Getting to the Root of the Leaf

Video By Clara Pak and Casey Wood

NPID DC 2012 was held in front of the U.S. Capitol (Photo by Clara Pak)

On Sept. 16 I traveled to the U.S. Capitol to attend National Plug-in Day, a gathering of electric vehicle automakers and electric vehicle enthusiasts in the DMV area. I went knowing absolutely nothing about electric vehicles (EVs). I missed the hybrid train too when the Toyota Prius came out years ago, and admit to not knowing how hybrid cars actually work. So how did I, clearly a car newbie, leave National Plug-in Day looking forward to purchasing an EV when (or if) it comes time to buy my first car? Now before you assume I got brainwashed by a bunch of EV zealots at NPID, let me explain: the numbers make sense.

Proud owner of a Nissan Leaf (Photo by Clara Pak)

We interviewed one couple from Poolesville, Maryland who were proud owners of a red Nissan Leaf. They had calculated how much they spent in relation to miles driven since they bought their car early this year. The final statement? The EV had gone 8,120 miles in 7 months (Feb-Sept 2012) for $120. That is equivalent to 234 miles per gallon, based on the average gas price of $3.67/gal. When I have to go fill up my (parent's) Honda Accord at home in NJ, it's easily $50 out the bank per trip to the gas station. With an EV, I potentially wouldn't have to complain about gas prices rising anymore. Yes, EVs do cost more than your typical vehicle. A Nissan Leaf, for example, starts for $35,200. (EV drivers are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.) But there are offsets, specifically with the price paid at the pump. The more miles you drive, the more money you save. Leaf drivers save 400 gallons of gas annually, compared to the average gas car that returns 27 miles per gallon. Arguments against the EV bring up its limited driving range. Most EVs can only go 100–200 miles before recharging while gasoline vehicles can go over 300 miles before refueling. However, a study shows that most Americans drive an average of 40 miles per day or less, well within the range of almost all EVs, and future models will have 10 times this range or more. For those who say time is money and that recharge time for EVs is too long and costly, I understand where they're coming from. Fully recharging the battery pack can take four to eight hours. A quick charge can take 30 minutes. This is where you really have to plan ahead and manipulate your schedule. A lot of EV owners I met at NPID agreed.

In a Nissan Leaf, ready to roll! (Photo by Clara Pak)

The couple we talked to earlier said that because they had to charge their car before going home, they picked a restaurant to eat at near a charging station in DC. While they fill their stomachs, the car's battery can also fill hers. Apart from the issues of cost and time, EVs make sense for a world that seems destined for climate change. EVs, propelled by an electric motor powered by rechargeable battery packs, are energy efficient. Compare EVs converting 59-62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels to gasoline vehicles converting 17-21% of the energy stored in gasoline to miles driven. EVs do not emit tailpipe pollutants. Granted, the power plant producing the electricity that powers your car may emit pollutants. If EVs do become the cars of the future, the push for electricity from nuclear-, hydro-, solar- or wind-powered plants, all of which do not contribute air pollutants, will grow stronger. Toyota, the leading hybrid automaker, doesn't think EVs are a smart investment just yet. Recently, in a Forbes article, Toyota announced that the brand would be redirecting its focus back on hybrids. "The current capabilities of EVs do not meet society's needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge," Toyota Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said. By the time I have the financial capability and need to invest in a car, I hope an EV that can stand up against those three arguments Uchiyamada put forth will be out on the market. - Clara Pak

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