Judge's Take - Honeymoon Over With Electric Vehicles

Short ranges, plug hassles and energy thieves dampen our enthusiasm for vehicle electrification.

January 4, 2013

2 Min Read
Plugging in twice a day more trouble than pumping gas weekly Judge Winter says
Plugging in twice a day more trouble than pumping gas weekly, Judge Winter says.

When I started writing about electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in 1984, I never dreamed I would live long enough to test drive production versions one day.

My test drives of the first-generation Honda Insight and Toyota Prius HEVs, and then the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf EVs a decade later, are among my most memorable in more than 30 years of automotive journalism.

The actual driving was not remarkable, but piloting a new type of vehicle powered by electricity is thrilling. Especially with the Volt and the Leaf, the whine of the electric motors and the sound of the wind rushing over the vehicle’s body is intoxicating. At least it used to be.  

I still am looking forward to quality time with the Tesla Model S, Cadillac ELR and Fisker Karma.

But after test driving 11 of the newest mainstream hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles, the honeymoon is over. Their shortcomings are impossible to ignore. The electric-only ranges are too short and the charging routine is annoying.

I tried to tell myself we should not judge vehicles by the size of their battery or “fuel tank.”

But if we evaluated a gasoline car with a tank that held only two gallons, took 3 to 20 hours to refill, and had an unreliable fuel gauge, it would be savaged.

So I could not avert my eyes and think happy thoughts when the Honda Fit EV offered 43 miles (69 km) of range on a full charge one cold November day, half its touted 82-mile (132-km) range. My commute is only 23 miles (37 km) each way, but the Fit’s puny range had me afraid to turn on the heat.  

The Focus Electric mustered about 60 miles (96.5 km) range in similar conditions, less than its advertised 75-miles (121 km). The three plug-in EVs we tested were just as bad, showing 15 miles (24 km) of EV range when we expected 20 miles (30 km), and so on.  

Much has been said about EVs and plug-ins allowing drivers to avoid the gas pump, but plugging in twice a day can be a bigger hassle than buying gas once a week, especially when you have to deal with interlopers stealing electricity from the reserved WardsAuto charging space. Now we have to devise a locking mechanism.

If auto makers can’t even keep fans like me engaged, winning over new converts is going to be a very tough road indeed.

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