The Obama administration wants 1 million plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) on U.S. roads by 2015. And automakers are obliging with a wide choice of models, ranging from moderately priced small cars to large luxury sports sedans.
While even the least expensive EVs can be pricey compared with similar conventional cars, cost should not be the only consideration. There's value in not worrying about the price of gasoline and in reducing your tax bill through credits, for instance. Here's more to ponder if you're thinking about buying an electric car.
What are the different kinds of plug-in EVs?
Battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, run strictly on battery power. Examples are the Nissan Leaf ($35,200), the Mitsubishi i-MiEV ($29,975), the Ford Focus Electric ($39,200), which will arrive later this year, and the Coda Sedan ($37,250), which so far is available only in California.
When a BEV runs out of charge, it's stuck on the side of the road. So Chevrolet and startup Fisker Automotive have devised range-extended EVs. These use a gasoline engine to drive a motor-generator that recharges the batteries en route and keeps the car in motion longer. [ What Are Connected Cars? ]
How far can I drive?
In general, BEVs will be good for only a day's commute (if your job is 30 to 40 miles from your home), according to their Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ratings. For example, the Coda is EPA-rated at 88 miles per charge, the Focus Electric at 76, the Nissan Leaf at 73 and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV at 62. (Manufacturers estimate their vehicles' ranges quite a bit higher than the EPA does.)
An extended-range EV, however, can go 350 miles or more with a full tank, which is nearly as far as a conventional gasoline-powered car can travel.
How long does charging take?
Charging time varies by car and by the type of charger. For example, plugged in to a standard 110-volt wall outlet, the Leaf needs 20 hours, while with a 220-volt charger the time drops to 7 hours. But a 480-volt charger, found at public charging stations, can recharge a Leaf to 80 percent battery capacity — generally good enough — in as little as 25 minutes. [ Chrysler Brings Wireless Phone Charging to Cars ]
How much do I save on gas?
EV makers also tout their vehicles' miles-per-gallon equivalent, or MPGe, an EPA rating that equates one mile per gallon of fuel usage (MPG) to 33.7 kilowatt hour of electricity.
Among BEVs, the i-MiEV gets an MPGe rating of 112, the Focus Electric 105, the Leaf 99 and the Coda 73. Compare that with the mileage you'd get from a competitive gasoline-powered car to calculate savings.
Can I get a tax break?
There are both federal and state government tax credits available to EV buyers. The federal tax credit is as high as $7,500 (which is rolled into the price of a lease). It is available until 200,000 EVs are sold by each individual automaker –– in other words, a long time from now.
Are more models coming?
BMW plans to launch a new electric car sub-brand named "i" late next year with a BEV for mainstream buyers named i3. The automaker will add a high-end sports car named i8 in early 2014.
Meanwhile, Fisker has announced plans for the Atlantic, a family-oriented sports sedan to be price-competitive with a well-equipped BMW 3 Series or Audi A5, which generally cost between $40,000 and $60,000. Fisker hasn't announced an on-sale date.