Time to buy an Electric Vehicle?

If you are considering buying an electric vehicle you are probably confused by all the acronyms and facts. So was I but, fear not, for I have done the research for you.

My main reason for buying an electric vehicle is that I’m feeling guilty about the carbon dioxide I’m leaving behind every time I drive somewhere. I find myself calculating my carbon footprint every time I drive 30 km to town and back (2.3 kg of carbon dioxide per litre, 30 km, 3 litres =  6.9 kg of carbon dioxide).

For Electric Vehicles there are a few entirely new concepts and bunches of new acronyms. But I boiled down my decision to these factors: range, efficiency, battery capacity, recharge time, price, and operating cost. I felt I had to learn about these and simplify them enough that I could understand them. So here’s the oversimplified discussion that considers only fully electric cars (BEV), not plug-in hybrids (PHEV).

Battery Capacity is analogous to the size of your gas tank. Battery capacity is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). For cars on my list it varies from 16 to 60.

Efficiency is measured in kWh per 100 km. For cars on my list it varies from about 15 to 20. Think of it as analogous to litres per 100 km. Smaller is better.

Range is determined by Capacity / Efficiency. For example an Electric Vehicle with a 40 kWh battery and an efficiency of 20 kWh per 100 km would have a range of 200 km.

Charging Time only really matters when you’re charging on a road trip away from home where you will probably use a Level 3 public charger with up to 50 kW direct current. In a half an hour it can add about 25 kWh to your battery, enough to drive about 125 km.  At home charging speed doesn’t matter so much – most of my drives are a round trip of 30 km into town maybe even twice a day. I can recharge at home with a Level 2 charger in an hour or two. I can even set it up to use discount overnight electricity.

Uncertainties. Things are changing fast. Battery capacity (and therefore range) is increasing every year. For example, the Nissan Leaf battery has gone from 24 kWh to 30 kWh to 40 kWh in just a few years, and the 2019 model will have a 60 kWh battery. More charging stations will open reducing range anxiety. The $14,000 Ontario rebate may not survive the next Provincial election.

Table of Cars. Here’s a list of some of the cars available in Ontario in April 2018. The price is the MSRP before the Ontario rebate.

Electric carYearCDN $BatteryEfficiencyRange
BMW i3 (94 Ah battery)2017$48,15033 kWh18.0183 km
Chevrolet Bolt EV2017$42,89560 kWh17.4383 km
Ford Focus Electric2017$31,49833.5 kWh19.3185 km
Hyundai IONIQ Electric2017$35,64928 kWh15.4200 km
Kia Soul EV2017$35,39527 kWh19.9150 km
Mitsubishi iMiev2017$27,99816 kWh17.095 km
Nissan Leaf (40 kWh battery)2018$35,99840 kWh18.6241 km
Tesla Model 32018$45,00050 kWh15.6355 km
Volkswagen e-Golf2017$36,35536 kWh17.4201 km

Availability. The table above is a bit misleading and things change so quickly it’s probably already out of date. Some of the cars are officially available but hardly in stock and hard to find. The Mitsubishi is no longer sold as of January 2018. The Tesla is not yet really available, and there is a waiting list for the eGolf and the Bolt.

Complexities. As I said I’ve oversimplified the discussion. Here are some complexities and some cool things I have learned that did not influence my decision much.

Efficiency is not as simple as I showed it. First there are several units available, but I’ve chosen the one I like because it is analogous to litres per 100 km. I found it particularly confusing with reports from the US where they use miles and gallons and sometimes quote efficiency in other units. Also, there is more than one agency measuring efficiency. The American EPA numbers seem a lot closer to reality than the European NEDC standards which tend to overestimate range.

Real life efficiency (and therefore range) is influenced by many of the same things as for gas-powered cars: cold weather, use of air conditioning, highway vs city, your driving style, especially your highway cruising speed. This matters because of its impact on range and the range anxiety caused by charging station scarcity.

Charging looks complicated with various connectors and all their strange acronyms but it’s not nearly as bad as it seems. In Ontario there are 2 Level 3 connectors, CHAdeMO and CCS. Almost all public Level 3 stations include both connectors so any car can use them. Tesla has its own proprietary connector and charge stations.

A level 2 connector (J1772) will fit the charger you install at home. You will also find Level 2 chargers at shopping malls and restaurants where you can leave your car plugged in to top up while you go shopping or grab a meal.

Level 1 charging might be useful if you want to recharge overnight at a friend’s house, but it’s really slow.

Public Charging stations are run by different companies that have different reputations for quality and reliability. You pay either with an app that’s loaded on your phone or with a credit card. The PlugShare app knows where all the public charging stations are regardless of network and you can use it to plan charge stops for a long trip.

Battery Capacity is usually reported in kWh but you might also find it in also Ah. Battery capacity declines with use. How much is not so clear, but this web page shows something like 20% to 30% after five to ten years. More important, EV makers are providing a warranty that covers them for at least 8 years.

Web Sites where you can find more details.

  • Plugn Drive – up to date information on Electric Vehicles available in Canada
  • PushEVs – a table that shows details of range and efficiency for Electric Vehicles
  • US Table – US government official table of Electric Vehicle efficiency
  • EV Society – The Ontario EV Society has chapters around Ontario that will help you get started.
  • PlugShare – their website has a map that shows where all public charging stations are.

I have put in my order for a car that meets my needs. I hope this helps you do the same.

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1 thought on “Time to buy an Electric Vehicle?”

  1. Highly recommended reading. This commentary answers your questions about electric vehicles and is a practical way to get up to speed reasonably quickly. If you find the commentary useful, send it to your mailing list!
    Peter Jones

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