Noel Adams - Charging Ahead

Ten Plug-In Cars You Can Drive Today

May 17, 2012

Hate going to the gas station every week, or fed up with watching gas pump sucks dollars out of your pocket? There's a solution... ten of them, actually.

Most of the world’s carmakers are working on electric cars and you see new concepts that pop up at almost every auto show.  While it is nice to see these concepts they are just that, concepts, and often never make it into production. 

So what if you hate going to the gas station every week, or are fed up with watching as the gas pump sucks dollars out of your pocket.  You think it would be nice wake up in the morning and have a “full tank” that will get you to work and back.  There are ten plug-in vehicles listed below that are likely to meet most of your driving needs.   Sometimes you have to live in the right state but they are all being delivered today.

The prices quoted below are the base price and do not include any Federal or State incentives.  In general lease prices have any incentives already factored in.

1 Nissan Leaf
When the Nissan leaf was first released it was only available in a limited number of markets including California and New York, but now it is available at Nissan dealerships nationwide.

The Nissan Leaf is a 5-door compact car that seats 5 in relative comfort.    Its 24 KWh laminated lithium Ion battery pack can be charged at either 110V or 220V and there is an optional fast charge port that allows the use of a CHAdeMO compliant fast charger to charge the battery to 80% capacity in 30 minutes.

The EPA rates the car at 73 miles of range on a charge and 34 KWh per 100 miles giving the car a combined mileage equivalent of 99mpge.

While supplies of the Leaf are still limited they are beginning to show up on dealer lots.  Base price on the Nissan Leaf is $36,050.

2 Chevy Volt
The Chevy Volt was also initially released in a limited number of markets but has since been made available nationwide. 

The Volt is a five door compact car that seats 4.  It has a 16 KWh Lithium-ion battery pack but unlike the Leaf the Volt also has a 1.4 Liter 4 cylinder engine that can drive a generator to power the car when the battery pack is depleted.  GM calls this an extended range electric vehicle, but I prefer to call it a plug-in hybrid.  The battery pack can be recharged from either 110V or 220V.  The internal combustion engine requires 92 Octane gas.

The EPA rates the Volt at 35 miles of range on a charge and 36KWh per 100 Miles, after which the gasoline engine can drive the car a further 344 miles before it needs to stop at a gas station.  In all- electric mode the car is rated at 93mpge and when running on the gas engine it is rated at 37mpg.

While the low emission version of the Volt which qualifies for California carpool stickers is in short supply, there are plenty of cars without the low emission option on dealer lots.  The car has a base price of $39,995.

3 Mitsubishi I
Mitsubishi launched the i-MiEV in Japan and Europe several years ago but only brought a few cars into the US market in a trial with companies like Southern California Edison and Best Buy.  Last year they launched a version of the car called the I which was specifically designed for the US market.  Sales of the I were better than expected so the car was recently made available nationwide.

The I is a 5 door subcompact that seats 4.  It has a 16 KWh battery pack that can be charged from either 110V or 220V and there is an optional fast charge port that allows the use of a CHAdeMO compliant fast charger to charge the battery to 80% capacity in 30 minutes.

The EPA rates the car at 62 miles of range on a charge and 30 KWh per 100 miles giving the car a combined mileage equivalent of 112mpge.

The I can be ordered through any Mitsubishi dealer in the US, including Hawaii, but most dealers won’t have cars in inventory so you will have to wait a while to get a car.  The base price for the I is $29, 125.

4 Plug-in Prius
The plug-in version of the Toyota’s popular hybrid became available in the US in March this year.  Toyota had about 2500 orders from their early order system and these have now been filled so cars are just starting to show up on dealer lots.
 
The Plug-in Prius is a 5 door mid-sized sedan that seats 5 people.  It has a 5.2 KWh Lithium-ion battery pack with just 3.8 KWh of usable capacity.  The car can run in electric only up to 62mph after which it switches to hybrid mode, and the gas engine will also kick in during heavy acceleration.  The battery pack can be charged from 110V in about 3 hours and from 220V in about 90 minutes. 

The EPA rated this car at 6 miles on a single charge and 29 KWh per 100 miles, 11 miles of mixed electric and gasoline, and 50 mpg when running on the gas engine for a blended rating of 95mpge.   It should be noted that the EPA test cycle calls for heavy acceleration after 6 miles which causes the Prius internal combustion engine to start giving the car the low electric only range on the EPA sticker.  Most Plug-n Prius drivers are experiencing 11-15 miles of all electric range in real world situations.

The plug-in Prius can be ordered from dealers in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.  The base price for this Plug-in Prius is $32,000.

5 Ford Focus EV
The Ford Focus EV went on sale in December of 2011, but only a small number have been delivered to customers.  The cars need to be special ordered so they are not currently available on dealer lots.

The Focus EV is a five door compact car that seats 5 and looks identical to its internal combustion engine sibling.   Its 23 KWh laminated lithium Ion battery pack can be charged at either 110V or 220V.  The car features a 6.6KW charger which allows the car to charge at about twice the rate of a Nissan Leaf when connected to an appropriate 220V charging station.  It is capable of a top speed of 84mph.

The EPA rates the car at 76 miles of range on a charge giving the car a combined mileage 105mpge.  The EPA sticker doesn’t appear to have been released to date so the, KWh per 100 miles value is not available at the moment.

The cars are only available in California, New York, and New Jersey and must be ordered through a certified Ford dealership .  Ford has said it plans to roll out the car nationwide starting at the end of 2012.  Base price on the Ford Focus EV is $39,995

6 Coda Sedan
The Coda Sedan is a compact 4-door car based of a Mitsubishi Lancer Platform from the 1990s.  The body and chassis are built by Chinese automaker Hafei then they are shipped to California where the electric power train is installed. 

The car comes with a 134 HP electric motor driven by LiFePO4 battery pack that can deliver a tops speed of 85mph and a 0-60 of around 10 seconds.  The sedan seats 5 people and is designed to both look and drive like an average compact sedan.

The EPA rates the car at 88 miles of range on a charge and 46 KWh per 100 miles giving the car a combined fuel consumption of 73mpge.

The Coda Sedan is currently available online in California and can be ordered through a Coda dealership or via one of the Coda Experience Centers in Century City or San Jose.  Base price is $39,900

7 Fisker Karma

The Fisker Karma was designed by Henrik Fisker who formally designed cars for Aston Martin and BMW including the Aston Martin Vantage and the BMW Z8.  The Karma is aimed at the luxury car segment and competes with vehicles like the Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quattroporte.

The 4-door, 4 seat Fisker Karma offers a top speed of 125mph and will go from 0-60 in 6.3 seconds.   It is powered by a 20KWh Lithium-ion battery pack that drives twin electric motors connected to the rear axle.  Once the batteries are discharged the GM built 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine takes over driving a generator that supplies enough power to drive the electric motors.

The EPA rates the car at 32 miles of range on a charge in all electric mode, 65 KWh per 100 miles, and 20mpg when running on gas, giving the car a combined fuel economy of 52mpge.  The range before needing to fill up the tank is 230 Miles.

Fisker is reported to have had 3,000 orders for the Karma when it delivered the first vehicle in July last year but they have since managed to meet most of their outstanding orders and cars are now showing up in dealerships across the country.  Base price for the Fisker Karma is $106,000

8 Smart ED
The electric version looks identical to the standard Smart-for-two but under the hood a 41hp electric motor can accelerate the car from 0-35mph in 6.5 seconds.  With top speed limited to 60mph the Smart ED is better suited for running around town but will function OK for short spells on the freeway.

The Smart ED’s 16.5KW lithium-ion battery pack is located under the floor which means there is no loss of internal space.   At the same time the heavy battery pack creates a low center of gravity that gives the car excellent handling.

The EPA estimate for range from a fully charged battery pack is 63 miles and 39 KWh per 100 miles for combined fuel consumption of 87mpge.

The car also comes with power steering and air conditioner.

The Smart ED is available for lease at Smart Centers across the nation at a cost of $599 a month.  This cost may be reduced by additional incentives that may be available in your state. 

9 Wheego LiFe
If you want a small two seat car about the same size as the Smart ED but want to own not lease you can buy a LiFe (derived from the chemical symbols for Li and Iron from the Li Iron Phosphate batteries it uses). The LiFe starts out as a glider based on the Chinese built Noble which is then shipped to California where Wheego adds the electric drive components at its factory in Ontario. 

The 20hp AC motor gives the Wheego LiFe a top speed of 65mph and is powered from a 115V LiFeP04 battery pack that can be charged at either 110V or 220V.

EPA rated at 100 miles per charge.    The car also comes standard with power steering and power assisted brakes. 

Wheego doesn’t build the LiFe in the same way that most car companies do, they only build them when they have cash available either from the sale of a car or from an acquisition of capital from investors so while the car is available nationwide you have reserve a car and wait for it to be built.

The Wheego LiFe has a base price of $32,995 plus License, delivery and handling.  Air conditioning is available for an extra charge of $1995.

10. Ford Transit Connect EV
The Ford transit Connect EV is based on the Ford Transit Connect platform.  The basic Glider is built in a Ford plant in Turkey after which it is shipped to Azure Dynamics in the USA where the electric power train is added.

The Transit Connect EV is a 2-seat van that offers a cargo capacity of 134.3 cubic feet.   The AC induction motor is driven by a 28KWh Lithium Ion battery pack that can be charged at 110V or 220V.  The Van will top out at a top speed of 75mph.

The EPA rates the Ford Transit Connect EV at 56 miles on a single charge and 54 miles per 100 KWh for a combined fuel consumption of 62mpge.

In March of this year Azure Dynamics filed for bankruptcy and suspended production of the Transit Connect EV after laying-off most of their workers.  In April they resumed warranty work but there is still no indication when, or if, they might resume production.  However, there are still Transit Connect EV vehicles available at select dealerships around the US.  Base price for the Ford Transit EV is $57,400

If none of these cars meet your needs then just wait, there are other cars about to be released.


In June Tesla should start delivery of the much anticipated Tesla S.  By the end of summer the RAV4 EV should be hitting dealerships in California, followed by the Honda Fit EV.  Honda are also saying they will have a Plug-in hybrid version of the Accord in showrooms before the end of the year and Ford’s third plug-in vehicle, the C-Max Energi, is also due out by the end of 2012.

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