Yesterday at the Tucson 4th Avenue Art Fair, Nissan set up a booth where you could test drive a Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is the new all electric vehicle that you is about to go on sale. Being a bit of a tech geek, I took them up on their offer of a free test drive. Tucson is one of the first markets to get the Leaf and there are public charging stations already being built (and a few already operating) here. The GPS system will show you a map that plots the range of the car based on the current battery state.
They give you a short presentation about the car beforehand of course. They show the battery pack and some of the tech tools on the car that help you plot your driving route to be sure you don't run out of juice along the way. It's a very tech heavy car both under the hood and in the cockpit. You can start the AC or heater (whichever is needed) from your cell phone (the idea being that you do the initial cool down/warm up while the vehicle is still attached to a power outlet so you don't drain the battery for that). You can set the car to charge at certain times of the day or even send you a message if you forget to plug it in at night. I know they can't overcome all human forgetfullness, but they sure try.
The car is very comfortable on the inside. The version I drove is considered pre-production (one change they said had to be made is to add noise so pedestrians can hear it coming...you probably heard about this issue). I intentionally went a little heavy on the accelerator and it had passable pickup, but not sports car level! It has an eco mode to improve range. They turned it on for a little while and I could tell the acceleration was limited and it had a different feel. Operating in standard mode, the handling was nice and smooth.
Charging is tricky...it can take 20 hours to get a full charge from 120V but only 8 if you have a 220V plug installed at your house. The quick charging stations give you and 80% charge in 30 minutes. Will do in a pinch, but if I am driving long distance across the country, I don't want to make that many half hour stops!
And it's pricey. Starting at $32k (more if you want the upgrades that include the quick charger) plus tax, title, etc. and you have to get the 220V charger at home if you want to use that. They make a big deal out of the tax credits of course ($7500 federal) but that might get it down to comparable to a similarly sized vehicle at best. They keep saying the price will come down in the future as battery production ramps up and economies of scale are realized (but even getting them to speculate how much is difficult...yeah, I am real fun to take on a test drive!)
I can't see this being the only car for a single person like me. Even a day trip to Phoenix would kill it and I would need to charge it somewhere (okay, probably two somewheres). For a two car family, it could be the second if one of the couple worked locally and they didn't both have to travel long distances for their jobs at the same time (this scenario probably applies to quite a few families...and it might be a good way to keep your teen from driving farther than they should!) Even at that, the price might make a compact car or a used car more appealing to many people.
As nice as it is, electric vehicles are still not an option for everybody. Many of you know I got a new car recently...I went with the Honda Fit and don't plan on trading it for an electric vehicle any time soon.