tl;dr: Electric cars are nice toys that are not quite practical enough for me.
i drive a 12 year old Outback that has about 96,000 miles on it. This makes it “low mileage” and i like to think i keep it in pretty good shape. Even though it’s a Subaru and the life span on those things is amazing, it’s still a pretty good idea to look around at car options every decade or so.
While considering a more modern vehicle, there are three key items i consider kinda required at this point:
- Back up camera. It’s kind of a stupid thing, and i know how to set my mirrors and all, but i’ve driven cars with the camera and damn if it’s not useful.
- Crash avoidance. This can either be lane assist or city crash avoidance, but in any case, i’d like the car to be able to spot things i don’t. i’ve not had that as a problem, yet, but if there are going to be cameras on the car already, seems like a good follow up.
- Integrated Smart Phone environment Car UIs suck, the built in navigation systems are terrible, and they’ll never update as often as the pocket computer i haul around everywhere. It’s just bad design for auto makers not to include Android Auto or whatever iPhones do.
Recently, i got a hair about getting an electric. While i’m ok with reducing my carbon footprint, it also seems like a reasonable thing to do since there’s less parts to go horribly wrong. Since i don’t make enough to impulse buy a car, i wanted to do a fair bit of research on whatever the hell i’m dropping potentially half a years salary on. (i know, silly me. Not really into the California Mansion1 idea.) Still, doing the research kinda shows that things are not quite ready.
The first thing that kinda surprised me was the power problem. i’m not talking about range, since cars like Tesla and Chevy make cars that can do 200+ miles on a full battery, i’m talking more about what to do after you’ve driven 200+ miles. Turns out, that can be a tricky question.
Let’s say that you decide to drive your brand new electric from San Jose to Pismo Beach. It’s a trip of about 200 miles down 101, so you’re probably going to need to power up. Ok, so where do you do that?
There’s no real standardization for the sort of power socket a car maker picks, so there’s about five different types. From what i’ve read, there’s the Tesla plug, “J Plug” J1772 and the J1772-Combo (for fast chargers) and the CHAdeMO. Tesla plugs pretty much are only for Teslas, CHAdeMO plugs are pretty much only for Nissan Leafs, and the J1772 type plugs are for most of the rest. i’m also going to bet that the charging protocols are wildly different between each of those. You can buy an adapters for most of these plugs, apparently.
Those paying attention may note that i said five plugs. The fifth type of plug is the only plug that’s US standard for all vehicles. It’s a 220v 20Amp Nema 5-20, like what you’d plug an electric dryer into.
i’ve been told that some charging station outlets also sport a Nema 6-50, which is a 240Volt/50Amp instead of a 120V/20A circuit. That would speed things along a good deal.
It’s also the slowest option and requires you to haul around whatever charging dongle you got with your car. If you left your power dongle at home, you can get another one send to you for around $350.
You can also get conversion dongles for most of these outlets, so in theory you’d have something for any situation. Not super ideal, but workable at least.
Of course, each of those plugs carries different charging times. If you have all day (literally, and then add a few hours) you can fully recharge using a Nema 5-20 in something like 30+ hours. A Nema 6-50 in about 10 hours. Whatever Level2 option you’re using will recharge you in about 8 hours, and the “fast charge” will get you back on the road in 4. That is, provided someone else isn’t already plugged into the one fast charger already. i’ll note that it’s $.10 a minute, so figure spending $18 for a full charge. Not terrible. It cost about that much to fill up my Mom’s Prius after driving it from Leesburg, Va to Fenwick Island, DE and back.
So, probably not a good Road Trip car. Granted, driving from San Jose to see my brother is about 120 miles, so charging would still be A Good Idea, and i can hope a pleasant 2 mile walk from the charging depot to where he lives.
That’s fine, it’s more for driving short trips in city traffic.
For that, i’ll admit that things would be a bit better. It’d be my commuter in the winter when i can’t really ride my bike to work or once every other week or so to charge it up at work. My company pays for the power for that (they’ve very nice) but it does also raise an interesting question. San Jose has a lot of charging stations. Not all work, or are available all the time, and as i noted, they’re best if you’re somewhere you don’t mind being for an hour or so. i can charge at home, if i’m willing to either install a charging station for $1000 (provided it has the right plug). Of course, i normally park my car out in my driveway. My garage is also my laundry room so the other car sits on the opposite side of the garage.
Still, not terrible, but what iced things was actually driving one. i test drove a Chevy Bolt for a few reasons. i’ve no real interest in trying a Tesla. i expect there to be some differences, but from what i experienced, i don’t think they really matter.
- One pedal driving was kind of nice and surprisingly intuitive. Mind you, i tend to drive like that already. i’m reasonably good at putting space between myself and the car ahead of me so i don’t really use my brake all that often. This just kinda felt like the next step.
- The car was nice and zippy. i’d have no problem merging into traffic on busier streets, even if my battery life would have other opinions about that.
- It had all three of the things i was looking for.
- Not really super comfy. This was a weird one. i get that the seats aren’t automatic for weight reasons, but they also didn’t really seem particularly well padded. They kinda felt like office chairs. This was particularly notable in the back seat. i will say that there was plenty of headroom and the interior felt “spacious” enough, but i’d expect that with a vehicle that’s front wheel drive.
- The “hand brake” gimmick is as counter intuitive as the one pedal is intuitive. The pedal feels like it has higher braking “resolution” than the paddle button. When i tried pressing the button it felt like it would start slowing, then aggressively brake the longer i held it, regardless of what pressure i used. i’d feel sorry for any passengers that either were, or were about to be carsick.
- Slow final braking. This was also odd to me. i get regen braking, but the final bit of brake felt like i really had to press down to get it to engage. Considering how much the vehicle wanted to capture momentum, that last bit struck me as odd. Using one pedal, i didn’t have that problem, but i could also see where i really don’t want to get used to the way that car handles. i’d pretty much ruin the other car.
- The power reasons above.
So, where does that leave me?
Electric cars are nice, but i can’t shake the feeling that they’re still very much toys. Damn pricey toys, but toys. i kid around that i’ve already got an electric vehicle, and that’s proving to be more true than i’d prefer. If i had to get a vehicle right now and was only going to be using it around town, i’d consider an electric. For a while at least. It’ll be interesting to me to see how poorly this post ages.
i still really wish that Subaru made a hybrid, but that’s probably not going to happen for a while. Looks like they feature the auto engine start/stop at least.
1 A California Mansion is a really expensive car you drive around because there’s no hope at all at affording even a burned down house.