Excerpted from Take the Wheel: A Woman’s Guide to Buying a Car Her Own Damn Self by Kristen Hall-Geisler—new and improved and available November 2017!
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who would make great electric car owners, and those who would rip out their hair and scream like a banshee if they had to drive an electric car. And the dividing line isn’t what you might think.
It doesn’t take an engineering degree or a pair of homemade hemp pants to drive an electric car. It doesn’t even take the stereotypical male early adopter, with his Zuckerberg hoodie and his crush on Siri. When the Nissan Leaf came out in 2011, for example, only 10–15 percent of buyers were women, according to the Detroit News. By early 2013, not even two full years later, women accounted for 25–30 percent of new Leaf buyers.
For many people in twenty-first century America, it doesn’t take a sacrifice or a second thought to buy and drive an EV. If you have a regular commute that’s shorter than about twenty-five miles one way, especially if it’s a relatively flat route, then you’re golden. Any emissions-free battery electric vehicle (BEV) can be your ticket to green-car good karma. Range and power in modern electric vehicles have improved so greatly that for most drivers, the only difference you’d notice is that the car is damn quiet.
Any EV should get about 100 miles on a full charge. Teslas get far more than that, with EPA range ratings well above 200 miles. And the Chevy Bolt EV joins Tesla in having a range comfortably over 200 miles.
If you want an EV that looks like it came from the future, the Nissan Leaf can meet that need. If you want luxury and prestige, Tesla is on it. If you want practicality, the Bolt is kind of boring but very useful. If you want a car that blends in, the VW e-Golf looks like every other Golf. There’s an EV for everyone, really. If you can find it.
The trouble with EVs isn’t their range or their usability; it’s being able to find one at a dealership. California has every EV available. Oregon, Washington, New York, and a couple of other states have several. In the middle of the country, you can get things like the Kia Soul EV, but there isn’t likely to be one on the lot, charged up and ready for a test drive. You have to order it. Manufacturers are doing a terrible job of promoting EVs outside California, and dealerships are doing a terrible job of selling them. You have to sell yourself on the idea; no one is going to help you.
If you’re on the fence, here’s my best argument for EVs: because of the torque, they make city driving way more fun than in a regular car. You can mash the pedal at every red light and race to the next one—no gasoline used, no emissions, and hardly any sound unless you manage to chirp the tires, which would be awesome.
Who Gets the Biggest Bang for This Buck?
According to 2010 US Census data, more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. And it takes nearly two-thirds of us less than half an hour to get to work. That puts a lot of people in the sweet spot for electric car ownership, whether they know it or not. For a lot of families, one EV and one gasoline vehicle make sense. One parent commutes in the EV and one in the “regular” car. In many cases, the gasoline-powered car is an SUV or minivan, something the whole family can pile into for weekend camping trips or visits to Grandma’s for the holidays. The EV helps offset the emissions and fuel cost of the bigger vehicle.
Like your phone, the batteries do have to be charged, and for now that’s best done overnight at a 220-volt in-home charger. If you’re lucky, your employer or parking garage will have designated charging spaces for a midday top-off. Often dealerships and the local utility will have some kind of partnership or financing deal for installing the charger properly and up to code, which is worth the expense if it’s going to power the car you use to commute to work every day.
Some cars are able to use DC Fast Charging, which gets a battery to an 80 percent charge in less than half an hour. This has the potential to reshape how Americans do long-distance drives. You could go for, say, 200 miles or so, then stop at a highway oasis with fast-charging stations and amenities. Stretch your legs, check your email, get a coffee, use the bathroom, let the dog out. Then back in the car for the next 200 miles. Rather than being a hassle, that sounds pleasant.
Is It Really Green?
As much as almost anything manufactured in this world, yes, electric vehicles are green. Car makers know that the early adopters for this technology are ecologically conscious, so they make the effort to go a bit further with things like soy-based seat foam, recycled upholstery material, and other greener choices. Plus there’s that whole thing about not drilling for oil, and not shipping that oil around the world, and not burning it on the daily and sending particulates into the air. You know, that part.
There are two big hurdles to perfect greendom: the power source and the batteries. Where your power comes from will make a difference in how green your EV is. If you’re powering the charger with a solar array on the garage roof, you may hug as many trees as you like. Maybe someone will let you foster endangered tiger kittens for your troubles. But if your utility company draws its power from coal plants, you’re not doing the planet many favors.
Speaking of raping the earth for our insatiable energy needs, those lithium ion batteries aren’t made of magic and rainbows. They’re made of metals—lithium is right in the name—that are mined. Once you’re done with them, they need to be recycled, though there aren’t that many recycling facilities right now. Tesla will take back its batteries and recycle them itself, but most communities are struggling to get anything beyond glass recycled at the curb. Shipping the batteries off to be recycled is expensive and wasteful.
The benefits of electric vehicles so outweigh the political, environmental, and public health problems of gasoline and diesel, though, that Volvo announced it would only build electrified vehicles from 2019 forward. As of 2017, the entire countries of France and the United Kingdom will no longer sell gasoline or diesel vehicles as of 2040.