As a Washington, DC, native, I thought I understood bad traffic, but I didn’t truly know how bad it could be until I moved to Connecticut. I drive a Ford C-Max Energi to work, and this 16-mile drive can easily take an hour door-to-door, and that’s all highway miles.
It shouldn’t be surprising that my plug-in hybrid car, with a 20-mile-range electric battery, can take me to work without needing to use the gasoline engine. (The exception is in the dead of winter or height of summer, when the gas engine needs to kick on to power the heater or AC.) However, I think that many Americans equate the time it takes to get to work with distance, and think their commute is too long for an electric vehicle. When I’m stuck in traffic, it feels like I’m traveling far, but the 16 miles to and from work doesn’t change, and the battery gets me there without a fuss.
I bring this up because Sustainable America recently held an electric vehicle “Ride and Drive” event at our offices. Events like this are great opportunities to dispel myths and misconceptions people have about electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
We got some great coverage of the event from local media, but reports like this often focus on “range anxiety,” the concern that an electric car will run out of juice before you get where you’re going, or the time it takes to charge.
This is a red herring. First of all, there are several types of cars available that are battery hybrid electric vehicles, like my C-Max. I can drive to work and plug in at my building, topping off in a little over 2 hours. At home, I plug the car in in my garage, and by morning it’s raring to go. On the rare occasion when I need to go back to DC, I can get there and back to Connecticut on a single, 12-gallon tank of gasoline (yes, I’ve done it). How many other cars can say the same?
If I drove a 100 percent electric vehicle, like a Ford Focus EV (MSRP: $29,170) or Nissan Leaf (MSRP: $29,010), their driving range would cover my drive to and from work, plus a few errands during the day, and to pick up my son from soccer practice on my way home, with plenty of charge to spare.
Even legitimate EV roadblocks can be cleared with a little creativity. A senior engineer at Ford Motor recently told me about a prospective customer who said he needed lots of power and distance to tow his boat. When asked how big the boat was, the customer said that he didn’t own a boat, but hoped to buy one some day. And of course, the truth is that even if he does buy that boat some day, he won’t be towing it on a daily basis. Does it really make sense to buy a gas-guzzling, 8-cylinder truck to tow a boat when most of your driving is around town? When I needed to move something not too long ago, I rented a truck for the day from my local U-Haul. I could have just as easily borrowed one from a friend in exchange for pizza and beer, probably.
Most of us don’t need to go as far as we think, and we don’t need as much power as we think. And when we do, we can rent or borrow the tool we need to fit that application.
If you’re deciding whether an EV makes sense for you, take an honest accounting of how far you travel and what it costs you to travel. Just like that Ford customer that aspired to own a boat someday, we can all dream of big yachts and mansions by the sea, but often the reality is that we’re stuck in traffic going a few miles from home. Let’s do it in an electric vehicle.