The Automotive Revolution Has Begun

Written by Jon Schwarzmann on . Posted in Tech

The time is soon arriving that the oil barons have been dreading and conspiring against for years. That is,  when electric vehicles (EVs) are no longer a pipe dream of burnt out hippies, but rather a fully viable consumer product.

A while back we talked about Better Place, a company helping to visualize and build the infrastructure needed for the EV to thrive on. What wasn’t known at the time was how many big name auto manufacturers were actually going to be putting out these vehicles. Let it be known that while there aren’t going to be a huge amount of cars to pick from, one key factor will be the kind of EV you choose.

There’s going to be a strict division between types of EVs. Automakers are either taking the pure-electric route or opting for a hybrid-electric engine. The all-electric category is obvious — you plug these bad boys in and they run purely off the electricity for their 100-200 mile range. Top speeds vary, but you’ll have no trouble taking them on the highways. Don’t be expecting to sit in the passing lane like you’re used to though.

Examples of this pure-electric vehicle will be the Nissan Leaf, Coda Sedan, Ford Focus BEV, and the Tesla Model S. All these cars have strict reliance on the energy stored in their (mostly) lithium-ion batteries. Speaking of lithium-ion, while it might be the way to keep your EV going at present, keep an eye out for new battery tech that will extend the ranges of your favorite pure-electric.

Option one sounds good, but how about option two? Well, with the hybrid-electric you’re getting your first 40-60 miles on the batteries. After that a pseudo-typical combustion engine kicks in — not to power the drivetrain, but rather to generate the electricity required to move the car.  This is supposed to provide a big boost towards the efficiency of the gas engine. For example, the Chevrolet Volt claims a fuel efficiency of 230mpg, but the EPA has no way of testing this new technology, so they’re protecting themselves by doing some fancy math and saying it’s closer to 85mpg. Either way, you’re still looking at reliance on fossil fuels. Not good if you want to stick it to the man, but then again what happens to road trips with the all-electric vehicles? Something tells me these plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs) will bridge the gap for consumers weary of complete reliance on the former kind. The Prius PHEV (pretty obvious name) will be Toyota’s push into the market, but not until next year.

Regardless of the differences between EVs, we’re seeing a concerted effort to make this a viable and, in fact, thriving industry — so much so that not everyone wants your EV to look like an EV. The previously mentioned Tesla Model S and Chevy Volt are for the more image conscious of us, but if you’re looking for something truly eye-popping, you might want to wait for the Fisker Karma. (You might be waiting awhile — no one outside the company has even test drove it yet.) This head-turner is a hybrid-electric powerhouse that almost makes the $90,000 price tag worth it. That is, of course, more than twice the cost of the typical EV that will be hitting the market this fall.

If you’re still a little critical of EVs really catching on, you might want to stay quiet about it. Being “that guy” who swore electric cars would never make it, when in a couple years your grandpa is driving one, could be a little embarrassing.

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