Preparing for the Zero-Carbon Highway…and Parking Lot

Graph of available electric car models by year from 1991 to 2015

A decade ago, the electric car was declared dead. Now there are more models available than ever. (Source: AFDC)

In order to fight climate change, we’re heading into a zero-carbon future. This is a problem that needs to be tackled in part by making cities and neighborhoods that are more walkable and bikeable with good access to mass transportation, but it’s clear that many people and many places won’t make the shift to those ways of getting around. Even in well-balanced urban areas, lots of families will only be able to go car-lite rather than car-free.

Automobiles will remain necessary, though they’ll have to start being powered by electric motors fed by carbon-free energy. The state and local governments in Minnesota haven’t been particularly active in encouraging the change toward electric vehicles so far, but continuing improvements mean that we will need to pay more attention.

The search for the practical zero-emission car has gone on a roller-coaster ride over the past couple of decades. This began with a burst of interest in EVs in the late 1990s due to mandates that were about to go into effect. California led the way since they have one of the world’s most influential car markets, and several other states adopted similarly strict air pollution rules. There was heavy resistance to these requirements, however, and the electric car was declared dead less than a decade after that era began.

The 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? showed there was plenty of blame to go around. The film cited the usual suspects like the oil and automotive industries, but also pointed to government officials and a generally uninterested (albeit often uninformed) consumer base. Batteries were specifically absolved in the film’s postmortem analysis, but it has to be acknowledged that they’ve had major feasibility problems in the past. Battery packs have been too heavy, too big, too expensive, had too little capacity, and taken too long to recharge. Still, there were some substantial improvements at the time, including a few cars that used new high-capacity lithium-ion batteries. These technological embers persisted in the ashes of that first pulse of EV development, and sparked a new generation of substantially better electric cars just a few years later.

Those initial EVs from the late ’90s through the early noughties were only made available in limited regions, explicitly to comply with government mandates, and were they often only leased rather than sold. As far as I know, none of the models were made publicly available in Minnesota. Zero-emission vehicle mandates were pushed back by about a decade, but are beginning to exert force once again. Things are going a bit differently this time around, and sales of electric cars are picking up steam. By 2025, California will require more than 15% of new cars to be zero-emission vehicles.

While many manufacturers still only offer “compliance cars” in a few states, some models such as the Tesla Model S, BMW i3, and Nissan Leaf can be purchased locally. Recent years have also seen the emergence of plug-in hybrid vehicles which are able to run at least several miles on battery power alone before switching over to a gasoline engine, and many of those are being sold in all 50 states. The most well-known plug-in hybrid is probably the Chevrolet Volt, which has been billed as General Motors’ response to Tesla, but many others have also appeared. The BMW i3 notably inhabits both camps, since a range-extending engine is available as an option.

These cars still command relatively high costs, but mass production is bringing prices down for batteries and the raft of other components unique to electric vehicles. Tesla, known for having the only cars with over 200 miles of range per charge, has set the price of their Model S upward of $70,000 (sans government tax credits). However, they struck a balance by including a host of compelling features in the car. This disguises the cost of the drivetrain, but allows it to be highly competitive with gas-powered cars in the same price tier.

Other electric cars have been sold at lower prices, but they’ve resorted to much smaller battery packs. Both the BMW i3 (upwards of $42,000) and the base edition of the Leaf (starting at $29,000) are prime examples, with just over 80 miles of range in their base configurations. This puts cities like St. Cloud, Rochester, and Duluth at or beyond the driving range of most electrics on the market today. Manufacturers are now racing to match the driving distance of Tesla’s offerings while still aiming for distinctly mid-market prices—somewhere near the average cost of a new car ($33,560 last year).

Nissan has a bigger battery option available for the Leaf which brings range to 107 miles per charge and has hinted at even larger packs, and BMW recently indicated their i3 will get a range boost to about 120 miles for the 2017 model year, but those seem to just be incremental improvements. Tesla plans to offer a 200-mile-range vehicle for about $35,000 in 2017, but they may be beaten to the punch by General Motors. Earlier this month, GM showed off their Chevy Bolt (yes, with the most confusing name ever), which is also supposed to reach the 200-mile mark. Their goal is to enter production by the end of 2016. It’s hard to say which one of these cars will reach consumers first, but they’re both right around the corner.

The SAE J1772 plug of a Level 2 electric car charging station

Level 2 chargers with SAE J1772 connectors dominate the national electric car charging infrastructure, but most aren’t very speedy.

This increased travel range presents a problem with charging infrastructure, however. There are three or four different charging systems in use on modern electric cars. Most manufacturers, except Tesla, have settled on the SAE J1772 standard for low-speed charging using alternating current at 120 (Level 1) or 240 volts (Level 2). Most Level 2 chargers I’ve found are rated for 6.6 kilowatts of output, although some can reach 19.2 kW. Under good conditions, a 6.6 kW charger can restore 20 to 25 miles of range to a battery pack per hour, although the rate drops off as the battery gets closer to full. Not bad if you can charge up at home and mostly stick to short-distance just driving within a single city or metro area.

It becomes very challenging to use these AC chargers on longer journeys, though it’s certainly not impossible to use them. On the 408-mile trip from Minneapolis to Chicago, using an electric car with Level 2 AC chargers could require more than double the normal drive time of a gas car, even with a head start on a battery filled with 200 miles of range. To make long-distance travel a reality, automakers are moving away from AC toward high-voltage direct current (more than 400 volts). However, this technology has been in greater flux, and there are three competing DC systems.

A dual-standard 50-kilowatt high-voltage DC charging station at the University of Minnesota sporting both CHAdeMO (blue) and CCS (black) connectors.

A dual-standard charging station at the University of Minnesota sporting both CHAdeMO (blue) and CCS (black) connectors. This uses high-voltage direct current and provides 50 kilowatts of power.

BMW and GM, along with other American and European companies, use the Combined Charging System (CCS). This is also known as “SAE Combo” in North America because it expands upon the previously-mentioned SAE J1772 standard by adding two extra DC pins on the bottom. A CCS port can accept either a low-power charge plug or a high-power one, though a high-power plug can’t fit into a low-power socket. Despite that problem, it seems like it should be one of the more popular systems, but it’s the youngest standard and the others have had a head start.

Nissan and other Japanese automakers use a system called CHAdeMO. This uses a large, round plug which isn’t physically compatible with the SAE standard at all, so a high-speed charging socket needs to be placed adjacent to the normal low-speed SAE port on any vehicle that uses this system. CCS and CHAdeMO installations may vary in power between 20 kW up to about 60 kW, making them capable of restoring 60 to 180 miles of range to a 100 mpge car in an hour, although development is continuing on versions that will push that significantly higher.

A Tesla Supercharger filling the battery of a Model S at a California outlet mall.

A Tesla Supercharger filling the battery of a Model S at a California outlet mall.

And that brings us to Tesla, who bring the smallest and sleekest design, able to do both low-speed and high-speed charging through a single unified connector. However, the downside is that this requires adapters whenever non-Tesla charging stations are encountered. Tesla offers adapters for both low-speed SAE and high-speed CHAdeMO plugs, but nothing (yet) for the CCS standard. Their high-speed charging system is called the Supercharger, and can pump 120 kilowatts of power or more, allowing peak charging rates of 360 miles per hour. Again, this ends up being slower in practice due to the slowdown as batteries fill up, but Tesla says that cars equipped with their 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack, good for 257 to 270 miles of range depending on model, can be fully recharged in 70 minutes.

There are already more than 3,500 fast DC chargers deployed through the country across the three different standards. Mapping them out, they reveal some surprising patterns.

Composite of maps showing coverage for CHAdeMO, SAE Combo/CCS, and Tesla fast DC chargers, plus a fourth showing all stations using the previous 3 standards plus Level 2 charging stations

Deployment patterns for the various charging station types. Maps from AFDC.

The two standardized systems are mostly clustered in metropolitan areas, but include some corridors that were probably sponsored by state governments or other regional entities. CHAdeMO has the most stations, but CCS is catching up. One issue is that CHAdeMO and CCS installations usually only have one or two chargers per station, which can be troublesome if you need to charge and come across one that’s already in use, blocked, or broken. The small sites greatly increase the chance that you’ll have to go somewhere else or sit and wait for a long time to get an available charger.

Tesla appears to be the only entity that’s thinking nationally about fast-charging infrastructure, and has stretched them along multiple corridors across the country, facilitating coast-to-coast travel. Notably, the first cross-country leg of the Supercharger network was built through southern Minnesota, and company employees used it to smash the record time for cross-country EV travel in February 2014. Tesla averages more than 4 chargers per station, and some installations have two or three times that number. Despite having the smallest number of stations, Tesla has the largest number of DC fast charger outlets and the broadest coverage area.

The company intended their Supercharger network to primarily be used for intercity travel, so they sometimes aren’t available in metropolitan areas. Still, when combined with the extended coverage area available through the (somewhat expensive) CHAdeMO adapter, Tesla maintains a strategic advantage over other automakers.

Most new CHAdeMO and CCS stations are being built with dual-standard chargers, like the one from the University of Minnesota that I pictured above. Dual-standard chargers are apparently only about 5% more expensive than ones only operating on one of the two, so it makes sense to just include both types of connectors. It’s conceivable that future stations may be triple- or quad-standard, including J1772 and/or Tesla adapters, allowing all types of vehicles to use them, but I hope one of the three fast-charging types will eventually become dominant and we won’t have to worry about the mess of different plugs a decade from now.

For anyone who worries about being able to find a charge point, plug-in hybrid cars also offer an interim solution. Since they include a normal gasoline engine, they can be filled up like regular cars on long trips, but still benefit from using electricity when doing daily driving tasks. This segment of the car market is broadening pretty rapidly, though that’s partly because states with zero-emission vehicle mandates are now allowing them to be partly fulfilled with these models (known as “transitional zero-emission vehicles” under California’s regulations).

As an example of where this is headed, Chrysler recently announced they’ll offer a plug-in hybrid version of their new Pacifica minivan, which the company claims can run 30 miles on electricity before shifting to power from the engine (it also has a built-in vacuum cleaner). Chevrolet also recently updated their Volt with better electric driving range (increased from 35 miles to 53) and improved gas engine fuel economy. However, in the long run, it looks like it will be cheaper and more practical for cars to be all-electric rather than dealing with the complexity of both an internal-combustion engine and a battery-powered drivetrain.

Electric charging will create a big shift in the way we get around, and will have an impact on the built environment. Homeowners are able to install chargers at home, so many drivers will only need to use public chargers on rare occasions. It’s hazier what will happen for apartment-dwellers. Certainly some apartment complexes will get chargers, but it’s a bit hard to imagine that everyone will be able to plug in overnight. There will always be some drivers who will need to fill up on the go.

Fast-chargers seem to be getting faster by the day, but it’s not quite clear how fast they’ll be able to become. The standard gas station/convenience store combination we’re all familiar with will probably become morph into something different, but what? I expect increased demand for meaningful retail, entertainment, and restaurant options—at least something more substantial than the typical gas station hot dogs and junk food.

The electrification of the car is one of three major shifts that I expect to see in the automotive world over the next few decades, with the other two being self-driving cars and the transition toward car sharing services. Despite all the buzz it gets, I don’t expect self-driving vehicles in themselves to significantly change the way we build cities. In contrast, car sharing has the potential to dramatically reduce the number of cars we need on the road—but only if people buy into the concept.

I expect the shift to electric driving to be somewhere in between. Notably, charging stations can fit into tight spaces and can meld with existing parking. They can be in lots or on the street, and sometimes show up in parking structures, such as the Superchargers in Duluth. The valuable city corners occupied by gas stations could still fill up just as many cars even after they’re replaced with mixed-use buildings and have the adjacent streets lined with charging outlets.

For places that have seen traditional town centers depleted of commercial and retail activity in favor of areas around off-ramps and frontage roads, thoughtful placement of charging stations is also potentially useful tool for restoring more walkable alternatives.

Of course, while electric cars are quieter and far more efficient than their gasoline-powered rivals, but we still shouldn’t give up our more walkable environments in order to accommodate them. We’ll always have to remember that electric charging this is a form of parking, so charging spaces bring all of those associated benefits and costs. Choose your locations wisely.


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28 Responses to Preparing for the Zero-Carbon Highway…and Parking Lot

  1. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson January 24, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    Nice coverage of some of these trends.

    I think the change in the infrastructure of daily use of our cars will be fascinating to watch. People with garages or structured parking, we can see installation of chargers inside. But there are millions who park on the streets, with no option of sheltered car storage, who will have to charge at public facilities. So our “gas station/convenience stores” won’t disappear. But demand will change.

    Until we see elimination of carbon electricity (coal/nat gas/etc.) I can even imagine competing options for charging stations, some could offer base rate cheap prices while charging stations pop up to offer “solar-based charging” at a slight up-charge premium. Could even electric utilities themselves get into the market of charging stations the way petroleum companies are involved in gas stations…

    AAA might offer a service to tow to the nearest charging station.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell January 26, 2016 at 8:27 am #

      The towing thing is interesting. I’d guess that at some point we’ll see ‘tow trucks’ with charged batteries that similar to carrying a 5 gallon gas can will be able to provide someone enough energy to drive to the next charger. At 400v / 400a DC charge rate you get about 7 miles per minute so 3 minutes will get you 21 miles to a charger.

  2. John Charles Wilson January 24, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    What standard do the chargers at the New Hope and Oakdale Hy-Vee stores use?

    • George January 24, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

      I haven’t been to New Hope to verify with my own eyes, but Oakdale has 4 J1772 level 2 plugs on the chargepoint network. You can see their map at chargepoint.com. They’re also free currently at Hy-Vee, which is pretty nice, albeit you’re not going to get a ton of charge in 20 minutes of shopping.

    • Mike Hicks January 25, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

      There are some interactive online maps that attempt to provide this information. I used screenshots from the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, though that broadly shows a bunch of different fuel types (including ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, etc.). Plugshare is another popular mapping site which focuses on charging stations — they also include chargers outside the U.S. and have an system for sharing residential charging outlets. Just try zooming in on the location of interest and click on the icon, and you should get some detail on the types of outlets available.

  3. jeffk January 24, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

    One thing that frustrates me about electric car adoption is that people are obsessed with rare “what if” scenarios, probably similar to the way they buy and drive a truck year around because once a biennium they move a couch.

    Most families have two cars (I find this insane but it’s the status quo for the time being). This means that basically all upper-middle class families that buy new cars should have one electric car. They always have the other one for that once-a-year trip to Grandma’s house.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman January 24, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

      In theory if the couple went to buy two new cars, that would be true. In practice what I suspect is happening is that a family wants to have one newish car available for taking road trips, and then a secondary car just for the second person for trips in town. Every 5 years or so they buy a new car, and then their existing gasoline car becomes the secondary car, and the existing secondary car get given to the kid or sold on Craiglists.Sometimes a truck is in the rotation too for those that need to haul stuff, and there’s no electric trucks.

      I also think there’s too much vagueness about life cycle cost. People know their gasoline car will last 200,000 miles before an engine rebuild, but they keep hearing about horror stories about batteries needing periodic replacement and how much that might cost, as well as the higher sticker cost to deal with.

  4. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman January 25, 2016 at 8:57 am #

    I figure the documentary has an agenda to push and thus is not worth the time to watch, but what were consumers misinformed about? Could they actually drive an electric car hundreds of miles and then charge it up in a matter of minutes? If not can you fault them for disinterest? How many people never, ever drive a car farther than a trip to work?

    You can’t really blame GM for not wanting to support a product that had near zero interest, was not ready for prime time, and no longer had a government mandate. One of the reason Apple I computers are so rare is it was a geeky product not ready for prime time, and Apple tried to buy back and destroy as many as possible so Wozniak wouldn’t have to get on the phone and provide tech support for them.

    Perhaps things will change if the self-driving rental model, where you can order up a two-seat electric car to take you to work, and a gasoline minivan to take the family to Chicago on the weekend. But right now the reasons given that people should have one don’t hold up.

    “You can always rent a gasoline car for weekend trips” Right now it’s a huge hassle to rent a car. Usually it means a trip to the airport, and then you either buy a LDW and doulble the cost or get charged hundreds of dollars when a scratch magically appears when you bring it back. Rental companies make their money when a business person rents a nice car for the week and then parks it at their hotel, not a family putting a zillion miles on it during a weekend road trip. This is why you see people driving alone in SUVs and pickups during the week too- right now it’s too much hassle to get the car you need at the moment, rather than always have a car that meets all your needs.

    “You can use it as the second car in the family” If people do buy a brand new car as the second car in the family, true, but I’m not sure how common that is, from my observation most people want a newer, reliable car but keep the old one as the secondary car rather than periodically buy a pair of new cars. Rotating cars like that you’d wind up with an electric car that couldn’t make trips out of town, and an old gasoline car that might well break down on trips outside of town.

    • Mike Hicks January 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

      Here’s a place where you can watch the movie. It’s 92 minutes long. Sure, the filmmaker had an agenda of his own, though he did a good job of trying to get some different perspectives, with the result of largely just getting more information out there. You don’t have to come to the same conclusions.

      A common theme about electric cars is that automakers have often highlighted the deficiencies rather than the benefits, something that salespeople almost always avoid. There was often very little advertising, and when there was some, it often got a bit weird. Sure, you can pass off these ads for GM’s EV1 as something quirky, but they were also a bit spooky and tried to highlight some sort of otherworldliness in the cars.

      The early cars from the ’90s probably weren’t going to sell in huge numbers anyway, but the automakers seemed to do the best they could to fight the idea that any market existed at all. If they just catered to the market that did exist, even if it was a small niche, they probably could have advanced the technology faster/sooner and we’d be in a better position today.

    • cobo Rodreges January 26, 2016 at 10:29 am #

      Renting a car is pretty easy and painless. Last time I needed to rent a car it took a 2 min phone call, and 5 minutes at the counter of the rental place. They promptly picked me up, and quickly dropped me off when i was done with the car. Not exactly a “hassle”

      Renting a pickup at Mennards for a few hours to haul big stuff is equally painless.

      I personally don’t understand the appeal of having to deal with the hassles of driving a large vehicle every day, because they are: Horrible to park, have bad handling, are not fun to drive, and have bad millage.

      But whatever,
      to each their own.

  5. Matt Brillhart January 25, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    Have any studies been done on what the “magic number” of range miles at which a majority of people would consider having an electric car as their only vehicle?

    I suspect that for many couples/families in their prime earning/spending/child-raising years, they still make semi-regular trips to visit their parents, and that specific trip is made anywhere from 2-12 times per year depending on the distance (and other non-transportation factors of course).

    For a personal (but likely common) anecdote, my commute to work is just 5.5 miles. I don’t make many trips outside of south Minneapolis / Richfield / north Bloomington. In the warmer months I walk and bike for the vast majority of trips within Minneapolis. Sure sounds like I’m an ideal candidate for an electric car, right??

    However! My parents live near Osakis, MN, some 120 miles away. I probably only get up to Osakis some 4-6 times per year, but it’s enough times that I probably don’t want to rent a (gas) car for each trip, particularly when I go up there for 4 days at a time over the holidays, etc. That would get pretty expensive. One also has to factor in the effect of our cold climate on battery life, etc., and I think the “ideal” range *starts* at 200 miles for most folks.

    Getting away from my personal anecdote and looking at greater MSP, the vast majority of people probably want to be able to visit their parents, who statistically speaking are very likely to live within a couple hundred miles (if not actually within the metro). The currently-available electric cars are clearly adequate for the vast majority of commutes, even very long commutes to/from the exurbs. I suspect it is the semi-regular parental-visiting trip “hump” that will continue to prevent more people from taking the leap. But it sounds like we’ll get there by the time I have to replace my current vehicle.

    • Mike Hicks January 25, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

      Yeah, having a practical way of getting to my parents’ place on short notice is one of my personal hangups. They’re near Rochester, about 80 miles away, but there have been occasions when I’ve easily added another 10-20 miles onto a trip by going to their house.

      Factoring the extra running around and the potential battery range decline in winter, I’ve figured I need a car with 120-160 miles of range, though I could probably get by if there were just a few fast-chargers installed along the U.S. 52 corridor. If I had to stop in Cannon Falls for 20 minutes to boost the battery, it probably wouldn’t hurt.

      I neglected to call it out in the article, but there may be a role for MnDOT to play in guiding installations along important highway corridors in the state, at least initially. There will be some private investment, just like how gas stations are (as far as I know) all private businesses. But the economics of charging stations are different: electricity is pretty cheap, and electric cars mostly only take the equivalent of .75 to 3 gallons of energy. We’ll have to see if someone figures out a good business model.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller January 25, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

      On the question of cost, is it really cheaper to drive your own car to visit your parents than it is to rent one?

      It probably depends on what costs you include in the comparison. My wife “gets” to travel all over Wisconsin for work. She’d really prefer to drive her car to do so, but at the IRS mileage rate, it’s often cheaper for her to rent a car. In other words, the cost of depreciation per mile really add up.

      Of course, that’s only a rough estimate of what your personal per-mile costs would be, so maybe your would be lower, but it may be less obvious than it seems.

    • Rosa January 25, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

      Yeah, basically the reason we *have* a car is because we have to go visit the grandparents. Though for us the distance is 300+ (I’d have to look it up). We use the car mostly for other things, because we have it, but it was mandatory family visiting that made us go from 0 to 1 car at all – even the family members that live in places you can take a bus to, they actually live way outside those cities where there’s no transit at all.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman January 25, 2016 at 6:13 pm #

      I submit a car that can go 200 miles AND can recharge for another 200 in a reasonable amount of time (say under a half hour) AND does not cost a bazillion dollars like a Tesla does would do it.

      • Rosa January 25, 2016 at 11:50 pm #

        it would have to be able to be recharged in a wide variety of places, too, including a lot of places where there’s probably not enough everyday use to really justify a station.

        I mean, we had problems getting our Toyota serviced when we broke down in Oklahoma. An electric car? No way. (A Prius, fine, as long as you’re at a Toyota dealer. We actually saw a lot of them when we limped into one.)

        • Mike Hicks January 26, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

          Hybrids or plug-in hybrids will probably remain the way to go for some folks for quite a while. But I’m hoping the technology will get better in successive generations. People don’t need to go out and buy fully-electric cars tomorrow, but it should be in the back of our minds that things will progress in that direction.

          If people can afford to go fully-electric now, I suggest they go for it, but if they’re too costly or aren’t available for what you need, then go down the list of plug-in hybrids, regular hybrids, and the most fuel-efficient vehicles that fit your lifestyle and try to find the best match. The next time you need to buy or lease something, try to climb to the next-best rung on the ladder toward zero emissions.

      • Matt Brillhart January 28, 2016 at 8:24 am #

        Monte, that sounds about right. 200 miles plus another 200 on a <30-minute charge should be more than enough for most people to make the leap. Heck, that would damn near get you to Chicago. Road trips longer than 400 miles are so rare for most people that having to rent a gas-powered car once every year or so wouldn't be a deal-breaker.

        200-mile range would be exactly right for my needs. The trip to my parents is 130-ish. Take a 10-20% deduction off that 200-miles for extreme cold weather and I would still feel safe making that trip. The scary thing about "just barely making it"- range is that the last few miles of ones trip (to parents, a lake cabin, etc.) is that you might be driving through rural, possibly remote areas with nowhere to charge. For that reason, I'd want that battery range to probably have AT LEAST a 50-mile padding above my actual trip.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller January 28, 2016 at 10:38 am #

          Have to wonder how far in the future it will be to rent an electric car and just swap it out at a rental office 200 miles away and continue on your way.

          • Monte Castleman
            Monte Castleman January 28, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

            The hassle of renting a car initially rather using the one in your garage, from a rental company that knows it’s a long one way trip and you’re not going to just drive from the airport to your conference center parking lot and will charge accordingly; probably twice on the way to Chicago transferring all your suitcases, snacks, and all the other loose junk that accumulates on road trips from one car to another. I don’t see this model happening.

        • TOM January 28, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

          You remind me of the gas shortages back in the seventies when you had to know (not estimate) your round-trip distances, your car’s true gas mileage, and your tank capacity to figure your range. Of course, this was back in the day when you could retrofit your car with an auxiliary tank or carry portable tanks in the boot(oh, the smell of spillage!). You could not guarantee an easy re-fill along the way in those days–no guessing allowed– with most gas stations closed for lack of product to sell, or alternate plate number days. Long lines were a given. They would equate to waiting to begin charging for e-cars today. Think about it.

          I regularly attempted this 20-30 times a year, not just once. Got nailed a couple of times. VMT fell mightily. Not from price but from long waits and availability. Jumping long lines could get violent.

          I lucked out and got a MB diesel in 1979. “Go to the head of the line–no waiting.”

          It was good training on just how to economize on gas(Go slow, coast and anticipate stopping). Made a big difference if you had a V8 automatic and were use to ten miles/gallon in the city, and not much better on the highway.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell January 26, 2016 at 8:19 am #

      I agree. I think that with current vehicle and charging options a BEV isn’t a good solution for you. I think (hope) that will change dramatically in the next year or two. The 200-mile Bolt, Leaf, and Model 3 should all be available as well as increasing numbers of places to charge. Worst case you give your parents a new plug in their garage for Christmas. 🙂

  6. TOM January 25, 2016 at 9:23 pm #

    But no one is buying. Seventeen-and-a-half million motor vehicles sold in USA in 2015, less than one percent electric or hybrid.

    Average purchased car is held for eleven years now. Leases are for three, and a fifth of the market.

    Almost all can afford one car at a time and it must meet all demands for distance and load. A second car would be for another job-holder in a household. It can be for limited range.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell January 26, 2016 at 8:06 am #

      I don’t know about nobody buying. When you consider how new the viable BEV industry is I think 1% is exceptionally good. This especially when you consider how few BEV’s are available compared to ICE. Realistically the Model S, Leaf, and i3 compared to hundreds of ICE cars that someone can choose from. 2016 adds the Bolt and Model X. 2017 though will likely double the number of viable BEV’s to greater than 10 from 4 manufacturers and several of these will be more affordable $30k models with 200 mile range.

      Then consider the issues with getting viable infrastructure built and especially the standards problems that Mike pointed out (and that the ‘standards’ options J1772, CHAdeMO, and CCS are heavy, bulky, and difficult to work with).

  7. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell January 26, 2016 at 7:53 am #

    Good stuff.

    Something you’ll often hear from Tesla owners who’ve done longer cross-country type trips is that the charging stops are actually proving a benefit. People driving a gas car on a 600 mile trip in one day will often push until they need to stop for gas, food, or restroom. This leads to sleepiness and other issues. Driving a Tesla usually requires stopping about every 2 hrs for approx 20-30 minutes. Two of these will be meals; lunch & dinner and then likely two or three others (mid morning, early afternoon, late afternoon). This provides a mental break and usually a bit of get the blood flowing walking around.

    Overall a Tesla (or other future longer range EV) might involve 11 hours travel time instead of 10 for that 600 miles but it’s safer, more enjoyable, and you arrive more refreshed.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman January 26, 2016 at 10:41 am #

      What about providing chargers at highway rest areas? Would be a nicer place to stop for a nap or a picnic or to walk around than a random parking lot by an interchange.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell January 26, 2016 at 11:49 am #

        Rest areas could work. Tesla Superchargers are nearly all located where there are a number of food options within easy walking distance and increasingly a good coffee place (Starbucks or better) is apparently a near requirement. One was recently installed at Tobies in Hinckley.

        Tesla also has a destination charger program that gives a free charger to hotels and restaurants who install them for their customers. I know of several folks who’ve used these in places along the north shore. IIRC these provide about 50 miles of range per hour of charge.

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