What You Should Know Before Buying Electric Vehicles
In numbers released in October of 2016, it’s estimated that U.S. consumers would buy some 45,000 plug-in vehicles during that year’s 3rd quarter. There are, of course, a number of reasons for the growing popularity of electric vehicles: environmental sensitivity, increased range (to the point they can be considered by both urbanites and suburbanites) and – not to be underestimated – federal tax incentives that, on a $30K Nissan Leaf, knock the purchase price down roughly 25%. With few exceptions, however, an EV is hard-pressed to serve as your one, primary vehicle – unless, of course, on a weekend drive from Dallas to Austin you’re prepared to stop in Waco for a full recharge. Those EVs with range extenders – Chevy’s Volt and BMW’s i3 are the most visible – amp up the utility, but with internal combustion as an integral part of the recipe they don’t stir the green sensibilities in the same way that the Leaf and Tesla’s Model S do. In making the commitment to go electric, remember that the technology is evolving almost daily; the jury remains out as to what an older EV – and its battery pack – are worth. Most observers believe it’s better to lease, especially at a time when both the technology and market are so transitional.
Exterior – Currently, there are two schools of thought regarding EV design. The first, seen in vehicles such as Nissan’s Leaf, Tesla’s Model S and the BMW i3, incorporate design cues specific to their electric mission. And no, this doesn’t mean they wear their batteries on the outside. Rather, design features – such as no front grilles – which speak to an electric drivetrain and not one featuring internal combustion. The second philosophy is to simply reformulate an existing architecture, and that route has been taken by a number of OEMs, including Ford (Focus), Volkswagen (Golf), and Kia (Soul EV). Notably scarce are crossovers, as only Tesla’s Model X can claim CUV utility and all-electric powertrain.
Interior – In an approach not unlike that held by exterior designers, the interior of an EV can be almost entirely conventional, with very little to differentiate it from its combustible contemporary. Or it can be entirely unconventional, with a control layout and functionality never to be confused with something burning gas. Beyond the instruments and controls, of course, are the textures. Here you’ll find less customization, unless you’re considering BMW’s i3 or opting to spend almost six figures at your Tesla showroom. Chevy’s new Bolt EV, to be introduced in early 2017 in California and Oregon, will offer a Premium trim, which includes leather seating on the inside and a roof rack on the outside. Beyond that, among electrics a standard spec is (typically) the standard spec.
Powertrains – An electric vehicle’s powertrain is a combination of its battery pack and electric motor, along with – if it benefits from a range extender – a small internal combustion engine to either charge the battery or power a set of wheels. Advances in battery technology and design are happening almost daily. What had once been an industry standard of a 100-mile (at best) range will be more than doubled with the debut of the Chevy Bolt. And while the range on Tesla’s Model S is 200+ miles, that allowable range can be upgraded to 270. If inclined to enjoy all-electric around town and still hit the highway without range anxiety, the Chevy Volt can now go all-electric for approximately fifty miles and, with its gas engine humming, another 350+ miles on the open road. Conversely, BMW’s i3 offers 114 miles of all-electric operation and, with its smaller range extender, 180 miles of total over-the-road capability.
Safety – Given that today’s EV is among the newest designs in an automaker’s portfolio, its safety envelope would be as advanced and complete as is possible with contemporary design and manufacturing. And with what is often a family audience, a full array of designed-in safety is complemented by those electronic assists which can be easily added. The only deterrent to electronically-augmented safety features is the competing needs of electronic assists and a battery’s range. The more features an EV platform supports, the shorter is its viable range. Of course, there’s also the embedded safety that comes with innovative construction. BMW utilizes carbon fiber reinforced plastic in the construction of its platform, providing the strength of steel with significantly lighter weight and more design flexibility. And in almost all instances battery packs are located low in the vehicle’s structure, contributing to a low center of gravity and enhanced stability.
Technology – Today, if a manufacturer opts for an introduction at a major auto show the offering is more typically devoted to newly-introduced technology within the product than the outside sheetmetal or under-the-hood enhancements. Of course, technology can take many forms, including those intended to improve efficiency, connectivity or entertainment. With its Tech of the Year Award in 2016, Autoblog recognized Apple CarPlay for its user-friendliness and “overall impact on bringing our connected lives into the car.” If you’re an iPhone user, the control of apps is done via a familiar interface on an infotainment screen while adding features that weren’t originally installed at the factory. Android Auto was second in the voting, delivering to the user essentially the same capabilities via Google’s phone OS.
With automotive technology’s trickle down, you can expect in-car WiFi to enjoy greater availability, and its integration into a ‘media hub’ increasingly common.
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