Never before have car buyers been offered such a wide range of efficient powertrain options – there are pure electrics, gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and even fuel-cell vehicles like the Toyota Mirai.
As a vehicle journalist, I get the opportunity to drive virtually everything on the market. And when it came time to buy a new vehicle for my family, my top choices were both ultra-efficient: the all-electric Tesla Model S, and the Generation 4 Toyota Prius, a class-leading hybrid. (In the end, we chose the Prius.)
Despite the advantages of alternative power, the vast majority of buyers still opt for vehicles powered by a traditional, internal-combustion engine. A book that came across my transom last week offered some insights.
Co-authored by Daniel Breton (who once served as Quebec's Environment Minister) and veteran automotive journalist Jacques Duval, The Guide to Electric Hybrid and Fuel Efficient Cars offers historical background, technological explanations and vehicle reviews.
The authors also list a series of misconceptions that have held back many consumers from buying electric vehicles (a category that includes everything from pure electrics like the Tesla to plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt.) Here are their seven Electric Vehicle Myths:
Myth 1: "Electric cars cost a lot more." As the authors point out, not all electric cars are in the premium-price bracket. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, for example, are available in the mid-20 thousand range (and both qualify for significant government rebates.) The authors note that the price difference between electric and internal combustion cars is falling: "…the price of electric cars is gradually dropping, while that of gas-powered cars is rising. In five years, their prices should be more or less on par."
Myth 2: "Batteries for electric cars or hybrids last only two or three years." Breton and Duval's response: "Totally false. Batteries in hybrid and electric vehicles are made to last just as long as the cars themselves, if not longer…. Ask a taxi driver who uses a Prius and you'll see."
Myth 3: "Only for summers, only for cities." Although electric vehicles do take a range hit in winter conditions (because low temperatures reduce battery capacity), the authors conclude that they are still a viable choice for drivers who live in cold regions. They note that electric cars make better use of the energy they have aboard than gas-powered machines: "Electric cars start much more easily in winter than gas-powered cars, since an electric motor has far fewer moving parts than a gas engine, and contains no oil to turn to the consistency of molasses," they write. "That means there's less friction and less energy loss."
Myth 4: "Can't go more than 100 kilometers without being plugged in." Improvements in battery technology are steadily increasing the performance of electric cars. "While some electric cars still have a range of less than 100 kilometers, such vehicles are becoming fewer and fewer," the authors say. "A growing number of electric cars can drive 150, 200 or even 300 kilometers in poor conditions."
Myth 5: "More Pollution." The greenness of plug-in vehicles has been the subject of endless debate - and a considerable amount of disinformation. Are electric vehicles actually cleaner than internal combustion models when you factor in the energy used to make the electricity that drives them? Breton and Duval say the answer is yes., with one caveat: " U.S. states, where more than 70 per cent of electricity production still comes from coal-fired plants." Overall, they conclude, plug-in vehicles are a major step forward on the pollution-reduction front: "…the place where electric cars have the lowest pollution is Quebec. Since the electricity produced there is 99 per cent renewable, it's a win-win. But even in states like California, it's definitely a net gain." As the authors note, combining internal combustion with electric technology is sometimes the optimum choice: "For the few states that still overuse coal for fuel, the hybrid is the best solution at hand."
Myth 6: "Poor performance." Many consumers see electric cars as glorified golf carts that lack the acceleration and driving pleasure they get with high-performance gas machines. The authors credit the Tesla P90D (now famous thanks to its Insane Mode) for shattering that perception, and describe it as "a car whose performance and acceleration surpasses the most exotic sports cars you can find anywhere on earth for under $500,000…"
Myth 7: "Not designed for families." Breton and Duval dispute this myth by recounting the experience of Elvira Toffa Juteau, businesswoman, mother of three, and owner of a Chevy Volt. "I can't even remember the last time I went to refuel," Ms. Juteau told the authors. "The Volt has enough space for us… Basically, my electric car is ideal for my job as a mother and entrepreneur."