By Grace Reamer
Would you give up your cell phone?
Me neither. I have my life in that little black box – appointments, phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, e-mail, grocery list, music, and more. Texting is the only way I can contact my daughter. I can’t imagine what I would do without it.
And yet, I was one of the late adopters. When everyone else was raving about their flip phones (remember them?), I was rationalizing why I should avoid being seduced by the new technology: “I don’t use the phone much anyway. I don’t need something more versatile. It’s too much trouble. It’s too expensive.”
Boy, was I wrong. But now, those same arguments sure sound familiar when skeptics start talking about electric vehicles. This time, I did my research.
A couple of years ago, as my husband (Mr. B) and I started considering an EV, we didn’t know anyone who drove one. We depended on talking to dealers – not always the best source of practical information – and reading reviews on the Internet. With so much misinformation out there in cyberspace, it was confusing to figure out if this revolutionary step was right for us. I know I would have appreciated the opportunity to hear directly from other EV drivers about why they switched from gasoline, and how their lives had changed as a result. Maybe that would have averted some anxiety, plus provided me with some snappy comebacks for skeptical friends and relatives with their shaking heads and dire warnings.
With that in mind, I would like to share my story.
Before the EV, the main thing I noticed about cars was whether they were big and loud, or small and not-so-loud, and if they worked or not. I am not a gearhead, by any measuring device. I rarely even drive a vehicle. My daily commute is on a bus – an electric trolley bus. That’s where I started learning about the advantages of EVs.
In Seattle – land of hills, where flat surfaces exist only on water – the bus system has long since figured out the most efficient operation. Diesel buses run on the flattest freeways, and hybrid diesel-electric buses run in the transit tunnel and on most suburban routes. But the most demanding steep hills in the city are reserved for the electric trolley buses. They are the only vehicles that have the instant torque and power to take an overloaded coach with 70 people up an 8-percent grade from a standing start – in the rain. And the electric buses are quiet. The bus stop is right outside my back door. I know when the trolley bus arrives because the people getting off are louder than the electric motor. In contrast, when a diesel bus pulls up to the stop, the deafening engine noise puts all conversation on hold until the bus continues up the street.
But why an all-electric vehicle? our friends and relatives wanted to know, as if we were trading in our house on an igloo. Why not a nice hybrid, or a Smart car, or a newer, more fuel-efficient truck? Those are good questions, and all things that we considered. I remembered the lesson of the cell phone. This new technology might seem complex and scary, but it is as simple as talking on a phone with a battery and transmitter instead of a cord. And driving an EV is as profoundly different as the first crank phone is from a new smart phone.
I still remember my first time behind the wheel of an EV. I was unprepared for the dramatic difference from driving a gasoline car. As soon as your foot touches the accelerator, it is uncanny to feel such power catapulting you forward, instantly and silently, without the roar of a gasoline engine. Stepping down with the firmness of a traditional gas pedal yields a gravity-defying force that pins you to the seat. This must be what it's like in a rocket headed to the moon. If possible, the handling is even more responsive, thanks to the weight of the batteries that allow an EV to hug the road on curves like the most tricked-out dragster. Merging in freeway traffic is a whole new, and even fun, experience when that instant power of a 134 hp motor combines with a 31kW battery allows you to slip effortlessly into a narrowing gap. The temptation to show off the EV's superior acceleration characteristics is strong, but I try to avoid inciting road rage. The experience reminds me of sailing, like flying silently over the roadway.
After a few months of EV experience, I tried going back to driving a borrowed ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. It proved to be challenging without that instant acceleration at the touch of the pedal. In comparison, the ICE car seemed sluggish and unresponsive. What a happy reminder about the beauty and utility of the EV's simplicity.
Ultimately, the decision to convert to an EV came down to cost. As people of modest means, we naturally were concerned about the higher initial cost of most EVs. The sticker price, however, tells very little of the real story. After crunching some numbers, we estimated that the savings on gasoline, maintenance and oil changes would almost cover the monthly loan payments on a new electric car. In fact, the savings would add up so quickly, that the price difference between an EV and a comparable gasoline vehicle would be paid back within two years! As for longer-term operating costs, an EV pencils out so much less that it is by far the most practical alternative for us.
Cheaper, cleaner transportation also fits well in our low-impact lifestyle that includes recycling, composting, repairing instead of replacing, growing organic vegetables and fruit, and conserving water and energy. When you don’t have a lot of money, you can’t afford luxuries such as new clothing styles, out-of-season raspberries or enormous utility bills.
Because the majority of electricity generated in the Pacific Northwest comes from clean, renewable, inexpensive hydropower, the region is a prime place to use electric vehicles. Solar energy also is feasible here, even in rainy Seattle. We had a 4.5kW photovoltaic system installed on our roof two years ago. The 30-percent federal tax rebate we got for the solar installation project covered the down payment on the electric car. Thanks to solar power, we estimate our average vehicle charging costs at less than $1 a day. The $400 monthly gasoline bill is gone. The oil changes and regular service visits are history. Our mechanic misses us.
Before choosing our EV, we checked out all the electric vehicles available on the market and took several test drives. We decided on the five-passenger Coda sedan from a new California company for its best-in-class 125-mile range, its battery management system, and its relatively compact size yet roomy interior that fits Mr. B’s tall personage. We couldn't afford a Tesla, and the Nissan Leaf didn’t have the range we needed for Mr. B’s daily commute. It may not be flashy, but the Coda is quiet, efficient, dependable, inexpensive to operate, affordable, and above all, practical to drive every day. At nine months, we reached 15,000 maintenance-free miles. The Coda fits our lifestyle.
Just like mobile technology has revolutionized communications, EVs are starting to change the way we think about transportation. It won't be long before drivers realize that charging your electric car is as easy as plugging in your cell phone. The plot below illustrates our total energy costs from 2010 thru 2012.