Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

Are you ready for a shift in driving?

More Americans are purchasing electric and hybrid cars that use little or no gasoline. AAA recently released survey results showing 20 percent of Americans say their next vehicle will be an electric car, up from 15 percent in 2017.

Concerns about rising gas prices is the biggest driver. There is also the environmental benefit of reducing our carbon footprint. Electric and hybrid vehicle prices are coming down, making them more affordable to the average consumer. Another boost to adoption is introduction of vehicles with a longer range per change and addition of charging stations across the country, reducing consumers’ fear of running out of electricity.

I recently picked up my first plug-in hybrid vehicle, a Ford C-Max Energi. After picking it up in Colorado, I drove it to Minnesota where it lived for a few months in cold weather, drove it cross country to Seattle, then shipped it to Hawaii where I am currently driving it around Maui this summer. While not an expert, you could say I have given it a thorough road test in various conditions.

Here are some personal observations and industry facts:

Finding a Charging Station
Plugging in anywhere but home in rural Minnesota is not very likely. But the closer you get to urban areas, or if you are located in a more EV friendly state, the more charging stations you will find. An interesting perk—public EV charging stations are often located in prime parking spots, such as near the main entrance to a mall or the front door to Costco.

There are a few good apps out there that show public charging stations on a map, such as Open Charge Map, or you can simply type “EV charging stations” into Google Maps. Hybrids and all-electric vehicles use the same type of cord, except Tesla. Tesla vehicle battery arrays are different, so their charging stations are proprietary to the brand.

Most charging stations require signing up online before using the station. One of the most common vendors in Minnesota is Chargepoint. It is free to sign up, and you will not be charged if you only use free charging stations. But stations are independently owned, some charge fees, and fees can change without notice.

Plugging in at Home
Plugging in is as simple as pugging one end of a cord into an outlet and the other into the car.  Vehicles can be plugged in to a regular 110V outlet via a cord provided with the car (called Level 1 Charging). An EV can be charged faster on a 240V charging station (Level 2), which can be purchased for as low as $395. There is also the option of installing solar on your garage roof and setting up your own charging station with the help of an electrician.

Cost to Run
In Minnesota, where the cost of electricity is relatively low, it cost less than $1 to charge my car for a range of 20 miles. The car also charges when braking, and shows a readout of braking efficiency to help improve driving habits. EV’s are more efficient driving for short distances than long journeys. With a combination of electric and gas, I get about 42 MPG around town, though cross-country treks are lower.

What’s Under the Hood
Shortly after purchasing my C-Max and arriving in Minnesota, I went to start the car one day and it was completely dead. Fortunately, it was unlocked or I would have had to pry a manual key out from inside the key fob. The 12-volt battery is located in the rear of the car, impossible to get to because the electronic liftgate does not work when the battery is dead. A quick check in the manual revealed a spot to jump the car under the front hood, which thankfully has a mechanical latch. Things look very different under the hood of an EV. My husband and I scratched our heads and had to use Google to determine where to place the jumper cables.

Things did not go so well at the repair shop either. First, we had to find a Ford dealership that was certified to work on EV, which was not either of our local dealers. Of the two closest certified dealerships, each only had one service person trained to work on EV. It took two trips to a dealership more than 100 miles away, checking through 100 on-board computers in the car, to determine that it was a bad 12-volt battery. Even though the battery was relatively new, it may have been diminished by sitting on the dealership lot too long.

I did learn that my vehicle warranty from Ford includes roadside service, including towing and jumping. Also, the EV system portion of the vehicle has a 10-year warranty, which eases my mind for repairs.

Other than the one battery incident, the car has been a joy to drive. When running on battery power, the car has no engine noise whatsoever, making for a very quiet ride.

Storage
EV batteries take up a lot of space, which generally reduces the storage capacity. Frankly, downsizing from a midsize SUV to the four door C-Max Energi took some lifestyle adjustment. But the head and leg room in the front and back seat are still very comfortable. Manufacturers such as Tesla compensate for smaller trunk spaces by carving out storage in unique places, including under the hood.

Vehicle Pricing
Hybrid and electric vehicles are more expensive than their gasoline counterparts. Demand, though, is already driving prices down, with several models within reach of the average consumer.

Top All-Electric
If you can wait for one to arrive from backorder, the best electric vehicle on the market today is the Tesla Model 3. Sporty and stylish, this comfortable EV has a base price of $35,000 and a battery range of 310 miles.

In comparison, the second most popular Chevrolet Bolt can go 238 miles between charges, has a sticker price of $37,000 and is readily available but not nearly as dashing as the Tesla.

Top Hybrid
In the No. 1 hybrid slot, the Toyota Prius Prime has a base price of $28,000. The EPA says it will cost an owner $600 annually to run for 15,000 miles on both gas and electricity. This amounts to a savings of $4,500 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average car. It costs about $3,600 more than a base Prius.

Some hybrids cost more than their all-electric counterparts. The BMW i3 REX costs $3,850 more than the full EV version. This No. 2 hybrid has a unique range extender gasoline engine that boosts the EV range to 180 miles before having to stop for a charge or switch over to gas consumption. The base price is just over $49,000.

Federal and State Incentives
Federal tax credits range from $2,500 to $7,500 for battery-electric and plug-in hybrid passenger cars, based on the size of the battery pack. For example, my Ford C-Max Energi tax credit was $4,007.

Currently, there are 17 states offering state-level tax incentives. The website plugless.com keeps an updated list by state.

Are electric vehicles really environmentally friendly?
Hybrid and all-electric vehicles are not emissions-free. EV vehicles consume energy when they are plugged in to recharge. That electricity comes from a mix of fossil fuels, nuclear energy and power from renewables. How environmentally friendly EV’s are range from nearly 100 percent in Norway, which generates virtually all of its electricity from hydropower, to China, which is still heavy reliant on coal to fuel its electricity grid. The U.S. falls somewhere in between and varies by state. For example, Oregon uses no coal or petroleum to generate electricity according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, so EV’s that plug in there will be super environmentally friendly. Most of Minnesota’s electricity is generated by burning coal, which creates the highest amount of greenhouses gasses. That energy production, however, is somewhat offset by a high amount of renewable energy production. Minnesota currently ranks 8th in the nation for wind production. As more states shift to renewables, the environmental friendly nature of EV’s improves.

Expect to see advances in EV energy efficiency. Norway has already come out with an all-solar EV, the Lightyear One. While rare as a unicorn, the company does expect to produce 19 all-solar vehicles by next year. Major car manufacturers such as Ford and Toyota have already dabbled in incorporating solar to power accessories in hybrid vehicles.

Concern for the environment and better miles per gallon drove me to my first plug-in vehicle. As more consumers join the EV trend, expect to see a learning curve in vehicle maintenance while charging stations pop up in parking lots across the country.

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