In the specialized area of auto magazines, there are still plenty of good examples in many flavors, led by the quartet of major monthlies I've been reading most of my life: Motor Trend, Car and Driver, Road & Track and (relative newcomer) Automobile. While there is no shortage of excellent journalism – and, unfortunately, some not so good example – on today's better car blogs and websites, I believe that the editors, staffers and contributors to these informative and entertaining books (many of whom I count among my friends) are, as a group, the most talented and knowledgeable auto writers in the business.
I have written for all four in the past and still enjoy reading them, mostly on airplanes. One excellent reason is the depth and breadth of coverage they offer of the automotive universe and its most interesting people and products, including electrically-powered ones. After the jump, we take a look at what the paper mags are saying about our eco-friendly favorites.
For example, the March, 2009 Road & Track offers "Eclectic Electrics," a feature full of comprehensive details, driving impressions and instrumented tests of five battery electrics, plus informative sidebars on two more ( the MINI E and Dodge EV sports car) that were unavailable for testing at the time. "BEVs... have earned a real niche," wrote engineering editor Dennis Simanaitis in the article's introduction. "What's more, there are people who for excellent reason see them as the Next Big Thing." Among the comments, specs and test results:
- AC Propulsion eBox – "...starts life as a first-generation Scion xB...a 0-60-mph time of 7.0 seconds, wrapped up in a tidy box of extreme utility." (List price: $66,774; horsepower (hp): 201; battery: 35 kW-hr lithium-ion; est. R&T "performance-stressed" range: 110 miles)
- Mitsubishi i MiEV – "It's quite a small car, dwarfed by a Mini but considerably larger, and more usable, than a Smart....We could imagine one as a perfect city car." (List price: est. $30,000; hp: 63; battery 16 kW-hr lithium-ion; est. R&T "performance-stressed" range: 90 miles)
- Tesla Roadster – "...it's the Porsche 911 of EVs....ample torque obviates any need for anything other than a single D as a forward speed." (List price: $109,000; hp: 248; battery: 53 kW-hr lithium-ion; est. R&T "performance-stressed" range: 132 miles.)
- Toyota RAV4 EV – "Toyota produced the RAV4 EV between 1998 and 2003, its first four years focusing on fleet usage. There are now some 1,500 in operation in the U.S.... Most RAV4s were leased, but for a period in 2002-2003, Toyota sold some 240 of them at a base price of $42,000.... At 0-60 mph in 16.1 seconds, she's anything but quick." (Hp: 67; Battery: 27 kW-hr NiMH; est. R&T "performance-stressed" range: 90 miles)
- Wrightspeed X1 – "New Zealander/Californian Ian Wright began with an Ariel Atom...and exchanged its conventional powertrain for an electric one designed by AC Propulsion.... Ian sees it as a test bed for his integration of battery technology and EV hardware into an already quick and nimble plaything." (List price: not for sale; hp: 260; battery 27 kW-hr lithium-polymer: est. R&T "performance-stressed" range: 50 miles)
- MINI E – (Driven in downtown Los Angeles) "Step into the Mini E, and everything appears in its normal place, unless you are attempting to climb into the back seat – that's where the 5088 lithium-ion battery cells now sit." (List price: $950/month lease; hp 204; battery: 35 kW-hr lithium-ion)
- Dodge EV – (Concept car) "In our brief drive, we found the handling and steering crisp with good feedback. And the acceleration is brisk – Dodge says the EV hits 60 mph in less than 5 seconds." (Horsepower: 268; battery: 26 kW-hr lithium-polymer.)
Simanaitis also offers useful perspective on charge times: "Apart from a cooperative utility," he writes, "what's needed to recharge a BEV? This depends on how much time you're willing to commit. At one extreme, a standard home 110-volt hookup may well do it overnight. At the other, a dedicated line of 220 volts and sufficiently high amperage (70 amps, say) might accomplish the same thing in 3-4 hours."
The April issue of Motor Trend offers an outstanding inside look – excerpted from respected business reporter William J. Holstein's 2009 book, "Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon"
– behind GM's famous Chevy Volt range-extender EV program: how it came about, the key players, its rate of progress and its odds of success. "If the Volt fails it will be a signal to everyone inside GM and to everyone who watches the company that its woes were as deep as its harshest critics suggested," he writes. "If, however, the company starts production in November 2010 – or comes close – it will be a wake-up call to those same people and to the whole market. GM can once again stake a claim to design and technological leadership in the auto industry."
Also in that issue is "Why Cadillac needs the 2014 Converj," the concept that has won numerous design awards and, if produced, would share the Volt's range-extender powertrain. Detroit Editor Todd Lassa adds that if consumer research shows that it would sell better as a four-door, the design would still work, "...but the Converj looks like the sort of $60,000-70,000 two-door that could get Hollywood glitterati to trade in their Escalades, SL-Classes, Priuses or Teslas for a machine anyone could identify at 50 paces as the best-looking electric car on the road."
And there's plenty more out there in monthly mag land: The May, 2009 Car and Driver has a full instrumented Tesla test. ("The Highs: Drives like a slot car, open-top fun, nearly silent, women in Birkenstocks dig it. The Lows: High price, no promises that the company will be around next year, limited range. The Verdict: A small carbon footprint in carbon fiber.") The May Road & Track offers an information-packed feature, "The Tech Choice is Yours." Under the subhead, "Diesel? Plug-in hybrid? Battery electric? Which makes sense for you?" Simanaitis examines advantages and disadvantages of transportation alternatives ranging from advanced gasoline to fuel-cell EVs in easy to understand language. And, of course, all four have tested – and some comparison-tested – the new Prius and Insight hybrids.
I haven't yet gotten to my June issues, but I see another intriguing Dennis Simanaitis feature in the June R&T table of contents: "Assessing the Obamacar. How will mandates for lower CO2 and higher mpg shape future technology?" I may have to get back to you on that one.
Award-winning automotive writer Gary Witzenburg has been writing about automobiles, auto people and the auto industry for 21 years. A former auto engineer, race driver and advanced technology vehicle development manager, his work has appeared in a wide variety of national magazines including The Robb Report, Playboy, Popular Mechanics, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Autoweek and Automobile Quarterly and has authored eight automotive books. He is currently contributing regularly to Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), AutoMedia.com, Ward's Auto World and Motor Trend's Truck Trend and is a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror.