How Far Can You Go?

The Holy Grail of every electric vehicle is range. From the promised 300+ mile range of the Tesla Model S to the potential 73 mile range of the Nissan Leaf, the average driver wants to know how far the vehicle can go before it has to be recharged. (Not that he will very often go farther than to work or the store and back, but unless he can afford a second or third vehicle that’s essentially just a toy, it’s all about RANGE.) Weight, battery technology, power management – the laws of physics – not a concern for the average driver. How much does it cost, how far can it go, how much will it be worth in five years? These are real world concerns.

That’s why Plug In Hybrids might be a viable interim solution: all-electric drive until the battery is depleted, then the gas kicks in.

Chevy Volt might have the distinction of being the first Plug In Hybrid (insert debate here) – an electric vehicle with infinite range thanks to an on-board gas-powered generator. When the Volt was first introduced, I dismissed it because poor Chevy marketing gave me the idea that GM considered it a hybrid, not an electric car. I was appalled by the idea that if you drove your car five miles you had to use gasoline – no matter how little – negating the advantages of owning an electric vehicle. I was dead wrong, but Chevy’s advertising wasn’t helping to correct my misconception. When I discovered the truth, I was fascinated by the fact that an idea any 7th grader could grasp (an electric car with a gas generator) was so miss-communicated by the manufacturer.

Tesla, on the other hand, claims a 300 mile all-electric range with their Model S. I’d love to believe it. With a 300-mile range, I could go from Portland to Seattle and still have plenty of juice left over to drive around town. (If I wanted to go to Boise I might make it as far as Baker City in Eastern Oregon before coasting into a recharging station, but this is just quibbling.) Of course, I need to fork over at least $70,000 to own a Model S that promises this type of range. That’s not to disparage Tesla – they are smart engineers and savvy marketers, and have an appealing product. But for the moment, a Tesla is more expensive than an E-Class Mercedes.

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