There’s good news and bad news for proponents of electric vehicles (EVs) these days.
The good news is that EVs are here, more are coming, and all of us are going to have to adjust to the EV life. The bad news is that the early feedback on the latest EV introductions has been pretty underwhelming. Worse, batteries are still at the heart of the issue.
Consumer Reports’ recent reviews of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt cast a harsh light on those battery issues. For the Leaf, which is all-electric, the big problem is cold weather. The magazine said that one staffer found that the range was rapidly reduced from 36 miles to barely 19 miles on a frigid morning. The magazine’s reviewers added that they averaged about 65 miles between charges, rather than the 100 that Nissan has publicly proclaimed.
“There are two things that hurt the range of electric vehicles,” said David Champion, senior director of the magazine’s Auto Test Division, during an interview with Design News. “First, if you get on the highway and trundle along at 70 to 75 miles per hour, the energy consumption is phenomenal. The EPA ratings are based on a lot of city driving and are based on 55-mph highway driving, so the EPA is getting higher ratings because they’re not driving it as people actually tend to. Second, the battery doesn’t like cold weather, and turning on the heater just exacerbates that problem.”
Consumer Reports cold weather problems match those reported by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) late last year. Driving the Leaf for one day in Detroit’s harsh 20-degree weather, WSJ writer Jonathon Welsh found that the vehicle’s range indicator showed eight miles remaining after he traveled just 49.5 miles.
The news for the Chevy Volt hasn’t been much better. Consumer Reports, which bought a Volt for $43,700, found it was getting an all-electric range of 23-28 miles in the cold weather at CR’s Connecticut-based test facility. In its gasoline-powered mode, the Volt averaged about 10 cents per mile. In contrast, the magazine said that a Toyota Prius operates for about 6.8 cents per mile.
“In some ways, you’ve got to be really dedicated to own one of these,” Champion told us. “It doesn’t make a particularly efficient gasoline car and it doesn’t make a particularly efficient electric car.”
All of this goes back to what we’ve long said: These vehicles – and others that follow – will be a tough sell for middle class consumers. Sure, green enthusiasts and wealthy consumers who want to make an environmental statement will snap them up. But for the average carbuyer – whose pocketbooks are limited and who drive in largely unpredictable patterns – these vehicles still lack the range to make a good first car, and are too costly for a second car.
If automakers are successful in significantly driving the cost down, that could change. Until then, adjustments are in order.
“It’s going to take some re-learning of what you can and can’t do,” Champion said. “It’s something that we’ll all have to get used to.”