Valley Voices

Want to buy an electric vehicle? Here’s pros, cons from an owner who knows

A Tesla supercharging station in Mountain View, Calif.
A Tesla supercharging station in Mountain View, Calif. NYT file

Is it time to buy an electric car? Well, five months ago a I bought a Hyundai Electric Kona. I’m pleased with it. But is an EV for you?

Having owed a Prius spoiled me on mileage and my SUVs spoiled me with comfort. The Kona was the perfect blend. So when the car became available I made the switch to electric.

People ask what’s it like to own an electric car. Not exactly what I expected — the adjustment has taken time. EVs are fun to drive, quiet and quick. The technology is really something: four power settings and four braking modes. You’re like Captain Kirk with, “Scottie, give me all you have.” The EV will deliver.

Jonathon Jones Courtesy photo

The surprises came with range and charging. All EV sellers talk about range. Owning has taught me that 258 miles of range is, at best, 200. Yeah, it charges up to 275 or more miles, but then there’s air conditioning, which consumes 5% of the battery. But the bogeyman is “range anxiety,” and that eats another 15% as a precaution. You do not want to run out of power and have to make that call.

My recommendation, if you’re thinking about an EV, is to look seriously at the range of any car you’re considering, then do the math based on my 80% rule.

The next surprise was charging. You know the, “Hey man, plug it in and you’re ready to go.” That’s not true. Charging can be painfully slow.

With a gas vehicle, you can fill it up at nearly any corner. I thought there was an electric grid. Well, sorta. Think oasis. While things are improving, and more companies are jumping in, at times it can be like praying for water, without the shade from the palm trees.

For the 300 mile round trip between Fresno and San Luis Obispo, there’s one high-speed charging station. Which means you can get an 80% charge in about an hour, or 200 miles of range. Needless to say, I drive our gas powered RAV to the coast.

The Fresno to Bakersfield trip is easy. There are high-speed chargers in Delano and Bakersfield. Thank you, Walmart.

On the tech side, chargers come in three sizes and charge the car with: 5 miles of charge per of hour; 30 miles per hour and 200 miles of per hour. EV cars are great for commuting 30–50 miles per day, and will charge overnight on the 5 mile per hour charger. But this is slow and becomes tedious. A 30 miles per hour charger is needed so you can fill up once a week. Like a real car.

The next surprise was the cost of charging. Public chargers are like dining out — expensive. The cost per kilowatt is only slightly lower than the cost of gas. If economy was your motivation, your charging needs to be done at home with the fast charger. You also need a 220 outlet. There are a number of good reasons to charge this way.

Would I buy the car again? A firm yes. Do I think EVs are for the general public? Not yet. The absence of charging stations and the time required to charge is a big obstacle. Some major manufacturers have held back on EVs, I suspect, for these very problems.

Then why drive a EV? For me, there are a couple of reasons.

As a car lover, EVs are the next generation in transportation. They’re smart phones on wheels. All the new cars are full of gadgetry. They ooze information; add in the EV data and it’s heaven. If you rush out to buy the next iPhone, you might as well order an EV now.

Next is ecological. EVs are significantly cleaner than gasoline vehicles. My car lists the amount of carbon dioxide not emitted when I drive. My 24-mile commute saves 12 pounds of CO2 from spewing in the Valley air. A 10-mile drive produces about 5 pounds of CO2. Imagine if CO2 was popcorn and every car in the Valley dumped 5 pounds of onto the roadways. Apply that to all the cars in California, and we’d be buried in popcorn. If clean air is important, and you think Mother Nature is really angry or climate change is a reality, then CO2 reduction is a big deal. For me, EVs are part of the solution.

It’s early in the EV era, and many improvements are needed. It will take work and inconvenience to move the technology to a place where the cars are acceptable. In the meantime, hybrids are the best gas vehicle choice. They’re efficient, less polluting and the best blend of electric and gas. Still, credit belongs to the early work of Tesla and Nissan for moving us in the right direction.

For all the EV drivers, may your range be enough and your kilowatt’s cheap.

Jonathon Jones is an attorney and Clovis resident.