Let's Face It, We're Just Plain Lazy



Recent news about the price cuts on the Ford Focus EV and Nissan Leaf are proof positive that despite all their eco-goodness, pure electrics as well as plug-in hybrids remain a tough sell to the American mass market.

There's no doubt automakers are committed to electrifying an increasing portion of their product offerings. The problem is that no one needs to buy an EV or plug-in hybrid. But with CAFE standards doubling to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 and California's mandate that major manufacturers sell zero-emission vehicles as a percentage of their overall fleets (a measure also adopted by 13 other states), carmakers have to sell EVs and plug-in hybrids to avoid costly penalties or face caps on the number of vehicles they are allowed to sell.


Matt DeLorenzo is the former editor-in-chief of Road & Track and has covered the auto industry for 35 years, including stints at Automotive News and AutoWeek. He has authored books including VW's New Beetle, Chrysler's Modern Concept Cars, and Corvette Dynasty.



The most basic obstacle to EV or plug-in ownership may be the simple fact that you have the plug the damn thing in.

It's left to be seen whether or not the price cuts – Ford recently dropped over $10,000 from the sticker of the Focus and Nissan is repricing its Leaf at $28,800 – is enough to spur consumer interest in EVs. While there is much back-and-forth on the pros and cons of owning an EV or plug-in hybrid, from the costs versus payback in higher fuel economy, political squabbles over tax incentives and the like, perhaps the most basic obstacle to EV or plug-in ownership may be the simple fact that you have the plug the damn thing in.

Granted, the industry has done much with standardized plugs and quick charge systems to make recharging these vehicles as painless as possible. Still, the difference is that with a conventional vehicle you only have to worry about refueling once a week or so. When you get home, you park the car and that's it. Even if you're coming home and the low fuel light comes on, you don't necessarily have to stop at a corner gas station if you are tired and just want to get home – you can easily fill up the next morning on your way into work.

One of the hallmarks of American culture is that we prize convenience.

For good or ill, one of the hallmarks of American culture is that we prize convenience. Most drivers view their cars as transportation appliances designed to get them to their destinations with minimal muss and fuss. So, if there is an alternative that is less expensive, trouble free and gets decent mileage, there is little incentive to opt for a car that costs more, comes with range anxiety and needs to be plugged in every night.

While there are some advantages to having your refueling/recharging station in your home and quick chargers may make topping off your battery as easy as refilling the tank, the range limitations of most EVs still entails more trips to the plug than the pump. Only Tesla offers the promise of range that just about equals a tank of gas in conventional cars, but that particular model starts at $72,400, and it still takes longer to reenergize than its gasoline equivalent. It may be some time before that sort of enabling technology becomes cost effective enough to be used in cars that can compete with the average gasoline-powered family car, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000, or less than half the cost of the range-enhanced Tesla.

The biggest advancement that can be made in the short term would be for EVs and plug-in hybrids to go wireless.

So until that happens, perhaps the single biggest advancement that can be made in the short term would be for EVs and plug-in hybrids to go wireless. Last fall, a company called Evatran announced that beginning this April, SPX Service Solutions would begin installing its Plugless Power inductive charging stations for Leaf and Volt owners. The setups, which cost between $3,500 and $4,000, very well could open the door to virtually hands-free recharging.

If the price of inductive charging comes down, the increase in the convenience factor may just give EVs and plug-in hybrids a much-needed boost in popularity.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 149 Comments
      solas
      • 1 Year Ago
      This article suffers from ... a complete lack of clarity. And too much FUD "The most basic obstacle to EV or plug-in ownership may be the simple fact that you have the plug the damn thing in" -- completely false. Anyone who owns an EV knows that the convenience of never having to visit a gas station (for commute scenarios -- not long range driving) outweighs, by many orders of magnitude, the horrible excruciating pain of ... walking a few feet in the garage, and plugging in. In fact, charging at home - plug or wireless, doesn't matter - is a major selling point that cannot be measured: it must be tried (@home). This article ironically even lists the some of the true primary barriers for EVs: range, price. That said, wireless charging will help the public charging market, where folks treat cables/plugs ... with the same care they treat a public urinal. No plugs in this space is a more serious/interesting discussion. Home: not so much
        ElectricAvenue
        • 1 Year Ago
        @solas
        Exactly! Inductive charging is of much more use in the public realm. Assuming that some sort of standard can be agreed upon (big if!).
      BF4ALTF
      • 1 Year Ago
      EVs don't need to be saved. All they need is the continual improvement and cost reductions that have already started and that we have seen in most all other electrical/electronic products. At some point EVs will cost less to by and operate, go farther on a fill and take less time to fill. That may be a ways off, but it will happen and by then there will be no problem selling them. 1982 - 19in color TV w/o remote $300 / 2012 50in plasma w/remote USB reader and clear QAM tuner $500 1982 - 64k computer and 164k floppy $1000 / 2010 8GB, 1TB quad-core 20in screen, color printer $500 1990 - 4AAA 600mAh nicad batt, hours to charge $16 / 2010 4AAA 2700mAh NiMH batt, 15min to charge $10
        pavsterrocks
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BF4ALTF
        Batteries that can take 15 min to charge?? Really? Please include source.
        razorpit
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BF4ALTF
        You do realize that charging a battery in 15 minutes absolutely destroys its useful life? Slow and steady is the game when charging batteries...
      Greg
      • 1 Year Ago
      "perhaps the most basic obstacle to EV or plug-in ownership may be the simple fact that you have the plug the damn thing in." _________________ :facepalm: No, the most basic obstacle to EV ownership is the up-front price of the car. Thinking that plugging it in is a problem ignores the small but crucial detail that it is exactly what we do with our phones and other electronic devices. If we can remember to plug in our phones before we go to bed, we can handle plugging in a car.
        paulwesterberg
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Greg
        As long as you remember to plug in your phone your car can send you a reminder text: "Hey buddy, I'm feeling a little low right now..."
        Rotation
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Greg
        And the price of a charger install. Which this won't help with.
      VL00
      • 1 Year Ago
      The author is pathetic "the most basic obstacle to EV or plug-in ownership may be the simple fact that you have the plug the damn thing in" Yeah, cause owning a gasoline has no inconveniences, like pulling over over 7-10 days, whether your late for work or not, to fuel the damn thing up. Jesus, what a waste of words. You want to know what's holding it back? The average American's misunderstanding of how much a car costs to own. The Volt costs LESS to own than the average new car for the average person, but good luck convincing people. I put together a spreadsheet proving it, and I still get people responding with nonsense like "But, the sticker price is so high".
        pavsterrocks
        • 1 Year Ago
        @VL00
        Please do provide a spreadsheet. When I did the math, a typical hybrid car, on a typical lease is more expensive to own that an equivalent-sized ICE car. To the tune of $100 per month. Electrics are even worse. And still lots of people lease the damn things with 12k miles per year contracts. And please don't include the tax rebate in the calculation because - A - they will eventually expire just like they did for diesels, and B - they are a subsidy - indirect maybe - but still as a subsidy
          dgaetano
          • 1 Year Ago
          @pavsterrocks
          "And please don't include the tax rebate in the calculation because [blah blah blah reasons why somehow the final user cost of the vehicle should not be used to calculate how much it costs the user to own]" Because when the math doesn't prove your point, change the rules until it does.
          VL00
          • 1 Year Ago
          @pavsterrocks
          The Volt wins even WITHOUT a tax rebate
          VL00
          • 1 Year Ago
          @pavsterrocks
          https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ageg_Pnricg9dGZTVW9ZTzFNWHJlMmhrNDh2TVZ6cXc#gid=0
          raktmn
          • 1 Year Ago
          @pavsterrocks
          Let me guess, you excluded the tax rebate, and also excluded any price change in gas too.....
        • 1 Year Ago
        @VL00
        [blocked]
      climbbike
      • 1 Year Ago
      You could not be more wrong about this. There are exactly 3 things keeping ev's from being main stream and none of they are plugging them in. They are: 1) They cost too much 2) They take too long to refuel (charge) 3) They don't have a long enough range
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      The EV doesn't need saving. The EV is just starting to become mature. The personal computer didn't become popular because of the way you turned it on, or a better mouse, or a better keyboard. It became popular because it got better at doing it's job, and became cheaper over time. What a strange viewpoint.
      VL00
      • 1 Year Ago
      Pricing, and the inability of the average person to understand the true cost of ownership of any vehicle are what's holding it back, not a $4,000 accessory which will save me 0.8 seconds (no exaggeration) of time spent plugging my car into a charger that is mounted immediately adjacent to the charge port on my car. The author is a confused dinosaur. Show me a survey where "pluggin' the damn thing in" ranked #1. Extra reading: Volt costs less to own than the average new car for the average person, even without a rebate https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ageg_Pnricg9dGZTVW9ZTzFNWHJlMmhrNDh2TVZ6cXc#gid=0
      John Hansen
      • 1 Year Ago
      Inductive charging will be cool (and I will probably get it some day), but I don't think plugging in is a big deal. It's exactly the same amount of effort as plugging in a cell phone, and nobody is clamoring for gas powered cell phones. One of my favorite things about my Volt is that it's so much more convenient than my old car. Plugging in takes ~10 seconds each day. Stopping for gas once every two weeks takes ten minutes, and I have to take a detour to the gas station and stand out in the cold. It was -1f here in Wisconsin this morning. I would rather spend 2.3 minutes in my garage (10 seconds x 14 days) than spend ten minutes standing in -1f weather. For me it's much more convenient to plug in. However, I could see how it would be inconvenient if a short range BEV was your only car and you were trying to make a long trip with it, but I don't think that most people who have a pure BEV only have one car.
      kEiThZ
      • 1 Year Ago
      EVs need saving? Maybe from the other companies. But not from Tesla. And plugging in at night is far more convenient than visiting a gas station regularly.
      BipDBo
      • 1 Year Ago
      No. EVs don't need inductive charging to save them. We could be using robotic arms to fill us up at the gas station but we don't. In fact, we've even moved to self service at the gas station. In many areas of the US, you can't even find full service. The US is full of DIYers much more than the lazy bumbs that this author seems to imply that we are. EVs just need time. Their acceptance will be slow, but inevitable. Right now the biggest hurdle to acceptance is the up-front cost and "range anxiety." Nobody is passing up an EV at the lot over the inconvenience of plugging it in. With time and volume EV and hybrid production costs will come down. Range anxiety will be eliminated with more plug-in models. Better, more reliable, cheaper and lighter batteries and other components would surely do more than inductive charging.
      JakeY
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Recent news about the price cuts on the Ford Focus EV and Nissan Leaf are proof positive that despite all their eco-goodness, pure electrics as well as plug-in hybrids remain a tough sell to the American mass market." Wha? The #1 problem with EVs is the price. Now that they are dropping it (and this is because the Leaf and its EV components are now made in the US, which eliminates exchange rate concerns and also reduces shipping costs) that becomes a problem? #2 is range, but that is directly tied in with price (you can get more range if you have the money). So dropping the price will only help address this problem. #3 is recharge time. If you have a charging station at home recharge time hardly matters as long as the car is charged enough overnight. The convenience of fueling at home is frequently missed by most EV naysayers. If you are frequent road-tripper, yes the EV is still not the best choice, but it's getting pretty close with quick chargers. The top dog right now is Tesla (as it is with range) and it charges at 265mph EPA using 90kW of power. That's 133 miles (~2 hrs driving at 70mph) per 30 minute stop. This is working perfectly fine for SF to LA travel (2 stops in between). The SAE has their connector planned for up to 240kW of power (and Aerovironment has demonstrated a 250kW charger back in 2007), so in the future we can push it to 706mph using current technology. So basically you can get 350 miles of range (5 hours of driving at 70mph) from a 30 minute charging stop. I say that works for pretty much all road trips, esp if you consider you can charge during bathroom/meal/rest breaks. It's only a problem if you are the type who goes non-stop.
      Michael
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wow this dinosaur just loves burning his friends to go, go ,go. The EV doesn't need inductive charging to be saved. I'd go as far as to say that the EV doesn't need to be saved. While none are ready to take over for ICEs as the standard drivetrain, more and more are being sold every day. As the charging infrastructure is built the choice between EV and ICE will become an easier decision. The straw man argument about plugging the vehicle in is utterly baseless. We already basically do the same thing with our ICE vehicles when filling up the tank. Yes it takes longer with an EV, but the charging times are dropping with every advancement in the battery tech. When's the last time we had an advancement in refueling?
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