some want to go green – but fear they won’t get far
Electric cars spark interest, but lack of charging stations generates concern
The auto industry calls it range anxiety: Drivers want electric cars but worry they won’t have enough juice to make long trips. After all, what good is going green if you get stranded with a dead battery?
It’s a concern that automakers must overcome as they push to sell more battery-powered cars. So government and businesses are taking steps to reassure drivers by building up the nation’s network of electric charging stations.
The hope is Americans will become more comfortable buying cars such as Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, due out late this year, which can travel just 100 miles on a single charge. That’s fine for a commute but potentially stressful for longer road trips.
“I think the Leaf is a beautifully designed vehicle, but
50 miles in one direction is just not enough,” said Bob Shafron, a former electric car owner in California. “I think they are going to run into problems in markets like LA, where things are spread out.”
Although automakers and electric car advocates expect most charging to be done at home outlets, those plugs won’t help drivers running low on power far from their garages or caught in traffic.
Only a few hundred public chargers exist now, but several government grants, totaling $115 million, will help add thousands more.
Coulomb Technologies Inc. expects to start installing public charging stations in Austin during the third quarter of this year. Austin is one of nine cities slated to receive the stations, which are to be paid for by a federal grant. In addition, Austin Energy expects to start installing public charging stations throughout the city late this year.
Public and privately funded chargers are going up in places such as rest stops, hotels and fast-food locations such as McDonald’s and Starbucks. Still, even the most optimistic estimates put the number of public charging stations at 16,000 by 2012, tiny compared with the 117,000 gas stations on American roads.
President Barack Obama has set a goal of 1 million electric cars on American roads by 2015, but experts say a chicken-and-egg problem stands in the way. Before enough cars hit the road, private vendors may be reluctant to build many charging stations — and without many charging stations on the road, drivers may be reluctant to buy.
Most public stations will take eight hours to fully recharge a vehicle, about the same as chargers in individual homes. Even a partial charge will take a while — 2½ hours to get 30 miles. Some of the chargers will be fast-chargers, which take 30 minutes for a full power-up.
In 1999, Shafron ran out of power as he was driving his EV1, the allelectric car that General Motors Co. made in the 1990s, from his beach home to Northridge, Calif. His range meter told him he had 20 miles left, but it quickly ran down to zero.
That difficulty was a common issue with the EV1. Varying road conditions and weather, which can take a toll on battery life, made the range of early electric cars difficult to predict.
Automakers say that new range meters in today’s electric cars are much more accurate.
Regardless of whether the infrastructure is ready, many automakers will be putting out electric cars, with an estimated 146,000 on the road by the end of 2012.
Tesla has sold a little more than 1,000 high-end electric sports cars and plans to offer a lower-priced sedan in the next few years. Nissan has its Leaf, and Ford is aiming to enter the market with an all-electric Focus in 2012.
The Chevy Volt — which is scheduled for limited release this fall in several cities, including Austin — allows the driver to drive on battery alone for 40 miles before switching on a gas-powered engine that can take the vehicle up to 300 miles.
GM said Tuesday that the Volt will be priced between $41,000 and $44,600. The cost will be reduced for many consumers by a federal tax credit worth $7,500.
Nissan notes that most people drive well within the Leaf’s 100-mile range in a given day. Government data said that about 78 percent of Americans drive 40 miles or fewer to and from work.