How big a deal is it? Consider that when Mitsubishi was testing its EV in Tokyo, the company was frustrated by the fact that the people they had given cars to weren't driving them much. Why? They were afraid of running out of juice too far from home. So, Mitsubishi installed charging stations in strategic locations and told the test group where they were. Then they began racking up the miles, but strangely enough, they weren't using the recharging stations. It turned out they had plenty of juice to get to and from work. They just wanted to know the stations were there... in case.
So, I picked up my Think from the University of Michigan, where I have been charging it, with the goal of going on a 75-mile errand. For some reason, the battery was only 84-percent charged when I got there and unplugged it. Should I do it anyway? "Yes," I thought, "even better, as the charge level is closer to the range of my errand."
My route was from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to an address in Southfield, some 37 miles away, according to MapQuest. Because EVs do better in city driving than on the highway, I decided to go a back way and take Eight Mile Rd. (Yes, that "Eight Mile," the one made famous by rapper Eminem. In Detroit, Eight Mile Rd. marks the line between the city and its northern suburbs.)
I was anxious on the way, but for the second straight time I have tried this, I found the battery charge level decreasing at exactly the correct rate: I drive 10 miles, I draw down 10 percent of the battery. My expectation that it will run out of juice faster comes from owning an Apple iPhone, which seems to lose its charge at random.
I love the fact that the EV got me to take this route, as I usually take the freeway. I am seeing businesses, farms, restaurants and golf courses I knew nothing about. On the way, I hear a story on the radio about a terrible oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan that threatens to wind up in Lake Michigan, this just as the BP oil leak in the Gulf seems to be finally contained. I stop and take a picture of my Think City, ironically posed beneath a BP sign at a gas station that has nothing to offer me today except maybe a soda.
About 12 miles in, I feel an odd buzzing and vibration from the Think. I have no idea what it is, so do what I'd do if my computer was malfunctioning. I stop, turn the car off, and then restart. It seems okay, and I'm on my way again.
It's really hitting me now: Driving an EV is a lifestyle. Driving gas-free becomes part of your identity and you feel smart for doing it. Even with the extra planning it can take, and the occasional hassle, it seems worth it. The thoughts about whether I'm driving cleaner if the power is coming from coal pops into my head. But then I think of the oil spill. Then, I get a text from my brother telling me that my nephew Chris is home safe and sound from his second tour in Iraq. Pretty soon, I get passed by a Ford Mustang GT who is impatient with my doing 45 mph in the 45 mph zone. I don't care if I'm passed, I think.
I leave the rural area and am passing some fairly seedy stretches of Eight Mile as I get closer to Southfield, eateries I'd never brave, barber shops with hand-painted facades, and lots of vacant stores and buildings. My battery burn is right on the button. I'll be at my destination in about five miles, at which point I will be at about 50-percent charge. I'm psyched that my range anxiety test is turning out so well.
A passing storm, a bad one, hits. The rain is falling sideways, and while I thought about heading back, I decided to wait it out instead. (It's worth pointing out that the Think City has been tested thoroughly for driving in inclement weather, through water up the top of its tires.) I'm back underway in a while, and I'm thinking I have ten or so miles to fool around with before I need to be back for recharging, so I head into the City of Northville, which I have heard about for years, but never had reason to visit. There are beautiful old houses there, and a great looking downtown that seems almost as neat as Ann Arbor's. I spot a kid with a lemonade stand, and just have to stop. I'm $1.00 poorer, but I made the kid's day.
On the way back to Ann Arbor, I modulate my speed, trying to stay at 45. It's later in the day, and some impatient folks are looking for opportunities to pass me, and do. About five miles from re-charging, I have about 10% left, so I step up the speed and surprise my followers. I zip into my space to recharge, collecting my bicycle to ride home the eight miles to my house. Frankly, I'm pleased that the whole project has created some more opportunities for two-wheeled travel, as well.
So what's my bottom line? Would I buy this car, or any EV?
Absolutely. I want to drive the rest of the EVs that are coming down the pike before I decide. I'll reserve judgment on the Think City itself until the one meant for U.S. consumers arrives. With a backseat and air conditioning, a satellite radio and a 220 charger in my garage, I would absolutely consider this car at the right price. For me, that's between $15,000 and $18,000. If the Think City can be sold in this range, it would cost substantially less than the other EV's hitting the market, and I believe there is a place for an "entry-level" EV.
An EV at this price is like adding an appliance to your life. It is not so exciting to drive and it is small, too. But if properly and intelligently used, it's a useful and worthwhile tool. The exciting part of driving an EV is being part of a movement that could spark huge changes in U.S. transportation and culture. Watch the evening news on almost any night, and it's hard to find an argument against reducing our dependency on foreign oil. That seems like a pretty worthy objective even before the conversations about greenhouse gas emissions even get started.
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Living on Electric Avenue
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