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Sunday, July 12, 2020

A PRACTICAL ELECTRIC VEHICLE UPDATE FOR WACO


This column, with only minor changes, appeared on the Opinion page
of the Waco Tribune-Herald on July 15, 2020.

The transportation sector was the largest source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the United States in 2019, producing 37% of total carbon dioxide emissions. Since automobiles are the primary mode of transportation in the Waco area, driving an electric vehicle (EV) instead of an internal combustion engine (ICE) car is one of the most powerful steps Wacoans may take to combat the climate crisis. 
Are there other advantages of driving an EV instead of a gasoline vehicle?  Besides fighting global warming, driving an electric car yields multiple benefits:
  • EVs are often less expensive to drive because of lower fueling and maintenance costs.  A study in Corporate Knights found a Nissan Leaf EV was $2205 cheaper to drive over 10 years than the comparable Honda Civic, and the Hyundai Kona EV was $5000 cheaper than the comparable Toyota RAV 4. 
  • Minimal EV maintenance, including no oil changes, saves valuable time and is more convenient.
  • Absence of tailpipe pollution would prevent 53,000 premature deaths annually in the U.S., according to a study from MIT.  Cardiopulmonary health would improve, including that of children with asthma, and associated medical expenses would decrease.  
  • Absence of tailpipe pollution helps prevent non-compliance with EPA air quality standards in Waco, which often has borderline air quality in the warmer months.
  • Electric vehicles are extremely quiet, slashing local noise pollution.
  • EVs are enjoyable to drive, with instantaneous torque that produces outstanding acceleration.
  • A larger EV fleet (with charging stations) in Waco would improve the City’s image to prospective residents and businesses.    
  • Long life of electric cars is expected, as moving parts are very few.  One Tesla has now traveled 420,000 miles.                                                                                                                                                                           

Which EVs can Wacoans test drive and purchase?  Unfortunately, local car dealers lag in this option, with only the Chevy Bolt in stock for driving, as of this writing.  To help inform those interested in going electric, I have test driven all six reasonably priced EVs available for purchase in Texas and available for test drive in Austin.  In addition, I have owned the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 over the last 3.5 years.   I have excluded cars which are not available in Texas, not yet released for purchase, or are exorbitant in price.  Below are the basic specs for each EV, along with my overall impression of these cars.  If applicable, the federal tax credit of $7500 and the Texas (Tx) rebate of $2500 are applied to the stated MSRP.  Recognize that all of this data is subject to change.  If one is interested in an electric vehicle, I suggest purchasing as soon as possible:  the federal tax credits will eventually expire and the Texas rebate concludes Jan.7, 2021 at the latest.   Cars are listed in order of increasing base price. 

  • Mini Cooper SE.  compact hatchback, $20,750 (after federal/Tx incentive), 110 mi range, FWD (front wheel drive), seats 4, 0-60 mph in 6.9 sec., trunk 7.5 cu ft.  The electric Cooper would make an economical city car, with an exterior that exudes British charm.  The interior best accommodates 2 adults and small children, with fascinating but dated analog instrumentation. 
  • 2020 Nissan Leaf. hatchback, $22,525 (after fed/Tx incentive), 149 mi range, FWD, seats 5, 0-60 mph in 7.4 sec., trunk 15.4 cu ft.  The Leaf is an excellent value, with 10 years’ maturity, solid technology, and an updated pleasing body style.   
  • 2019 Kia e-Niro. crossover, $29,620 (after fed/Tx incentive), 239 mi range, FWD, seats 5, 0-60 mph in 7.5 sec., trunk 15.9 cu ft.  The e-Niro would make an excellent family car, with substantial range, generous space for passengers and cargo, and a reasonable price. 
  • 2020 Chevy Bolt EV. hatchback, $34,995 (after Tx incentive), 259 mi range, FWD, seats 5, 0-60 mph in 6.5 sec., trunk 16.9 cu ft.  The Bolt has excellent range, a roomy cabin, admirable electronics and safety features, with uninspired body style.   
  • 2019 BMW i3. hatchback, $35,445 (after fed/Tx incentive), 153 mi range, RWD (rear wheel drive), seats 4, 0-60 mph in 7.2 sec., trunk 9.2 cu ft.  The i3 boasts German engineering, and has a convenient heads up display, impressive graphics, and a controversial body style. 
  • 2020 Tesla Model 3. midsize sedan, $36,600 (no incentive), 220 mi range, RWD, seats 5, 0-60 mph in 5.6 sec., trunk 19.1 cu ft.  The Model 3 has an elegant sporty exterior, luxurious minimalist cabin, good range, superior safety features, and optional cutting-edge autopilot.  (Note:  these six cars are the entry level models.  Upper models have additional features and longer range.  Tesla, in particular, sells 9 more EVs, with range up to 391 miles).  


Since this is Texas, what about pickup trucks? Unfortunately, no electric pickups are available for purchase at this time.  Globally about 7 are in the concept stage, and in the U.S. 3 are nearing production. The estimated price and beginning production dates of these three are:  the Rivian R1T at $69K in 2020, the Tesla Cybertruck at $40K in 2021, and the Ford F-150 Electric with unknown price in 2021.  These trucks will have tremendous range, towing capacity, and storage space.
Is EV charging a problem?  Not really.  The vast majority of charging is done at home, where drivers replenish the battery charge overnight.  A level 1 (110V) charger adds about 4 miles for each hour of charging, while a level 2 (220V) charger adds about 20 miles per hour.  Apartment dwellers will sometimes have these outlets available in the facility.  Otherwise, charging may be done at one’s site of employment or at a public rapid charge station.  While traveling, drivers typically use a public Level 3 (DC fast charge) station, completing a full charge in about 30 to 60 minutes.  The U.S. charging network is constantly growing, with about 25,000 non-Tesla chargers (EvGO, Chargepoint, Blink, etc.) and about 17,000 Tesla Superchargers.  Waco has one large Electrify America station and one large Tesla Supercharger station.  Charging while traveling does require some planning, but frequently the EV navigation will map out a route which includes charging stops.  At this time, the only real limitation is the lack of Level 3 chargers in remote locations.   
So how do I choose the right EV?  First, it is vital to select a car with adequate range for one’s daily driving distance, with price typically increasing with range.  Second, selection of a vehicle with sufficient passenger and cargo space is critical.  Important:   when purchasing a new or used EV, be certain the vehicle can utilize level 3 chargers, as this feature is optional on some models.
What about pre-owned EVs?  Although this discussion has focused on new cars, EVs have very few moving parts to suffer wear and damage, and thus pre-owned vehicles are an excellent consideration.  The website myev.com includes only battery-electrics and plug-in hybrids and offers frequent bargains.  For example, a 2014 Nissan Leaf SV with only 11,970 miles sells for $12,590. 
In conclusion, why drive an electric vehicle?  I believe the real question is: “why NOT drive an EV?”  When I drive a clean, quiet, powerful, exhilarating electric car that saves lives now and preserves this planet for our children, I could never return to last century’s fossil fuel transportation.

Alan D. Northcutt, M.D.
Waco Tribune-Herald Board of Contributors
June 1, 2020


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