While crawling through traffic with several thousand of my closest friends this morning, I was struck by the number of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and pure electric vehicles I was sharing the road with. I recently bought my first hybrid, a 2016 Malibu, to replace my aging 2000 Jetta TDI. My daily commute consists of streets combined with slow-and-go traffic through Los Angeles. As such, it is well-suited to an electric, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid. I’ve wanted to purchase a hybrid or electric for several years. However, my choices were limited to the Prius or some mild-hybrid options. If I bought electric, I’d either need to cram into a sub-compact Leaf or the uber-expensive Tesla. Neither choice was worth my money.
Enter late 2016: my 16-year-old Jetta with 260,000 miles finally needed major repairs. Yes, I could have spent the few thousand to repair it but was not interested. The car was small, noisy, and really only seated two people. Also, driving a manual in Los Angeles is just more work than it is worth. I sold it and went for the Malibu, which is based on the Volt and will also service the 2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-in. For reference, the Malibu contains a 1.8 liter engine mated to an electric engine for a combined 180 HP and 270 lb-ft of torque. The gas-powered Malibu gets only 160 hp by comparison.
During my search, I noticed the number of plug-in hybrids, hybrids, and electric models has skyrocketed in the United States. Based on tax incentives and a desire to increase overall economy, both consumers and auto-makers are moving away from internal combustion only engines towards hybrid and electric only powerplants. I believe that this year is going to be known as the “tipping point” for electric and hybrid vehicles. (The term refers to a term from author Malcom Gladwell uses to describe “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.“) This past summer, MIT published an article stating that “Roughly 90 percent of the personal vehicles on the road daily could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available on the market today, even if the cars can only charge overnight,” (https://phys.org/news/2016-08-electric-vehicles-drivers-percent-road.html#jCp)
While true, the average consumer still felt uncomfortable with pure electric vehicles. I have heard first hand about those driving a Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Spark EV and getting close to empty before returning home. 2017 is the first year, we can choose between more than one vehicle with decent electric range. Chevrolet released the Bolt to much fanfare. That car has a 250-mile range, which is considered optimal for many commuters and drivers.
Compare that to the original mass-produced electric, the GM EV1. That car only was able to manage about 100 miles before charge depletion and was only a two-seater.
In 2017, we now have over a dozen electric models, ranging from the Smart for Two all the way to the aforementioned Tesla Model S. Add to these a list of almost 20 plug-in electric vehicles now on sale. These cars have enough battery capacity to run for over ten miles on electric only but have an on-board range extending gas engine to enhance and recharge the electric. Yet, each of these can be plugged in to charge from solar or utility company grid electric. One can even shell out over $1,000,000 for a McLaren P1 supercar, which has a 5 Kwh battery that can be plugged in.
The only question is whether we are looking at true adoption or government incentives. Considering many people – myself included – prefer to drive larger SUVs, the true takeover of electric vehicles may take awhile .
Hopefully, we will look back at 2017 and see that electric and plug-in electric vehicles are becoming the norm rather than the exception.