EV: Is Driving Electric Right for You?

Figure 1: Electric vehicles are represented in many vehicle body types to fit a wide range of driving needs (Image by Vectorstock).


Part of the ongoing revolution in transportation is the resurgence of electric vehicles (EVs) due to technological advances in lithium-ion batteries. EVs were invented in 1832 and were briefly popular in the early 1900s in the US before internal combustion engines (ICE) took over for more than century. Even though EVs are not a new technology, they are considered unfamiliar to many who of us are used to driving ICE vehicles most of our adult lives. This section is intended to provide guidance to those who are considering EVs in their next vehicle purchase.

Range

One of the steps for choosing an EV that is a good fit is to understand our driving patterns. On average, Americans drive about 30 miles daily . For those who need to travel long distances frequently, the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle ( PHEV) may be a good option. Like the hybrid vehicles, PHEV has both a battery pack and ICE. Unlike the hybrid vehicle, the battery pack in PHEV is rechargeable. This dual power source means that when driving short distances, PHEV emit no tailpipe emissions and save considerably on fuel costs as they could charge their vehicles at a lower electricity rate at home. When traveling longer distances, the PHEV transitions smoothly to gasoline or diesel power and tend to be more fuel-efficient than their ICE counterparts. The lower range of PHEVs is due to their relatively small battery pack. The type of vehicle body also matters. EVs with heavier vehicle bodies such as the sports utility vehicles (SUVs) tend to have lower range as well.

PHEV have been known to help drivers transition to battery electric vehicles (BEV), a type of EV that runs solely on electricity and emits no tailpipe emissions - it doesn't even have a tailpipe. This transition gets drivers accustomed to charging daily, planning their route when driving long distances, and charging everyday when they get home.

Some long-range BEVs are becoming viable options as the range is over 200 miles and the prices are below $40,000 (see Table 1). The need for longer range is an important consideration for Northeast winters. When temperatures drop to 20°F, electric vehicles may lose up to 40% of the EPA-rated range as much of the battery's energy is being used for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. To mitigate this, consider doubling the number of miles needed for your daily commute to avoid being stranded.

Budget

An EV could cost as low as $24,000 (Smart Electric Drive) or as high as $138,000 (Tesla Model X), with a number of models between $30,000 and $40,000 (see Table 1). In New York, there are 26 PHEV and 18 BEV models available. However, EVs are more expensive than its ICE counterparts because of the cost of batteries. For example, the battery pack for the Chevrolet Bolt is $13,000 or about 35% of its total cost

However, battery costs are projected to drop to levels that would make EVs competitive with ICE by 2025. The Vehicles Technologies Office in the Department of Energy are working towards reducing the cost of EV batteries to less than $100 per kWh, currently it is at $200 per kWh.

In the meantime, federal tax credit and the Drive Clean NY state rebate are available to help defray some of the upfront cost of ownership. The federal tax credit is between $2,500 and $7,500, depending on the size of the EV and its battery capacity. The state rebate is between $500 and $2,000, depending on the all-electric range of the vehicle. The cost of qualifying EV models could be reduced by $9,500. Note that the federal tax credit depends on the amount of tax owed to the Internal Revenue Services.

Table 1: A summary of the EV models based on their range and price range.

EV type Electric range in miles Examples Price range
Minimal PHEV Between 9 and 17 Mercedes C-Class PHEV (sedan)

Mercedes GLC350e (SUV)

Mini Cooper ALL4 (subcompact crossover)

BMW 330e(sedan)

BMW X5 Drive40e (SUV)

Porche Cayenne e-hybrid (SUV)

Audi A3 (sedan)

Porche Panamera e-hybrid (hatchback)

Volvo XC90 T8 (SUV)

Between $39,500 and $99,000
Mid-range PHEV Between 21 and 29 Volvo S90 T8 (sedan)

Mitsubishi Outlander (SUV)

Subaru Crosstrek (SUV)

Prius Prime (hatchback)

Ford Fusion SE Energi (sedan)

Kia Niro PHEV (subcompact crossover)

Hyundai Ioniq PHEV (hatchback)

Kia Optima PHEV (sedan)

Between $26,000 and $64,000
Range extended PHEV Between 31 and 97 Cadillac CT6 (sedan)

Chrysler Pacifica (minivan)

Honda Clarity PHEV (sedan)

BMW i3 with range extender (hatchback)

Between $33,400 and $75,000
Limited range BEV Between 40 and 80 Smart Electric Drive (hatchback)

Fiat 500e (2-door hatchback)

Honda Clarity (sedan)

Between $24,000 and $37,000
Mid-range BEV Between 111 and 153 Kia Soul EV (hatchback)

Ford Focus Electric (hatchback)

Hyundai Ioniq (hatchback)

Volkswagen e-Golf (hatchback)

Nissan Leaf (hatchback)

BMW i3 (hatchback)

Between $29,100 and $45,000
Long-range BEV Between 220 and 335 Tesla Model 3 (sedan)

Jaguar i-Pace (crossover)

Chevrolet Bolt (wagon)

Kia Niro EV (subcompact crossover)

Hyundai Kona (subcompact crossover)

Tesla Model S 75 (hatchback)

Tesla Model X P100D (SUV)

Between $35,000 and $138,000

Charging

Every EV has an in-built charger. What we call "chargers" or "charging stations" are actually EV supply equipment (EVSE) which delivers electricity to the charger within the EV.

There are three ways to charge an EV: at home, workplace, or public charging stations. Up to 80% of EV charging is at home which is unsurprising given the convenience and access to low, stable residential electricity rates.

Charging time depends on:

1) the size of the EV battery

The bigger the battery pack, the longer the charging time

2) the power of the charging station and the acceptance rate of the EV. If the EVSE offers less power than what the EV can accept, then the EVSE is the limiting factor in charge time. However, if the EV's acceptance rate is lower than what the EVSE's maximum output rate, the EV is the limiting factor

If you plan to own a minimal, mid-range PHEVs or the limited range BEVs, charging at home with the regular 120-volt household outlet would be sufficient. For example, charging a PHEV with a small battery pack and a 3.3 kW charging capacity from nearly zero battery capacity would take 8 to 10 hours.

Unlike ICE vehicles, it is possible to charge EVs every day after work like the way cellphones are charged daily. Therefore, if you own a Nissan Leaf with a 150-mile range and drive only 15 miles daily, charging at home will take about 4 hours (4.5 miles per hour of charging). It would then make sense to upgrade the electrical outlet to 240 volt capacity (Level 2 EVSE) to avoid overly long charging time.

Another consideration before buying an EV is to think about where to park the vehicle so that it will be near a 120-volt household outlet. Consult a certified electrician about electrical capacity and cost of upgrading. If you are a renter, look around for workplace or nearby charging stations. Charge Ready NY is a state-sponsored program encouraging widespread EV adoption by encouraging businesses, workplaces, and qualifying apartment units to install charging stations. Consider talking to your employer or landlord about installing a charging station. 

Last updated September 22, 2020