First there were hybrids. Toyota has made everyone familiar and comfortable with the idea of a battery playing a part in the propulsion of an automobile.
Then General Motors developed the Chevrolet Volt, one of what will be a string of vehicles using this dramatic technology. The car is a technological tour de force that has a great application for a single-car household and eliminates "range anxiety." Once you have used up the onboard battery power, it silently switches to a gasoline engine to generate electricity to drive the vehicle, giving it hundreds of additional miles.
And along came the Nissan Leaf, a pure electric, which we haven't seen in substantial volume for decades, not since the Detroit Electric in the early part of the last century. The Leaf has batteries, goes about 100 miles and then needs to be recharged. No exhaust pipe, no petroleum engine.
In the next half-century we will see more and more electric vehicles. But not for a while -- not until the economics makes sense to lots of consumers. Electric vehicles don't yet make economic sense.
I just got through driving a Leaf for more than a month. It's perfect for my lifestyle: My office is less than 10 miles from home. Plus, I have other vehicles available if I have to travel more than 100 miles at one time. After a week, range anxiety went away for me. It was a very comfortable car that quickly became just a car.
It was a great experience. Electric vehicle makers all still need a government subsidy to compete for now. And I have no idea as to the long-term costs associated with a battery.
But the Leaf was a great little car with lots of room and no drawbacks even in the coldest weather. My only irritation was plugging it in every day. Although it probably didn't need it, I found that to be bothersome. Otherwise, I can recommend it for the urban dweller.
The Volt, which I had spent a week driving just before the Leaf, was a far better choice for a single-car family. It has far less range than a Leaf, but if you don't mind using petroleum, then add a few hundred miles. Interestingly, it's not as roomy as the Nissan for a guy like me, but there's no reason ever to worry about range anxiety or being able to take it on vacation. It seems to work like an old GM Locomotive diesel-powered railroad engine. The engine is a generator, and the vehicle runs on electric motors -- lots of technology and perhaps a step closer to an all-electric vehicle.
The choices for electric vehicles are going to swell over the next few years with many different technologies. We are going to see electric vehicles from hybrids to pure electrics joining the marketplace over the next decade.
And during that time, we're going to have a good opportunity to learn everything there is to know about the economics of electrics.
They won't take over any time soon; but the more choices, the better for the consumer -- even if they are very small numbers.