Electric cars and electric trucks are the future of driving.
This is no longer a controversial position to take — not even in the U.S., where gas car culture once looked so dominant it could never be toppled. With a record 43 brands of EV to choose from in 2023, after a Super Bowl packed with multiple chest-thumping ads for General Motors’ EV lineup, the trend is moving faster than many observers expected.
Those of us still making payments on gas-powered vehicles (or even partly gas-powered, like my Toyota RAV4 hybrid,) could be forgiven for wondering whether our fossil-fuel fossils will be worth anything come resale time.
Then again, I also live on the other side of the line — with a Fiat 500e (the new version of which is the bestselling EV in Europe, outstripping Tesla) and my 10-day review of a Lucid Air model at the opposite end of the EV price spectrum.
So I know all the ways in which EV ownership sucks, too: There’s too much range anxiety, still too little charging infrastructure, and a two-tier system developing where owners of pricier electric vehicles have many more advantages than the hoi polloi.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but here are what I see as the main pros and cons of owning an EV in 2023. Starting with the big one that is standing in the way of many would-be EV purchases:
PRO: Driving an EV off the lot. CON: Sticker shock.
Once you go EV, it’s hard to go back. That whisper-quiet operation! The sheer lack of judder! The incredible acceleration and torque! The minimal number of parts! Why did we spend so many decades sitting on top of those weird machines for making constant controlled explosions out of sticky dinosaur remains, exactly?
But you’re not necessarily thinking about that when you look at the sticker price. The average EV retails for $61,000, which makes most consumers think of a luxury car. The average price of a new gas-powered car is now $44,000, so they’re not too far apart — but EV prices rose faster during the great supply chain crisis of 2022, when essential components like nickel and lithium became, briefly, many times more expensive.
Prices are falling now — at least on Chevy, Nissan and Tesla electric cars, and likely more will follow as the rollout of those 43 EV brands continues. But here we hit another kind of financial snag, best summarized by the investing truism “try not to catch a falling knife.”
If you buy an EV now and it’s $13,000 cheaper in a few months, as just happened with the Tesla Model Y, you’re going to feel like a fool for not waiting. That falling knife just sliced right through your new wallet.
Yes, there are new federal EV subsidies to lessen the sting. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, which kicked in this year, some of these subsidies apply to used electric cars for the first time — not that used car lots are exactly stuffed with EVs just yet. Besides, the rules for which car owners in which income brackets can apply for the subsidy are still too confusing.
Overall, it’s already cheaper for 90 percent of Americans to operate an EV, but trying to minimize your purchase cost can cause plenty of headaches.
PRO: Batteries are better than ever. CON: EV charge ranges are lies.
As one of the beneficiaries of today’s advanced battery tech, the Lucid Air Touring promised an impressive range range of 384 miles, and in normal conditions it might have actually achieved that. Trouble is — and this goes for all electric cars — there’s no such thing as normal conditions.
Highway driving will use the battery up faster than city driving. Cold weather will use it up faster than warm weather. Almost every route you care to follow will have more uphill or more downhill, using up more or less battery.
Long ago in the Fiat 500e, my wife and I learned not to pay attention its range estimate. After all, you wouldn’t trust your smartphone to tell you how many hours you can use it before recharging. You know it depends entirely on what you’re doing with it and how much data it has to pull down.
Electric cars are basically the same. You’ll start to make intuitive judgments about how far you can get based on battery percentage; if I’m at the bottom of the giant hill between the flatlands and my house and I’m on 7 percent battery, I know I can make it to the super-basic level 1 garage charger before running out of juice.
PRO: The price of filling up. CON: Finding an EV charging station.
Last weekend, I parked the Fiat 500e at a double ChargePoint outlet while going for a run at the Berkeley Marina. (The other spot was taken by a Ford F-150 Lightning truck, which made for a hilarious contrast — the Schwarzenegger and the DeVito of electric vehicles, together at last).
Miles of range gained while I ran: 36. Cost: $2.51, or around a third of what it would cost to get that extra range out of a gas car, all of it done significantly faster than the Level 1 charger in my garage could manage.
That’s the good news. The bad is that this particular ChargePoint is like an oasis in the desert, because Berkeley — yes, even a bastion of treehugging like Berkeley, Calif. — is severely lacking in public charging spots. The number I can easily use has actually gone down in recent months, as a free parking lot with ChargePoints in it became a paid parking lot.
The number of chargers is too damn few; the number of charging systems, and apps with which to find them, is too damn high. Here are the non-ChargePoint apps on my phone, none of which list every possible charging station: PlugShare, Blink, EVGo, Electrify America, ChargeHub, EVConnect. What the EV world desperately need is one app to rule them all.
If you’re a Tesla driver, you have the Supercharging stations — so widespread and so fast that it’s almost worth giving Elon Musk your money. The Tesla chargers are not compatible with other cars in the U.S., however (they are in Europe, where the regulatory environment is friendlier to the average user).
So we can see the beginnings of a two-tier system, where the more you pay for an EV the more likely you are to be able to charge it cheaply in the wild. Lucid Motors has a deal with Electrify America that gives Lucid Air owners free charging for 3 years — though as I discovered in testing the Lucid Air Touring, Electrify America chargers aren’t always easy to find either, even in EV-friendly California. Range anxiety is perfectly possible even in a luxury EV.
What can policymakers do to eliminate range anxiety forever? It’s easier than you think. Five words: Mandate chargers in all gas stations.
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