Electric cars go farther, cost less than ever

Once thought of as a futuristic or out-of-reach luxury product, electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly becoming a more realistic option for mainstream consumers.

A variety of factors, such as driving ranges going up and sticker prices dropping, are now allowing drivers who may have previously ruled out plug-in hybrid or all-electric cars to more seriously consider them as an option that fits into their everyday lifestyle.

One of the biggest roadblocks for people to overcome when thinking about the transition from gasoline to electric is “range anxiety,” or the belief that one charge cannot get them to where they need to go for a full day. These drivers are used to stopping at one of many gas stations when they need to fill up last minute or as pit stops along the way on a road trip.

But according to a 2013 study conducted by Consumer Reports and the Union of Concerned Scientists, 69 percent of U.S. drivers drive less than 60 miles on weekdays, which is within the range of many EVs today and well within the ranges of newer models set to be released within the next year.

Battery technology advancements are a major factor in why EV ranges are getting longer while the vehicle costs are becoming more affordable. EV batteries have improved by 5 to 10 miles per year, according to Charge Point, an EV charging station infrastructure company. At the same time, battery costs are dwindling. Researchers estimate that once EV batteries cost $150 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), they’ll be cost-competitive with gas vehicles. In 2010, the global average was $1,000 per kWh, but by last year, it dropped to $350 per kWh.

General Motors, which will release its 2017 Chevy Bolt later this year, said its lithium-ion battery cells cost $145 per kWh and by late 2021, they could be at the $100 mark.  The 2017 Chevy Bolt boasts an all-electric, 200-plus mile range on one charge for a $30,000 price tag after the $7,500 federal tax credit. This is a major shift from GM’s first EV offering in the late ’90s, the EV1, which is noted for being the first serious modern attempt at an EV by a major manufacturer. It took approximately 15 hours to recharge the EV1 from a household outlet compared to the nine that it takes to charge up a new Bolt with an at-home charging unit.

Other EVs that will soon undergo production and offer high ranges for an affordable price include the 2018 Tesla Model 3, which garnered approximately 400,000 orders after its unveiling earlier this year. The price for this 200-mile range EV starts at $35,000 and the car is eligible for the federal tax credit as well. The second generation Nissan Leaf will also have a range of at least 200 miles, making it a contender against the Model 3 and Bolt. Its unveiling is anticipated to take place later this year.

Today, EVs make up about 1 percent of cars on the road but many analysts watching the market expect that long-range EVs are poised for dramatic growth due to continued breakthroughs in battery technologies and everyday drivers deciding to make the switch to electric.