to them, relying on home charging to meet the vast majority of their needs.
“I often need to drive farther than electric vehicles can go without recharging.”
Broadly speaking, electric cars come in two flavors: all-electric and plug-in hybrid. The second has no range limitations whatsoever; they have batteries sufficient for normal trips (between 10 and 40 miles, depending on the model), and they become efficient gasoline hybrids for longer trips. If you want one car to do it all, a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-in, Honda Accord Plug-in, Ford Fusion Energi, or Ford C-Max Energi is a great option.
If, however, your household has more than one vehicle, an all-electric is an ideal “second car” you’ll end up using most of the time. All-electrics, such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV, Mitsubishi-i, BMW Active-E, Fiat 500 EV, Coda, Chevy Spark EV, Honda Fit EV, or Tesla Model S, have ranges between 60 and 265 miles, more than enough for the daily commute. When it comes time for the long road trip, you can always take the other car.
When you get behind the wheel of an electric car, you'll experience the joy of full torque from a standstill and a super-quiet cabin. You may have a hard time going back to a machine that relies exclusively on thousands of explosions of fossil fuel every minute.
If you’d like to try a plug-in outside of a dealership, you can find an owner on DrivingElectric.org to give you a spin. You'll be surprised in ways you could never expect and you’ll never get tired of driving on a clean fuel for the equivalent of buck-a-gallon gas.
*Felix Kramer is an entrepreneur who founded CalCars.org in 2002 to promote plug-in hybrids and DrivingElectric.org in 2012 to connect curious people with enthusiastic plug-in drivers.