Reprinted from Chapter 1 of Build Your Own Electric Vehicle, 2nd Edition
by Seth Leitman
There have been four widely-circulated myths/rumors about electric vehicles that are not true. Because the reality in each case is the 180-degree opposite of the myth, you should know about them.
Myth #1: Electric Vehicles Can’t Go Fast Enough
Well, this is probably true if you are talking about a four-ton van carrying 36 batteries. The reality is that EVs can go as fast as you want—just choose the electric vehicle model (or design or build one) with the speed capability you want. One example of how fast they can accelerate was when I was driving a TH!NK City (really small City EV) in New York City, as shown in the introduction. I was at a traffic light next to a Ford cab (how appropriate since Ford owned TH!NK at the time). The cabbie wanted to see how fast it could go so I said, “I know it can beat you.” (Please note that all of this was done well within the legal speed limits on the road in Manhattan!) He said, “You’re crazy!” So the light turned green and I hit the accelerator. The look on the cabbie’s face was worth a million dollars. He was more than surprised at the torque and acceleration. People on the street were screaming, “Go, go, go.” I blew him away. We met up at the next traffic light and he said, “Where can I get one?” Enough said. Current technology EVs use nickel batteries, such as the Toyota RAV4 or even today’s hybrid electric cars such as the Prius or the Honda Civic hybrid. Other conversion companies are starting to use lithium-ion batteries; however, most still use lead acid. The speed of an electric vehicle is directly related to its weight, body/chassis characteristics such as air and rolling resistance, electric motor size (capacity), and battery voltage. The more voltage, the more batteries you have, the faster any given electric motor will be able to push the vehicle—but adding batteries adds also to the vehicle weight. All of these factors mean you can control how much speed you get out of your EV, and you’re certainly not limited in any way. If speed is important, then optimize the electric vehicle you choose for it. It’s as simple as that.
Myth #2: Electric Vehicles Have Limited Range
Nothing could be further from the truth but, unfortunately, this myth has been widely accepted. The reality is that electric vehicles can go as far as most people need. Remember, this book advocates an electric vehicle conversion only as your second vehicle. While lithium-ion batteries will expand your range dramatically and there are some people that are travelling cross country in EVs, it is not yet the best use for a massive road trip at this time. But what is its range? The federal government reports that the average daily commuter trip distance for all modes of vehicle travel (auto, truck, bus) is 10 miles, and this figure hasn’t changed appreciably in 20 years of data-gathering. An earlier study showed that 98 percent of all vehicle trips are under 50 miles per day; most people do all their driving locally, and only take a few long trips. Trips of 100 miles and longer account for only 17 percent of total miles. General Motors’ own surveys in the early ‘90s (taken from a sampling of drivers in Boston, Los Angeles, and Houston) indicated:
• Most people don’t drive very far.
• More than 40 percent of all trips were under 5 miles.
• Only 8 percent of all trips were more than 25 miles.
• Nearly 85 percent of the drivers drove less than 75 miles per day.
Virtually any of today’s 120-volt electric vehicle conversions will go 75 miles—using readily available off-the-shelf components—if you keep the weight under 3,000 pounds. This means an EV can meet more than 85 percent of the average needs. If you’re commuting to work—a place that presumably has an electrical outlet available—you can nearly double your range by recharging during your working hours. Plus, if range is really important, optimize your electric vehicle for it. It’s that simple.
Myth #3: Electric Vehicles Are Not Convenient
The myth that electric cars are not effective as a real form of transportation or that they are not convenient is a really silly myth/rumor. Car companies and others have complained that there is not enough recharging infrastructure across the country or that you cannot charge the car anywhere you would like as with fueling up a car. A popular question is, “Suppose you’re driving and you are not near your home to charge up or you run out of electricity; what do you do?” Well, my favorite answer is, “I would do the same thing I’d do if I ran out of gas—call AAA or a tow truck.” The reality is that electric vehicles are extremely convenient. Recharging is as convenient as your nearest electrical outlet, especially for conversion cars using 100- volt charging outlets. Here are some other reasons:
• You can get electricity anywhere you can get gas—there are no gas stations without electricity.
• You can get electricity from many other places—there are few homes and virtually no businesses in the United States without electricity. All these are potential sources for you to recharge your electric vehicle.
• Over time, as electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric cars become prevalent, fuel providers will increase their infrastructure for charging stations and we will all love the price of that versus a gallon of gas.
• As far as being stuck in the middle of nowhere goes, other than taking extended trips in western U.S. deserts (and even these are filling up rapidly), there are only a few places you can drive 75 miles without seeing an electric outlet in the contiguous United States. Europe and Japan have no such places.
• Plug-in-anywhere recharging capability is an overwhelming electric vehicle advantage. No question it’s an advantage when your electric vehicle is parked in your home’s garage, carport, or driveway. If you live in an apartment and can work out a charging arrangement, it’s an even better idea: a very simple device can be rigged to signal you if anyone ever tries to steal your car.
• How much more convenient could electric vehicles be? There are very few places you can drive in the civilized world where you can’t recharge in a pinch, and your only other concern is to add water once in a while. Electricity exists virtually everywhere; you just have to figure out how to tap into it. If your electric vehicle has an onboard charger, extension cord, and plug(s) available, it’s no more difficult than going to your neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of sugar. Except, of course, you probably want to leave a cash tip in this case. While there are no electrical outlets specifically designated for recharging electric vehicles conveniently located everywhere today, and though it’s unquestionably easier and faster to recharge your electric vehicle from a 110-volt or 220-volt kiosk, the widely available 120-volt electric supply does the job quite nicely. When more infrastructure exists in the future, it will be even more convenient to charge your batteries. In the future, you will be able to recharge quicker from multiple voltage and current options, have “quick charge” capability by dumping one battery stack into another, and maybe even have uniform battery packs that you swap and strap on at a local “battery station” in no more time than it takes you to get a fill-up at a gas station today. Just as it’s used in your home today, electricity is clean, quiet, safe, and stays at the outlet until you need it.
Myth #4: Electric Vehicles Are Expensive
While perhaps true of electric vehicles that are manufactured in low volume today—and partially true of professionally done conversion units—it’s not true of the do-it yourself electric vehicle conversions this book advocates. The reality, as we saw earlier in this chapter, is that electric vehicles cost the same to buy (you’re not going to spend any more for it than you would have budgeted anyway for your second internal combustion engine vehicle), the same to maintain, and far less per mile to operate. In the long term, future volume production and technology improvements will only make the cost benefits favor electric vehicles even more.
More from The Green Living Guy:
1. Build Your Own Electric Vehicle by Seth Leitman and Bob Brandt
2. Build Your Own Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle by Seth Leitman
3. Build Your Own Electric Motorcycle by Carl Vogel