But, first, a few words on nomenclature:
“Electric vehicle” refers to an all-electric, battery-powered car or truck. It uses no gasoline, diesel or bio fuels. You plug it into regular house current (120 volts) or into a special “quick-charge” station (240 volts) to charge the batteries. Regular house current allows you to recharge batteries in 15 to 22 hours. Depending on the model, a quick-charge station can do the job in three to eight hours.
Electric vehicles are part of a larger family of “electrified vehicles,” which include gas-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius; extended-range plug-in electric models such as the Chevrolet Volt; and a bevy of electrical-assistance vehicles such as the Buick Regal e-Assist.
The difference between electric vehicles and their electrified brethren is range. On a single charge, electric vehicles can run for 60 to 100 miles, at speeds up to 100 mph, before needing to be recharged. Electrified vehicles have internal-combustion engines that work in tandem with their electric components, or take over completely after battery discharge, to deliver “distance-to-empty” driving ranges of at least 300 miles.
Both electric and electrified vehicles make sense in their intended applications. Both reduce oil consumption and mobile-source air pollution.
The term “mobile-source” is important. There is no expenditure of energy without waste being created somehow, somewhere. Electric vehicles don’t burn fossil fuels. But the power-generating plants that charge electric-car batteries consume lots of the stuff — coal and oil — to do their work.
My argument here is that we are better off with electric and electrified vehicles than we are without them. I am convinced of this after several years of driving many of the all-electric and electrified models currently available worldwide.
It is a matter of intelligent choice — meaning that you should know in advance of purchase exactly what you are buying when buying electric and why you are buying it.
Consider, for example, this week’s subject automobile, the all-electric, rear-wheel-drive 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE.
I last year drove that car as a prototype and was mildly impressed. It didn’t help that the model given to me at that time had the steering wheel on the right-hand side, appropriate for motorists in Japan and Britain.
The 2012 production model driven for this column was more accommodating to the U.S. market — with the steering wheel on the left and a full array of power-sucking amenities (air conditioner, premium sound system, onboard navigation with high-definition backup camera, power windows and door locks). It had comfortable seating space for four adults.
The i-MiEV carried me everywhere I wanted to go in my Northern Virginia community with speed and agility. It was safe and comfortable. I even drove it round-trip (14.5 miles) from my Arlington home to the District of Columbia in a rainstorm with unruffled confidence.