Today's story in the Portland "Oregonian" about a delay in the availability of public electric car charging stations created a further drain in my enthusiasm for buying a Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi i, even though I've put down money for a reservation on both cars.
The story says:
With its backyard chicken farms, recycling ethos, and nation-leading love affair with the Toyota Prius, Oregon has long been seen as the perfect test bed for electric cars.
...But a funny thing may be happening on the way to the charging station. Oregon consumers, local experts say, haven't been beating the bushes to get their hands on a Nissan Leaf, the only mass-produced, all-electric vehicle currently on the market. Moreover, the vehicles have been slower to arrive than some anticipated.
And those public charging stations -- the plug-in infrastructure that will help wary consumers overcome the dreaded "range anxiety"?
Well, good luck finding one.
Last weekend my wife and I talked about the pros and cons of trading in our Prius for an electric car during a drive from Salem to central Oregon, a 2 1/2 hour trip across the Cascades that we couldn't have made in a Nissan Leaf -- or any other fully electric vehicle that's available now, or on the horizon.
We own a Toyota Prius. We were driving in our other hybrid, a 2006 Highlander SUV. We're dedicated environmentalists. In short, we're the sort of people who want to buy an electric car.
But we decided that the time isn't right for us.
"Range anxiety" is the biggest reason. We live six miles from the Salem city limits. So we'd have to burn up twelve miles of battery power getting to and from the town where we head for most of our errands/ shopping/ entertainment/ etc.
I've read quite a few reviews of the Nissan Leaf, which supposedly has an average range of about 100 miles when fully charged. A dismayingly large percentage of the first Leaf drivers talked about either running out of power in an unexpected fashion, or needing to engage in pretty extreme driving behaviors to make the electric car functional.
Like, not turning on the heater in frigid weather. Or driving glacially slow to maximize mileage. We found it hard to justify spending almost $30,000 on a car that can't be driven like a normal vehicle.
(I had a '57 VW bug in college, so I already know what it's like to drive around in winter without a working heater, or to be one of the slowest cars on the road.)
After perusing those reviews, it became obvious that the current first generation of electric cars require a lot of attention from their owners. You can't cruise around carefree, going here and there quasi-spontaneously, especially given the lack of public charging stations.
And even if youre running low on juice and a station is nearby, the thought of sitting around for half an hour or so to get a "fill-up" wasn't appealing to us.
My wife and I are both notoriously prone to leaving late when we need to be somewhere on time. "I had to charge the car" would give us a new excuse for being 30 minutes behind schedule, but we're already pretty good at explaining our lateness.
Plus, that Nissan Leaf 100 mile range carries a lot of "it depends..." with it. Driving style, temperature, hills, use of heating/ air conditioning/ accessories, traffic jams, number of people in the car -- all of this affects electric car range a lot more than regular car mileage.
My wife and I are willing to put up with some inconveniences and complications to go Greener. However, the current status of electric car technology leaves us thinking "Someday, but not today."
This is how we felt about the first generation iPhone and iPad. Now we're happy users of later generation devices. We appreciate the early adopters of the iPhone and iPad, because they made it possible for Apple to be profitable and make improvements in its products. Likewise, we applaud the first electric car buyers.
I can see us buying a second generation electric car. If the range could get up into 200 mile territory, that'd be great. Alternatively, we'd like a hybrid with a 100 mile all-electric capability, after which a small gas engine would kick in.
Electric cars are the wave of the future. Eventually we'll surf on that wave. For now, though, we'll watch from the beach and cheer on the early adopters.