Plug-in instead of fill-up? Expo participants say electric cars are easier than you think listen02/21/12 Janelle Irwin
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Owning an electric vehicle is becoming more feasible as retail prices fall and charging stations pop up. Enthusiasts and professionals are calling attention to possible savings at a three-day expo at the A la carte Pavillion in Tampa. Bob Cavalli is the Eastern U.S. fleet sales manager for a Mitsubishi electric car. He said the biggest selling point is that the car pays for itself over time.
“The fuel costs are less than a quarter of what they are at $4 a gallon, which is going up now. Maintenance and repair costs are about a third what they are for a gasoline engine or what we call an ICE – internal combustion engine. Over all costs over a five year period, the savings verses a 22 mile per gallon vehicle for example, is close to $10,000.”
The Mitsubishi i MiEV works much the same as other electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf. They’re all electric and run off a battery that can be charged just about anywhere. Cavalli said the i maximizes the distance between charges by incorporating three different drive settings.
“We have a full drive mode where – picture yourself getting onto the parkway and getting up to speed – gives you full power, but uses a lot of battery. Once you get up to speed on the highway you’d move it down into eco-mode. Eco-mode uses less battery, gives you a little bit more regenerative breaking power, but will keep you at that speed. And then finally – not something that you have to worry about in Florida – but if you’re going down a big hill, you put it into B-mode which maximizes the regenerative breaking. If you use those three modes the way they are supposed to be used, you can get from 85 to 90 miles out of a charge.”
And even the lead foot driver would still get around 60 miles or so per charge. When the battery starts running low, drivers can re-charge from a standard outlet at home in about 22 hours. Take it to a charging station and that time is slashed to about 6 hours or so. But Cavalli acknowledges that even with increasing technology and improved mileage, electric vehicles aren’t for everyone.
“The MiEV we’re not pretending, it’s not a first family car. It’s a second car, a third car, it’s a commuting car, it’s a car for local driving. And for the right application, it’s an excellent solution.”
But it comes with a price tag of 20 to 30 thousand dollars which is more than some people can afford. Yet another thing holding back sales is the misconception that electric cars lack power. Sebastien Bourgeois would disagree. He converts high end cars into all electric, like the Porsche he displayed at the expo that’s riding on 400 horsepower. That’s more than the car came stock. It was so simple he called it a big boy’s remote control car.
“You have a battery pack, that’s your energy source which would in a gas car be the equivalent of a fuel tank. You have a motor controller, which is the stuff we manufacture. All that does, it’s like the intermediary between your battery pack and your traction motor. It basically takes your input – whatever you tell the gas pedal to do – and translates that information into energy for the motor and makes the motor go as you desire.”
His conversions do sacrifice a little bit of battery life for the power boost, but Bourgeois said they’ll last just as long.
“That’s a big part of the conversion equation. A lithium iron phosphate, which we use because it’s relatively safe and it’s got good energy density, power density, the manufacturer claims 2,000 to 3,000 cycles. So, if you were to charge your car once a day that would be good for what, 7 and a half years or so? So, that’s pretty good.”
And if throwing misconceptions about electric vehicle speed out the window wasn’t enough, Bourgeois also likes to brag about how much easier electric cars are to maintain.
“The good thing about electric cars, we’ve been making electric motors and systems for a hundred and some odd years. It’s a well developed mechanical system, an electrical system. For us, the components, the maintenance components – the brushes and stuff like that – you should have your first, say, oil change on an electric motor at 50,000 miles. Can you say that about your car?”
So what about charging? Joe Vumbaco, the vice president of sales for Nova Charge said just last year his company had one charging station in Florida. Now there’s close to 100 in the Tampa Bay area alone. He said that’s because the cost to install a charging station can be as low at $200 for a residence and $1000 for a commercial property. But,
“It’s site specific. If you’re an owner of a Kohl’s department store and you want to put this in your parking lot, we’re going to have to go through the pavement and burrowing all that concrete out is going to be very costly. And of course, the longer the run the more wire we have to use. All those kinds of things are just sunk costs into the installation. Obviously that’s going to drive the cost up.”
Vumbaco added that with the rising popularity of electric vehicles, charging stations could start popping up left and right. And the concept of ditching the pump is definitely catching on. Lowell Simmons teaches at Miramar High School in Broward County. He heads up the school’s EV club which started in the '90s. It’s now considered the top program of its kind in the nation and Simmons and his students are working on a third electric vehicle.
“They come and meet and then we incorporate things into my automotive curriculum – things like brakes and electric and this and that into the curriculum. So, we do that stuff with the students. We actually design and build the class in school itself.” Up to 40k to put in an extravagant charging station, but for a home station, only a couple hundred dollars – owner of station pays a network station fee, about $200 per year, complete charge costs about $2 depending on what the owner of the charging station charges.
And electric vehicles even have their own drag racing circuit. It’s called the National Electric Drag Racing Association, or NEDRA. Brian Hall is the association’s record keeper. He said electric drag cars can leave one that uses gas in the dust.
“Electric motors have a lot of torque right from zero RPM. They make it ideal. It’s a better motor for drag racing than a gas vehicle because the horse power for a gas vehicle is at 4 or 5 thousand RPMs where you get your peak power. Peak power for an electric motor is at 1 RPM. So, they accelerate really quickly.”
Hall said anyone who wants to race electric vehicles can do so at any speedway open to the public whether or not they are members of NEDRA. Drivers with the association will race Thursday afternoon and Friday at the Desoto Super Speedway in Bradenton.
The EV expo will continue through Thursday.
WMNF News' previous electric cars coverage