“Someday” has a funny way of becoming “now” a lot faster than you expect.
Like a number of car shoppers who are on the fence about electric vehicles, I’ve been thinking: “Someday, I’ll take the EV plunge.”
I figured I would get one more traditional ICE car — maybe something as silly and/or fun as my current BMW 230i convertible — after the lease runs out next month. That would give me some time to pick and choose from the flood of EVs coming in the future product pipeline over the next few years. Surely EV prices will come down, ranges will go up, Washington will finally get its act together on longer-term federal EV subsidies and the charging network will be more robust.
The last three weeks have changed my mind. I’m in the market for an EV. Now.
As evidenced by the ongoing rise in EV registrations, I bet there are a lot of consumers like me.
The week of Memorial Day, I and dozens of other members of the media visited Toyota Motor North America’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, to see what the automaker is working on and to chat with execs. Thursday that week, we had the opportunity to drive any model in the current Toyota and Lexus lineups. Name a model, it’s yours to check out.
This was my first chance to drive a Toyota bZ4X. I have driven very few vehicles propelled by battery juice. (My first experience was with a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid from the press fleet some years ago. I was impressed with the electric drive, as well as the imperceptible switch to gasoline power after I drained the battery as I drove home down I-94 in suburban Detroit.)
As I cruised around Plano traffic in Toyota’s first all-electric model since the long-departed RAV4 EV, I was struck by how, well, normal it felt. The interior touchpoints felt normal, the huge infotainment screen felt normal, the propulsion felt normal — until I stomped the accelerator to take advantage of that instantaneous EV torque. It didn’t drive like a “golf cart,” a common refrain by know-nothing cynics on social media who have never spent a second driving an EV.
In the half hour I spent in the bZ4X, I didn’t drain the battery to the point of making me sweat — the front-wheel-drive version is rated at 252 miles, while all-wheel drive is good for 228 miles. Not bad, I thought as I handed the key fob back.
Early Friday morning, I flew back to Detroit and headed to the office. As I was leaving the airport, I saw gasoline prices had risen to more than $5 a gallon and I dreaded my next fill-up. I had been dodging the worst of the surge at Costco, but even the warehouse giant’s deeply discounted fuel prices are becoming hard to swallow.
That afternoon, I unexpectedly ended up with the key to a Volvo C40 Recharge electric crossover from the press fleet, which was charged up to the recommended 90 percent of its 226-mile range. I drove it to dinner downtown, then 35 miles home, with about a 65 percent charge to spare. Same experience as in the bZ4X: familiar form factor and a pleasant drive on the roads and highways.
Not so pleasant: the charging experience. Since I don’t have a charger at home and I had the Volvo in my possession for a few days, I figured I would top off at a nearby charger. I struck out at the biggest shopping mall near me — only two plugs, and it was Saturday. I should have known better. I used the Google Maps embedded in the Volvo’s infotainment system to quickly discover there are only three fast charging stations in all of Macomb County, where I live. However, there are plenty of slower charging stations, so I plugged into a ChargePoint station in front of my neighborhood Kohls, did some shopping and browsed the next-door furniture store.
I paid $1.65 for 1 hour, 19 minutes of charging and got 26 miles of range. Not jaw-dropping, but it beats handing over a Lincoln for roughly the same amount of combustion-powered distance. I ended up with enough range overall to get me through the weekend and the following Monday, plus the drive back to the office on Tuesday, where I plugged it back in.
This was eye-opening. I had thought that I would never settle for an EV with a range of less than 300 miles. While I would like that much range, do I really need it if I can charge overnight in my garage at home and I can top off at a public charger — maybe even a fast one — if necessary? For my needs, 220 to 250 miles is not a deal-breaker, even in sprawling suburban Detroit.
To be sure, my needs are not everyone’s needs, and not everyone has a garage for home charging. I don’t need a full-size vehicle to haul around a large family and their stuff. I don’t need a rugged work truck (though the Detroit 3 and Rivian are more than happy to sell you an electric one). I’m not in the habit of taking long road trips; I don’t have a triple-digit daily commute.
I also can’t ignore the fact that many EVs are still pretty darned expensive, though current state and federal tax credits can help defray some of that cost if you buy. (Those who want to lease, I discovered, are out of luck in getting most of the automakers and their captives to cut the capitalized cost.) Some newer EVs from brands such as Hyundai, Kia, Nissan and Volkswagen are closer to mainstream buyers’ reach with tax credits. And the sudden price chop on the Chevrolet Bolt to less than $30,000 and the Bolt EUV to the mid-$30K range have made an EV quite attainable for many.
While the charger installation and wiring at my home are further cost considerations, my electric utility, DTE Energy, is offering a $500 rebate if I show proof of purchase/lease and enroll in a program that offers reduced electric rates during off-peak hours, meaning it would be less expensive to recharge overnight while reducing the stress on the grid.
I don’t pretend to know what every quirk of the EV ownership experience will be. For example, many EV drivers are exasperated with unreliable public fast chargers. There were the unfortunate fires linked to batteries in Chevrolet and Hyundai vehicles. And last week, Ford recalled nearly 50,000 Mustang Mach-Es in the U.S. related to a safety defect that could cause the vehicles to lose power.
I also don’t claim to be an environmental crusader. I will not pretend to know whether whichever EV that I eventually pick will have a net positive effect on the environment when factoring for sourcing of materials, manufacturing and pollution created by electric generation — though I certainly hope it does.
While I know I’ll have to make some compromises and endure the unexpected with an EV, I’m ready to flip the switch. I am willing to bet that I’ll be able to find a model that will suit me in the next couple of months, then in a few years replace it with an even better one in a world that can better accommodate EVs.
“Someday” is now.