The Reboot of the Electric Vehicle (EV)

Posted by GreenKey - 08/12/10 at 02:12 pm

The Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and Toyota Prius Hybrid are probably the most talked about vehicles to hit the road in decades. However, there is one aspect that stands out amongst these three unique vehicles; only one of them is truly an Electric Vehicle (EV). Although not a new concept, there have been immense advancements in electric vehicle propulsion that dates back to the late 1800s. Is it time for the EV to pave the way for the future, or will it yet again circum to the combustion engine?

The timely “comeback” of the electric vehicle is debatable. The economy remains in a fragile state and the concern of environmental degradation continues to grow. However, the history of the electric vehicle leaves me optimistic about its longevity in its “reboot.” The early developments of EV technology in the 1800s and early 1900s were overshadowed by the combustion engine which, even then, was significantly cheaper to operate. The more recent GM EV1 of the 1990s failed to thrive due to associated costs, recharging challenges, political and environmental involvement, and lack of interest by the general public.

The upcoming and highly anticipated Chevy Volt is powered by an onboard lithium-ion battery pack to propel the vehicle for the first estimated 40 miles. Afterward a 4-cylinder internal combustion engine takes over to create electricity to power the Volt. If you remain under a 40-mile range, all the driver has to do is recharge the battery. After the federal tax credit, the average consumer vehicle cost is between $33k-$35k.

The Nissan Leaf is truly an EV. It is powered solely by a 50KW AC synchronous electric motor with an estimate 99 miles per charge range, based on government testing, and 100 miles based on California regulators. After some at-home assessments and power station installation, the Leaf can be charged by the average family energy supplier. Consumers should anticipate a price tag around $32k. With the set-backs of the technology, range, infrastructure, environmental degradation through electricity generation, etc., it is still difficult to anticipate the Leaf’s impact.

The Toyota Prius — and currently the most readily cost efficient — operates on a parallel hybrid powertrain which utilizes a power split device, which means it utilizes both the gasoline engine and battery power at the same time while the onboard generator automatically maintains the level of charge in the battery. This is why the Prius never needs to be plugged in; however, a Plug-in Hybrid (PHV) is in the pipeline for following model years. The Prius has been a trendsetter for hybrid technology in recent years and proves to be the most economical of the three vehicles with prices ranging from $22-27k.

The U.S. market has been in crisis for several years now with market crashes, oil spills, gas hikes, and monetary sector troubles, but is the EV about to make its stamp on the market again? With the increasing fuel efficiency and environmentally friendly combustion engines hitting the market today, will the cost/benefit of owning an EV again be overshadowed by the powertrain that has led the market for well over a century?

Whether it is cost associated, lack of infrastructure, capacity, or range, current battery technology may still fall short. Until lithium-ion batteries are widely used and newer technologies are developed, the fleet industry and the consumer may still be a long way off from fully embracing EV technology.

One Response to “The Reboot of the Electric Vehicle (EV)”

  1. Peter romocki says:
    December 13th, 2011 at 2:02 am

    So what does it cost to drive a Leaf compared to a comparable internal combustion vehicle or hybrid ?

Leave a Reply