The Care and Feeding of EVs

A white electric vehicle plugged into a charging station.

There’s been a lot of hoopla surrounding electric vehicles and their potential to lead drivers into a bright, shiny, no-emissions world of tomorrow.

So let’s state the harsh reality up front: electric vehicle sales to date haven’t met expectations. The U.S. Department of Energy has publicly backed off its previous forecast of one million EVs sold by 2015, and manufacturers admit sales are “disappointing” when compared to forecasts. Bubbling under the surface are consumers' fears over vehicle range and the lack of charging stations.

Adding to their concerns, The Detroit Free Press reported that used Chevrolet Volts and Nissan Leafs aren’t retaining the value of gasoline-powered vehicles.

It’s so pessimistic out there that General Motors President Mark Reuss recently had to tell the press at a major auto show that “the electric car is not dead.”

But let’s put away those shovels and take a look at the hard numbers, which indicate that there is some reason for optimism.

Growing Sales

Last year,, a green car web site, claimed nearly 488,000 hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars were sold in the United States, which they estimate is roughly 3.3 percent of the overall auto market.

While EV sales may be modest, that still represents a tripling compared to 2011’s tally, and that growth is expected to continue. A January report by Pike Research claims there will be as many as 1.8 million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2020. Worldwide, according to the New York Daily News, sales are expected hit 3.8 million by that year.

Adding to that momentum, the government plans to continue its policy of providing grants to battery makers and EV auto companies. There is reason to believe it will become a solid segment of auto sales, particularly if gas prices trend upward.

Those are the facts. But what can’t be quantified is the positive feeling owning an electric vehicle gives the owner.

EV for Me

Pamela Koslyn is a Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney who recently bought a used Tesla Roadster. The reaction from friends and family? “Universal admiration,” she says. “The feeling this car gives me, every time I get in it, is hard to describe.” She admits, quoting the TV show “South Park,” that the car “emits nothing but smug.”

So far, owning an EV hasn’t presented any real problems, “although I have shocked a few pedestrians who haven't (heard) me coming,” Koslyn says. “At higher speeds, my Tesla makes a whining sound, which sounds not unlike a cop's siren.”

Watch the Battery

Yes, there are some differences. “I was told not to let the battery deplete completely, or the car would go through the dreaded 'brick' phenomenon,” Koslyn says. She added that Tesla actually monitors each car's battery -- there are, after all, only 1400 of these Roadsters in the world--- via the car's computer, so they diagnose some things remotely. They can then notify the owner if their car's battery is running out because, say, they're on an extended vacation.

Simple Annual Service

The biggest advantage for the car is that it requires very little maintenance. An annual service visit is required (cost: $600), a check-up that will make sure all is well. Aside from that, tires are the only real wear and tear, with a pair going for $855 and lasting an estimated 5000-6000 miles, although many last far longer.

Long Lasting Brakes

Even brakes – a part that usually requires frequent replacement in most cars – are no big issue. Electric vehicles use “regenerative braking,” which means that the car stops accelerating and slows when you take your foot off the accelerator. Yes, there’s a traditional brake for sudden and emergency stops, but once you get the hang of managing your accelerator, they will rarely be used. “My brake pads on my car aren’t even worn in,” Koslyn says.

No Lube Job

There are also no oil changes or lubrication required. The only fluid to replace is for the windshield wipers. “I was told that you can’t hurt this car because it won’t let you,” Koslyn says. “It was meant to be idiot-proof and self-maintaining.”

Charging Stations

To date, most of Koslyn’s vehicle charging has been done at home, although there are two charging stations near her office. “There are 6000 small lithium cell phone batteries in my trunk, so I charge once a week and get 180 miles per charge,” she claims. “That's 180 actual miles. The ideal driving range is more like 230 miles, and that's if I never accelerated like I do, and always kept the car on 'ideal' mode. Which sort of defeats the purpose of having this car.” She reports that there has only been a slight increase in her home electricity bill.

The EV Future

Koslyn remains bullish on the electric vehicle future, and hopes that an increased demand for EVs will bring down the price of a replacement battery for the Tesla, estimated at anywhere from $12,000-$35,000 when it wears out in five to seven years.

So, we asked, do you miss gas stations?

“Well,” she said after a moment of pondering. “I did buy some nice bedsheets at one not long ago.”

The General Motors president is hoping they won’t be used to cover the deceased.