The Electric Car Has Come of Age
After experimenting with various models over the past 120 years, the electric car has finally come of age. Now, in 2020, we see sleek, hyper-modern, fast and plush Teslas, Nissan Leafs, and electric BMWs cruising Toledo’s streets. For the past six years, the popularity of the electric car has boomed while market watchers are forecasting explosive growth in all-electric and plug-in hybrid car sales: from 2 million sold in 2018 to 10 million by 2025 (BloombergNEF). Most of the big automakers— Fiat Chrysler (Jeep), Ford, Audi, BMW, VW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Jaguar, Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Mini— have joined the craze, producing sporty all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids. These automotive giants aim to compete aggressively, sans petroleum, kicking off a new electric era of the automobile.
The 2020 all-electric models are a little pricey, with the entry-level cars in the $30,000 range, escalating to around $75,000 for the Tesla Model S, Audi E-Tron, or Jaguar I-Pace. Because electric car batteries— lithium-ion batteries— are becoming less expensive to produce, market watchers project prices of electric cars to be comparable to their gas-fueled counterparts by 2025.
Christine Senack, the Girl in the Glass City, has been driving an electric BMW i3 since 2015, “I always had the idea that electric cars are really cool…Of course electric cars have been around since the time of Model Ts,” she said. “I never go to a gas station… Every day when I pull into my garage, I plug it in, and in the morning, it’s fueled up. My car is so quiet… one of the reasons people love them. It’s a little more peaceful in a sensory way. The technology is amazing,” and there are environmental benefits, “A couple years ago I switched my source of electricity [at my home] to wind power— and as a result I truly have a zero-emission car.”
Electric car history
In the early 1900s, innovative individuals began powering early wagons with electricity, at a time when gasoline-powered cars were rather inconvenient by requiring a manual crank to start the engine. The gasoline vehicles were also very noisy and spewed unpleasant exhaust. Meanwhile, electric cars were quiet, easy to start and did not pollute. In 1909, the Ohio Electric Company began building electric wagons in Toledo, joined in 1914 by the Milburn Wagon Company, located near Monroe and Auburn streets. Milburn’s first electric wagons had a top speed of 20 miles per hour. Ohio Electric Company’s electric automobiles, advertised as “electric pleasure vehicles,” achieved international popularity, and were exported to England, Russia, Scandinavia, and Brazil.
With the invention of the electric ignition, the internal combustion engine prevailed over the electric car by the 1920s. Over the next 60 years, car companies would occasionally experiment with electric-powered cars, but did not mass-produce those models. Then, in the mid-1990s, as car pollution and smog overwhelmed Los Angeles, California created a regulation requiring carmakers market zero-emission vehicles. General Motors jumped on this opportunity, producing the humble, but futuristic-looking, EV-1. Other car companies rolled out electric cars for the California market, but several years later, California rescinded the regulation, bringing an abrupt end to the electric vehicle. This story is recounted in the 2006 documentary film, Who Killed the Electric Car? A Lack of Consumer Confidence or Conspiracy?
However, in the ashes of the GM EV-1 arose an independent venture named Tesla. Over several years Tesla built an exotic electric roadster and a luxury sedan, both of which completely changed consumer’s thinking about electric cars. Next, Nissan introduced the all-electric Leaf in 2010, and it became the best-selling electric car. Now, with technological advances and the global movement to fight climate change, an electric car revolution is underway with all the major auto companies participating.
Jeep goes electric with its Plug-In Hybrid Wrangler 4xe
Jeep, a division of Fiat Chrysler, will begin producing plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in 2022, including the Wrangler 4xe (4-by-E). Jeep is currently showing the models this year. “It’s part of Jeep’s overall commitment to global electrification,” says Berj Alexanian, a Jeep Public Relations Manager. “It’s part environmentally driven and part performance-driven. This will give Jeep owners the ability to 4-by-4 silently with increased torque.” Jeep has not yet announced whether the Toledo plant will build these hybrid models, or if Jeep has plans to build a 100%-electric Jeep.
Hold on tight to your EV
The increased and “instant” torque unleashed by electric cars is one of their exciting characteristics. Their super-quick acceleration— the Tesla Model 3 and Jaguar I-Pace reach 60 miles per hour in less than 5 seconds— is possible due to the efficiency and simplicity of electric engines compared to the complexity of internal combustion engines. By comparison, the sporty, gas-powered 2020 Toyota Corolla reaches 60mph in 8 seconds. Larry Cook, who lives in Maumee and owns a Tesla Model 3, describes Tesla’s acceleration as “beautiful— there’s no lag, it takes off immediately.” Larry purchased his Tesla because of the vehicle’s “energy efficiency and environmental reasons, as well as the comfort,” and he likes its quiet ride.
MPGe: a new acronym for fuel economy
The efficiency of electric cars goes beyond faster acceleration— they travel farther on an equivalent amount of energy than gasoline-fueled cars, making them more environmentally-friendly. Electric cars sold from a dealer’s lot will include a window sticker listing an MPGe rating (Miles per Gallon of Gasoline-equivalent), representing the number of miles the car can travel on the same energy content of a gallon of gasoline. According to Fueleconomy.gov, the Tesla Model 3 is rated at 138 MPGe for city driving, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV is rated at 127 MPGe for city driving.
Electric Practicalities: getting far enough and filling up at the pump
A factor with electric cars is the mileage range that’s available on a full or partial charge. While gas-powered vehicles can drive 400-500 highway miles on a tank of gas, electric cars typically have a range of just over 200 miles on a full charge. Certain models, including long-range Tesla offerings, stretch their range to more than 300 miles. “Anybody that drives an electric car wants greater range, and the [manufacturers] are all working on that,” says Christine, who uses a charging station only when travelling, charging at home for her Toledo-area travel.
Sam Melden, the newly elected City of Toledo District 5 councilman, drives a Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid, and he wants to increase the number of Toledo charging stations. As chairperson of the Streets, Public Services, and Utilities committee, he will “pull every lever available to increase the amount of EV infrastructure in the City,” with a goal to deploy up to 36 charging stations by the end of his first 4-year term. “When Jeep rolls off an electric Wrangler, we’ve got to be ready for that,” he said, noting, “it’s way more affordable and feasible than people think.” In April, Melden will host a small business meet-and-greet where Clean Fuels Ohio, an advocacy organization, will educate attendees on the economic benefit of installing EV charging stations at their businesses.
Charging speed is another factor for EV users: it takes hours to fully charge a battery compared to minutes at the pump for gas-powered vehicles. Charging stations, found on interstates or in metro areas, such as Electrify America, EVgo, or ChargePoint, offer DC fast charging. The Audi E-Tron advertises 54 miles of range with a 10-minute DC fast charge. The Nissan Leaf’s larger battery option advertises an 80% recharge in 45 minutes with a 100 kWh DC Fast Charge. Faster charging does cost a bit more per Kilowatt Hour— like buying premium gasoline.
Larger charging companies offer a smartphone app that directs users to stations, and PlugShare, an experience-driven network, allows users to review charging stations and connect with other EV drivers. Most people will charge at home most of the time, where a Level 2 charger is typically installed. This will fully charge your EV’s battery in 5 to 11 hours, according to ChargeHub.
Federal Tax Credit
Those purchasing a new electric car may be eligible for a federal tax credit up to $7,500, depending on the size of your car’s battery. Several cars qualify for the full credit, like the BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV, according to FuelEconomy.gov. The tax credit can be applied to cars purchased in the year 2010 or later. However, the tax credit phases out after the automaker has sold 200,000 qualifying cars.
Justin Lipsey, 33, a technologist with SSOE, a global architecture and construction firm based in downtown Toledo, drives a 2014 Ford Edge SUV, but he is looking at buying a new car. Why not go electric? “I consider myself an early adopter [of technology],” he notes, adding that he’s thought of trying out a Tesla: “I know myself, I know if I test-drive one, I’ll be sold.” Though there are other potential reasons to postpone going electric: “The ‘why not’ is… always fear of something new. It’s a proven thing that the electric car is good. We know it’s good for the environment, but it’s still new. I don’t know where the chargers would be.”
In addition, as of 2020, Ohio has joined a majority of states which are charging higher registration fees to owners of electric and hybrid vehicles. An electric car will cost Ohio drivers an additional $200 to register, while hybrid cars will be charged an additional $100. The higher fees are an effort on the part of the states to offset the loss of gas tax revenue that is essential to maintaining the nation’s infrastructure.
With more access to plug in to this new era of the electric car, uncertainties about these vehicles may begin to fade.
Will electric cars catch on?
While the big automakers are offering electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles options in 2020, obstacles to luring buyers include:
Price: new electrics are more expensive than gas-powered vehicles.
Learned experience: many drivers are more comfortable with established gas-powered vehicles, ease of use, uncertainty surrounding the availability of charging stations.
Time considerations: concerning charging times.
Tesla provides two Tesla-branded charging stations in the Toledo area: one in Maumee next to Meijer, and one in north Toledo on Alexis— but these are exclusively for Tesla drivers. Otherwise, the City of Toledo only has a limited number of public charging stations., including those at the Toledo Museum of Art, the downtown library, and downtown on Superior Street.