April 2012 marks my third full year writing this "Plugged In" column each month for the Drive automotive section of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Thank you for reading it.
The primary theme of this column has been to explore the electrification of the automotive industry by introducing some of the concepts, measuring units and terminologies that describe new technologies inside plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. For most of that time, writing this column has seemed like an academic exercise that continually showcased future electric vehicles from automotive manufacturers that were not yet available to consumers.
In January 2012, that all changed. Plug-in electric cars have finally arrived here in Southern Nevada and are awaiting test drives at local dealerships, with more brands and models becoming available by the end of the year. The Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma are on local dealership lots right now, while the Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi i, Tesla Model S and Toyota Prius PHV should become available by the end of the year.
No longer do you have to trust my words that described the feeling of being "shot from a slingshot" by the quiet and quick acceleration of electric motor torque or the benefits of regenerative braking. Get behind the steering wheel of a real electric car and try out each vehicle's performance for yourself. Judge how convenient it is to refuel each car anywhere by just plugging it into any available 120-volt AC outlet. For faster charging, try plugging into an SAE J1772 Level 2 charging station, many which are now operating around town at convenient locations like The Shoppes at Mandalay Place or Crystals at CityCenter, providing free electric fuel to early adopters.
The average rate for home residential electricity is now about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour through NV Energy. An electric car can travel about three miles per kilowatt-hour, so an average local commute of 36 miles each day will add about $1.44 to your electrical utility bill each trip, when not using free public charging sites. Compare that cost to the fuel consumption of your present car for the same distance now that gasoline costs about $4 per gallon.
To test drive a Chevy Volt, visit Fairway Chevrolet, Findlay Chevrolet, Henderson Chevrolet or Ed Bozarth Chevrolet. To test drive the Nissan Leaf, visit United Nissan, Desert Nissan, Henderson Nissan or Planet Nissan. To test drive a Fisker Karma, visit Gaudin Motor Co. and its new Gaudin Fisker dealership that just opened for business last year alongside the company's existing Porsche and Jaguar dealerships. Ask each sales representative about tax credits or leasing arrangements for electric cars that will help lower the overall price tags for these new vehicles. Also have them list the many amenities that are often included at no charge in the purchase price of an electric car compared to the cost of optional add-ons for traditional gasoline-powered cars. For example, the purchase price of a Chevrolet Volt also includes OnStar and Sirius XM satellite radio options for the first year at no additional cost.
In Nevada, state and local ordinances were instituted last year that allow free parking in downtown Las Vegas at metered sites for electric cars that have plug-in ports. Any plug-in electric car owner can apply at the Parking Citations and Hearings Office within the new city hall at 495 S. Main St. to obtain a one-year permit. There is an annual administrative fee of $10 and the vehicle must pass a visual inspection of its plug-in electric port to qualify.
Why are certain politicians, pundits and op-ed writers bashing the Chevrolet Volt during this election year? Isn't this the same Chevy Volt that won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award and high praise from every automotive magazine during initial tests in 2011? Isn't this the same Chevy Volt that still carries a five-star safety rating from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety?
The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf each represent important incremental steps toward developing more efficient and integrated transportation platforms, in the same way that the Toyota Prius brought hybrid technology to the mainstream during the last decade.
The electrification and robotic enhancement of the automobile is being enabled today by the increased use of electric motors, advanced battery cells, sensors and intelligent electronic control systems, even inside traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. Electric power steering, automated parallel parking assist and start-stop ignition systems are just some of the more recent innovations.
But don't take my word for it. Test drive a Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf or Fisker Karma this weekend at a local dealership near you.
Stan Hanel has worked in the electronics industry for more than 30 years and is a long-time member of the Electric Auto Association and the Las Vegas Electric Vehicle Association. Hanel writes and edits for EAA's "Current Events" and LVEVA's "Watts Happening" newsletters. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.