Can Electric Cars Deliver As Promised?

By the sound of it, electric cars are poised to reshape the automotive industry in a way not seen since, well, the internal combustion engine was introduced. 2010 is shaping up to be an important year for electric cars as several new models are slated to hit the market.

That’s good news for environmentally conscious consumers, but do electric cars deserve our attention more than highly fuel efficient gas or diesel models?

Certainly, electric cars offer a huge appeal for the simple reason that visits to the gas pump are no longer part of the equation. Instead of fueling up, electric car users will plug it in at home, at work or while on the road. It’s all about tapping the power grid in ways not seen before.

I’ve been covering electric cars on my flagship The Auto Writer blog for several years, but not too many people dig deep when investigating vehicle electrification. I’m not about to tell you to buy one product or stay away from another one, but what I will say is that there are some things to consider before deciding in favor of an electric model versus something else:

Vehicle Cost – Surprise, surprise! Electric cars are pricey as we learned when the then $98,00–now $109,000 on up–Tesla Roadster hit the market in 2008. Sure, Tesla is an exotic car, but most electric vehicles are priced north of $40,000. The good news is that some models carry a $7500 federal rebate with individual states adding their rebates or tax abatement into the mix.

Vehicle Availability – When the first big wave of electric vehicles rolls out, the Nissan Leaf, Ford Transit Connect EV, Chevy Volt and other models will be available in limited numbers. That’s because manufacturers still aren’t sure if customers will embrace the technology. Some models will be scarce until production is ramped up which means you may have to wait six months, perhaps a year before buying one.

Weather Extremes – Just how durable are electric cars when facing weather extremes? Manufacturers are trying to find that out by putting their vehicles through various tests, but a Minnesota winter or Arizona heat may be hard to replicate. Look for these cars to carry generous warranties just in case the unthinkable happens…whatever that might be!

Unseen Pollution – Electric vehicles emit no carbon pollution, right? Well, while on the road they don’t. However, when powering up electric vehicles use electricity derived from coal burning plants. And, in the manufacturing process they consume precious resources just like any other car. Overall, their impact on the environment may be lower than a clean burning diesel or highly efficient gas engine, but if you’re trying to “save the earth” with an electric vehicle you may be disappointed.

There are other factors such as registration costs, insurance, maintenance and repairs and depreciation which also must be factored in. Likely, electric vehicles will improve over time and prices will drop, making power grid enabled vehicles hot sellers down the road.