Is the Consumer Market Ready for Electrics?

Nov 12, 2009

Over the next three years, more than a dozen pure-electric or hybrid cars are scheduled to hit U.S. markets.  The new vehicles, which will be provided by both large automakers like GM and start-ups like Fisker Automotive, will provide plenty of choices for consumers.  They promise amazing fuel efficiency, new technologies and futuristic designs.


Automakers are making preparations to begin production of electric vehicles on a large scale.  However, one question remains: how practical and sustainable will these new vehicles be for the average consumer?


Electric vehicles present many challenges for car buyers in the years ahead.  Some of these problems can be observed by looking at today’s hybrids: Arthur Krieger, a retired police officer in Los Angeles, drives a Prius powered by a relatively small nickel metal hydride battery to assist the gasoline engine. The battery needed replacement after nine years on the road. That’s when Krieger got a nasty surprise: A new one would cost more than $4,800, effectively destroying the cost savings of owning a hybrid in the first place.


Then there is the matter of exactly where to recharge thousands of new electrics.  Some experts believe that public charging stations will be the best solution, either those put up by state and local governments or, private companies. At present there is almost no such infrastructure. Building a nationwide network would cost tens of billions of dollars.


That means most electric owners will be charging at home. Plug-in hybrids, which primarily run on batteries but also have gasoline-powered engines to supplement range and power, can get by on standard household current. They’re ready to roll in five or six hours.  All-electric cars, however, can take well over a day to charge unless owners invest thousands of dollars in home electrical upgrades.


Ed Kjaer of Southern California Edison cautioned that “not everyone has access to a garage or other place to plug into,” including apartment dwellers or people in urban areas that depend on street parking.


“Plug-in cars are not for everybody at this point,” said Kjaer, who expects that infrastructure such as public charging stations will eventually help level the playing field.


Do you think your fleet could benefit from all-electric plug-in or hybrid vehicles?


Photo courtesy of felixkramer under the Creative Commons License.