Ask the EcoGeek: Can I Have My EV Now?
Who killed the electric car? Seriously, why can't I buy one yet and when will I be able to?
Much love to the people who made Who Killed the Electric Car, because they got a lot of stuff right. It wasn't any one person, corporation or technicality that killed the EV1. As with all product failures it was a combination of tons of factors.
The reason major auto companies aren't making electric vehicles look like this. First, Americans were looking for SUVs, not ultralights. Second, the technology was primitive, the biggest problem being that batteries could only take cars a hundred miles before they needed to spend hours at a charging station. Third, major car companies were too foolish to see that, in the next decade, electric cars could quickly become technologically viable and extremely appealing, so the abandoned their projects completely.
And now, here we are. Electric cars are technologically viable and extremely appealing. But no one's done the kind of development necessary to introduce a pure electric vehicle to the mass consumer market. But it will happen. It's just probably going to happen intermittently, by solving all three of the above problems in different ways.
Drivers will have to get used to smaller, lighter, sportier, more aerodynamic vehicles. It's already starting to happen, and the new Prius body, most folks agree, is a very nice looking car.
Technology to make EVs more viable are being developed constantly. Ten minute recharge times, higher capacities and energy densities, and safer and more environmentally friendly components are all on the way, if not already proven. Of course, there's a difference between a battery working in the lab, and being able to get it into a car for less than $30,000.
The short answer, for you, is that you can buy an electric car now. But you'll either have to pay a premium for a Tesla or a Phoenix model (both companies have battery packs that cost more than Honda Civic) or you'll have to go small, with NICE Cars or the Smart Fortwo. Or you can head to EVFinder, and search through listings for quite a lot of new and used electric vehicles.
But if you wait for mainstream manufacturers to catch on, it might be a while. Plug-in hybrids will soon (though no one has any concrete dates planned) offer an intermittent step which will allow for at least some emissions-free driving. We should see a Prius plug-in and possibly a plug-in from Saturn before 2010. And plug-in series hybrids (which always use the electric engine, but use a gasoline engine to charge the batteries (not to spin the wheels)) will offer another step toward full EVs.
But we're going to have to wait for the ultra-expensive, high capacity, quick charging batteries to start getting way cheaper before we see any major car company embracing electric vehicles. Because if the EV1 hit the streets again...chances are, we still wouldn't be able to get it off life support.