Electric vehicles are awesome for local driving. Driving within the single-charge range of an electric vehicle is more fun, more convenient, and cheaper than driving a gas car. Many people are drawn to the idea that they can abandon gas stations, fuel at home, drive 130 miles for the cost of a gallon of gas and all in a car that has a quiet ride and instant, smooth acceleration that can’t be matched by a gas car.
However, electric cars are not great for driving long distances beyond their single-charge range. Make no mistake, electric road trips can be done. Plenty of EV owners love driving electric so much they are willing to trade off some convenience for the rewards of driving without combustion, but that’s a choice. People who haven’t previously owned an EV aren’t going to sign up for that when they buy their first.
The Plug In Hybrid
The solution to this that first comes to mind for many people is a plug-in hybrid vehicle. The Chevy Volt is an electric vehicle that has a gas engine that can be used to extend the range of the car, both by augmenting the electric motor and charging the battery. Especially for single car households, the Volt can be an excellent solution: drive electric for your daily commute and burn gas for longer trips. The trade off is that the Volt is more expensive than an all-electric Nissan Leaf, has less than half the electric range, and still needs regular maintenance like oil changes.
No Car Does Everything Well
The issue of a diversity of demands from a single vehicle is not a problem that’s unique to electric cars. No car is great for every purpose. You can’t carry more than two people or tow a boat with a Miata. A 15 mpg pickup truck is pretty silly as a single-occupant urban commuter vehicle.
Households that own more than one vehicle have the opportunity to own different types of vehicles which excel at different tasks. A household might own a small, economical sedan for daily driving and a more rugged vehicle for excursions into the wilderness.
The Hybrid Garage
Some 60% of Americans have a garage and multiple cars and 78% drive less than 40 miles per day. The tens of millions of American, and many more worldwide, who are in both groups are perfect candidates for what I call the “hybrid garage.”
The hybrid garage is replacing one of your gas cars with an all-electric car, keeping a gas car that’s good for the things the EV doesn’t do well. There are several potential advantages to the hybrid garage over owning a plug-in hybrid car: you get more electric range for the car’s purchase price, you don’t have to do oil changes on the electric car, and you don’t have to worry about gas going bad because it just sits in the tank for months.
Even a single-car household can adopt the hybrid garage approach. Depending on how often a longer-range vehicle is needed, renting a car occasionally may be a lot cheaper than owning a second car. Swapping cars with a friend or relative can’take care of the occasional road trip, and allow someone else to see first hand how convenient driving electric is.
Who Gets to Drive the EV?
There is a downside to the hybrid garage: once you have an electric car in the garage and people find out how nice it is to drive electric, everyone will want to drive that car. Fortunately there’s an easy solution that Cathy and I developed after we bought our first electric car: whoever is driving farther gets the electric car. This also turns out to be the cure for range anxiety. When you realize how much of your driving can be done with a car that has a “limited range” you’ll stop worrying about running out of juice and wonder how it is that we got so used to tolerating the inconvenience of driving on gasoline.