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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Smart Car, Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, and Nissan Leaf are becoming more common sights on the roads as the popularity of electric and hybrid cars grows, but does the cost difference with a typical gas-powered car outweigh the need for a more fuel efficient and eco-friendly vehicle?
Only a few years ago, general circulation of electric cars seemed to be a futuristic dream. Now, cars that depend on little to no gasoline are populating the highways.
Recently, Nissan released the self-proclaimed leader in green vehicles, the Nissan Leaf. It boasts a laminated-type lithium-ion battery that can hold over 90 kilowatts. In other words, it has the equivalent of a 120 horsepower motor and no tailpipe. Not bad for a car that can also do over 90 mph. The Nissan Leaf starts out as low as $27,700 after tax rebates on a MSRP of $35,200.
Reports indicate a replacement battery for the Leaf costs a staggering $31,753.
At face value, the Leaf is an affordable car for a family of five. However, glaring factors await underneath the ticket price. According to The Times, a UK-based news outlet, a replacement battery for the Leaf costs a staggering $31,753. This statistic was calculated when Andy Palmer, Nissan Great Britain senior vice-president, told The Times that to replace one module in the 48-module battery pack, would cost approximately $662.
Service on electric vehicles is fairly tedious. Derrick Morrison, a former auto mechanic for Chevrolet, said that more certification and specialized safety training goes into maintenance for electric vehicles.
“It gets more technical," he said. "You’re not just dealing with the basic gas-powered engine. You’re dealing with a lot of cables. It’s definitely more challenging.”
However, according to Morrison, the cost of services and repairs is, on average, the same as that of a gas-powered car.
The typical electric car isn’t for one who commutes frequently.
According to Nissan, the Leaf will go about 100 miles on a seven-hour charge in ideal driving conditions. In commuting situations, its range drops to about 68 miles. Smart USA recently released a new 100 percent electric version of the Smart Car, which goes about 63 miles on a full eight-hour charge. This statistic reflects ideal driving conditions as well, not those of a typical commute.
Power is a usual complaint of those who support the production of traditional gas-powered cars. According to Wired Magazine, the electric smart car produces about 20 kilowatts or around 27 horsepower. To compare, the John Deere X500 riding lawnmower has 26 horsepower. Compare this to a base Toyota Camry, rated by Edmunds.com as the most popular car in America, which sports a 169 horsepower engine, and it’s only a 4-door sedan.
The electric smart car produces about 20 kilowatts or around 27 horsepower. To compare, the John Deere X500 riding lawnmower has 26 horsepower.
Morrison said that the power of an electric car is his main complaint as well. He said that it just doesn’t match up to the roar of a gas-powered vehicle.
“I love engines a lot,” said Morrison, “I like the power and the noise you get out of an engine.”
Nissan reported that the ideal driving conditions for one to get an effective drive out of a Leaf is when one is, “Driving on a flat road at a constant 38 mph means less air resistance, and therefore less energy use.”
Utah rarely has conditions this ideal. In fact, the Leaf’s worst performance is when it’s extremely hot or cold. During this time, the estimated range is cut drastically and one could barely get 68 miles on a single charge.
One vehicle is standing out from the pack, the Chevrolet Volt. The 4-door sedan can go approximately 300 miles on a single charge. However, this car is not powered by just electricity. The Volt has a gas engine inside that aids in the power of the electric motor. What sets it apart from a hybrid is that the gasoline engine never drives the car. The New Vehicle Manager at the Provo Larry H. Miller dealership Howard Brant, said, “you truly have an electric vehicle, but with a range extender.”
As a result of the gas engine, more power is given to the electric motor than were it a stand alone electric motor. The greater power results in greater efficiency in extreme climates as well. According to Brant, it's a true all-season vehicle.
The Volt has an outstanding 94 miles per gallon average fuel economy rating. Wallets won’t be hit too hard for the gas budget, but they may be hit with a sticker price MSRP of $39,145.
“In the long run, you end up saving money,” said Morrison, “But it might be five to 10 years to accumulate the money you save.”
The vehicles aren't inexpensive to make. If you can drive 40-45 miles for $1.50, it makes it pretty economically feasible.
–- Howard Brant, New Vehicle Manager, Provo Larry H. Miller dealership
As with all decisions, the selection and purchase of an electric car is one to be made wisely. All circumstances are unique. A Nissan Leaf may suit one's circumstances better than a Toyota Camry.
In addition, if power and a little extra spending money upfront aren’t an object, the pros of an electric car balance the tables.
“The vehicles aren’t inexpensive to make,” said Brant, “If you can drive 40-45 miles for $1.50, it makes it pretty economically feasible.”
Kurt Hanson is a communications student at Brigham Young University from Colorado Springs, Colo.