Attracting the new wave of electric car drivers

A new JD Powers study emphasizes a rift in electric car adoption between present and future drivers. In summary, while environmental reasons were a compelling call to action for the first wave of drivers, new drivers are looking for a faster cost recovery. Overall, 82% of current drivers will say that they “definitely will” or  ”probably will” buy another electric car from the same brand.

Green Vs. green- money or environment. According to the study, the first wave of drivers are educated, financially well off and environmentally conscious individuals. For 44% of them the motivation to purchase an electric car stemmed from the need to reduce toxic emissions. While potential drivers don’t sidestep these environmental concerns the majority of them want to save money. 45% of those considering an electric vehicle indicated that they are doing so for  fuel saving reasons. Only 11% indicate that environmental concerns are their primary reason. ”Current EV owners focus on the emotional benefits of owning an electric vehicle–which are having a positive effect on the environment–but the way for manufacturers to take EVs to the masses and increase sales is to address the economic equation,” said Neal Oddes, senior director of the green practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “There still is a disconnect between the reality of the cost of an EV and the cost savings that consumers want to achieve.”

Do EVs actually save money? According to current users the answer is yes. On average  EV drivers save $147 on fuel monthly, while seing only a minimal $18 increase on their electricity bills. Looking at total cost of ownership the picture gets a bit trickier. As electric cars sell at a premium, it will take an electric car driver between 6-11 years for owners to recoup the premium they paid for going electric. “The payback period is longer than most consumers keep their vehicle,” said Oddes. “The bottom line is that the price has to come down, which requires a technological quantum leap to reduce the battery price. There also needs to be an improvement in the infrastructure, or the number of charging stations outside of the home. Until those two concerns are addressed, EV sales will remain flat.”

What about range anxiety? For potential users limited range seems to be the top operational concern, alongside the availability of public charging. The good news on this front is that while this is a barrier to entry for new drivers, once behind the wheel electric drivers tend to forget about range. According to the study EV drivers travel 34 miles a day, and only 11% of them are concerned that their batteries will run out.


Big brother at the wheel

One of the neat things about Electric Vehicles, is the amount of data and knowledge they provide to drivers, policy makers and the public. For the last 3 years The EV Project has deployed robust charging infrastructure in 9 states and the District of Columbia (Including Pennsylvania). Through the data collected all of us can gain insight to what the lives of driving an EV look like. The following highlights are based on the most recent EV Project quarterly report that can be downloaded here.

Going the distance

To date, 4,998 cars have drove over 33 million miles, saving over 1.7 million gallons of gas. This means that during a typical day. an electric car driver will travel an average of 30 miles a day. When segregating the data into the car models, we can see that in general Chevrolet Volt owners travel on average 5 miles further, using their extra gas tank as a backup. (35 miles is within range of the Volt’s electric motor)

Miles traveled per day, Volt/ LEAF. (click to enlarge)

Where do they charge?

At the end of the day, most drivers still prefer to do most of their charging at home. Overall, 89% of charging events occur at home, even though the percentage of public charging events has risen as more charging stations become active. As for charge times, majority of drivers draw power for 1-4 hours during the week and 0-3 hours during the weekend.

According to the data, Volt owners tend to charge their cars more often during the course of the day, which leads us to the conclusion that drivers are doing their utmost to stay off gasoline.

We look forward to see if in the next report drivers gain more confidence in their car’s range, as well as the impact public charging network has on distance.

Where does the energy go?

This week the departments of  Transportation and  Environmental Protection announced a new goal of a combined fleet efficiency of 54.5 MPG by 2025. To attain this goal,  automakers will have to develop lighter, smaller, and more efficient cars. In order to see the inefficiencies of today’s internal combustion car, it would make sense to step back and see how energy is lost from the second we switch on our cars, to the moment they propel forward.

In a recent Nature article published in Nature magazine Secretary of Energy Steven Chu discusses the challenges for creating more sustainable transportation. According to the Department of Energy, out of each gallon of gas combusted in our cars only 21% is used to move the car. Assuming each gallon costs $3.77 (national average) a meager 79 cents is actually powering the wheels. Boradly, 33% of energy is lost through the exhaust, 29% is used for cooling, and the other 38% is lost due to mechanical power inefficiencies  The image below shows the leading sources of inefficiencies.

Where does the energy go? (click to enlarge)

Presently, electric motors are already showing higher conversion rates of stored energy into kinetic energy. Moreover, they allow engineers to experiment with lighter materials, and technologies such as regenerative breaking  that can later be used for all modes of transportation.


What’s a Watt? Class 2: Charging

One of the recurring questions we usually receive at the many events we attend is “How will I charge this car at home?” So for all of you out there, here’s a detailed answer.

There are presently 2 major ways in which you can charge your cars at home, these are usually referred to as level 1 and level 2 charging. The third option,  Level 3, is usually limited to public charging.

Level 1 (120v): This is the most basic form of charging. Using the cars supplied charger,  you insert the charging nozzle (also known as the J1772 plug) into your cars charging port, and the other end into your wall outlet. Since outlets supply 120v of power, charging batteries on this port is slower. For instance, charing an all electric Nissan Leaf will take you around 14- 15 hours, while charging a Plug in Hybrid Chevrolet Volt would fully charge in around 8 hours.

Level 1 charger; Charge time 7-14 hours

Level 2 (240v): To speed up charging, most electric vehicle owners usually install a designated electric vehicle outlet. This outlet which in many homes is used to power the AC or other energy intensive appliances cuts the charging time in half, enabling you to charge a Nissan Leaf from 0%-100% in 7 hours and a Chevrolet Volt in just under 4. While in some cases auto manufacturers will include this unit in the price of the car, this charger can also be purchased separately.

Level 2 charger; Charge time 4-8 hours

Level 3 (480v): Level 3 charging or “Fast Charging” as it is sometimes referred to is becoming readily available in many parts of the country. These public charging stations require extensive infrastructure work, and for this reason have limited availability. This new charging technology enables drivers to fill 80% of the battery in about half an hour making it a great option for long trips. One of the places were this technology has been deployed is the I-5 Electric Highway a 1,300 mile stretch running from the California border to Canada via Oregon and Washington. Along this route fast chargers have been placed at 60 mile intervals to allow drivers a pit stop for themselves and their cars.

Level 3; Charge time 30-45 min.

For a complete list of chargers see Plug In America

What’s a watt? Class 1: Plug in Hybrid Vs. All Electric

When listening to electric car owners speaking, it almost seems that they have a secret language of their own. To clarify some of the lingo underlying the EV (electric vehicle) discourse, we’ve decided to launch our EV academy- a beginners guide to acronyms.

Battery electric: Mitsubishi MiEV

The first decision potential EV drivers ask themselves is what type of car should I get? Presently there are two broad categories: All electric vehicles and Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicles. The difference between the two is that while all electric vehicles are powered solely by a battery, plug in hybrid electric (PHEV) also have a small backup gasoline engine that serves as an electricity generator when the battery levels go low. To see a gallery of the types of cars available check out Plug in America 

Plug in hybrid: Ford C max Energi

Designing tomorrow’s car- West Philly’s X Team takes center stage

As labs and engineers work to design the car of the future, these Philadelphia high school students are giving adults a run for their money. Their challenge- design a 100 MPGe car. The tools- good teachers, an auto shop, and a whole lot of heart.

After being endorsed by president Obama, featured on the Today Show, and almost winning the Progressive Automotive X Prize, the kids from West Philadelphia High School are now the stars of a documentary.

For over a year, the reporters of Frontline tracked the students from the drawing board to the race track, following them through the team’s highs and lows. The completed work is not only the personal story of the students, but also a vision of how US auto manufacturing can lead to a cleaner more efficient future.

The West Philly Hybrid GT

Thinking about buying an electric car? Start with a test drive

Did you know that Philadelphia now has the nation’s largest publicly accessible fleet of American-made electric vehicles? Last month Mayor Nutter and  PhillyCarShare, launched a Chevy Volt fleet consisting of 18 cars located in strategic locations around the city.

If you’re thinking about purchasing an electric vehicle the car share fleet is a great way to get acquainted with this new technology. And if you already own an electric vehicle, two of PhillyCarShare’s 20 EV chargers are available for public use if your car is in need of some electrons.


Turn your electric car into a generator

Recent storms have left  millions of American homes without electricity for days. For electric car owners this lack of electricity was even worse as they lost both home power and their source of transportation. But new technology coming out of Nissan in Japan  is now offering electric car owners two way chargers that can stream the electrical current from the grid to your car, or from your car back into the house.

This two way function turns the car’s battery into a backup generator in case of emergency. According to the developers, this is the first step in developing a smart grid, which can store energy overnight in the car and release it back to the house when demand is high .

ABC has more on this story.

Why we love electric vehicles

What made us fall for electric cars is the moment that you push the ignition switch and nothing happens- no sound, no vibration just silence. In many ways it’s a bit like switching on your cellphone, TV, or stereo. Some lights come on and it’s good to go. But what sealed the deal for us were two critical factors price and pollution.

Price: Yes, electric cars are more expensive, but with rising fuel prices a mile driven on electricity will cost you about 2-7 cents per mile, as opposed to about 11 cents (when comparing to a 27.5 mpg car). This means that if you drive 15,000 miles a year you could save about $1,300 to $1,600, or more if you sign up for a special electric vehicle charging rate.

Finally, electricity costs are steady. Gas prices fluctuate wildly based on factors well out of our control. Since 1990 gasoline prices have quadrupled while electricity has risen by only ⅓. Electric vehicles create less pump anxiety.

Pollution: You don’t have to be a green advocate to understand that pollution is bad for our health and our planet. When compared to gasoline cars, an electric car charged on Boston, New York City, or Philadelphia power emits about 75% less pollution. That’s like driving a 57-75 MPG car.

And then there’s the driving. Since there are less moving parts and no combustion, pushing the pedal to the metal has the same effect of turning the volume up on your stereo- Instant torque. No lag, no hiccups, just pure motion.  While this requires some adjusting you’ll be wondering why regular cars don’t operate this way.