No need to fear the electric

JIM loves his electric car and he’s betting you will one day love yours, too (OC Tribune photo).

Now that we’ll all recovered  – sort of – from the train wreck that was Tuesday night’s first presidential debate of 2020, let’s turn our attention to something that really affects you every day.

Your car.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced recently that he was issuing an executive order banning the sale of new internal combustion engine automobiles in the Golden State as of 2035.

(Aside: Who knew governors had that kind of power? If that’s the case, how about an executive order banning rudeness, talking with your mouth full and leaving the toilet seat up?)

Assuming no one invents a Fred Flintstone-type car that you motivate with your feet, this means a transition to electric cars.

This will gratify some people and terrify others. According to Wikipedia, plug-in electric cars in 2019 accounted for 2.5 percent of new car sales, almost double that (1.3 percent) of 2017’s numbers.

It seems to me that for lots of folks, here is the perception: electric cars are either prohibitively expensive (i.e., Tesla) or slow, ugly golf carts. The designs and driving range of some of the early electrics and hybrids underlined the latter – I’m talking to you, Nissan Leaf – but that was then, and this is now.

Ford is coming out with an electric Mustang; Chevrolet is developing an electric full-size pickup truck. Volvo is giving up on internal combustion engines entirely and is betting the condo on electric vehicles.

Many of the “early adopters” of low- or no-emission vehicles did so out of environmental motivations: gotta clean up the air for the grandkids. But even if you don’t care about that stuff, there are many pleasures awaiting you when you are someday forced with a choice between a Toyota Zap and Dodge Amp.

I’m working on my third electric, a 2019 Chevy Volt. I lease them for three years at a time, anticipating rapid technological advances. My first Volt had a range of about 30 miles per charge; my current Chevy about doubles that. But this particular vehicle was designed to cope with “range anxiety” so it’s paired with a small gasoline-burning engine that serves as a generator for the electric engine. So, after 60 miles, you just keep on driving. You get the equivalent energy cost of about 250 miles to the gallon.

The Volt has been discontinued and its successor – the Bolt – is all-electric and goes over 250 miles on a charge. That’s about par for most electrics now, but some are nudging the 300-mile mark and as battery tech advances, the (increasingly clean) sky is the limit.

Let me put a button on that. In almost two years with the current Volt, I have bought gasoline exactly once. The cost of electricity is much lower than that of gasoline, and I charge overnight in my garage.

Now, set aside the practical for a moment. There are also many guilty pleasures in going electric. It is whisper quiet, so if you want to sneak out of – or sneak up to – the garage you can get away with it.

The electric engine provides instant torque, which means when you step on the pedal it zooms. There is none of the momentary lag you get with a car using a carburetor or even fuel injection.  It feels like the difference between a propeller plane and a jet fighter, or space ship.

Just the other day, I was stopped at a traffic signal next to a Corvette. Just for fun, I stomped on the accelerator as the light turned green. I surged ahead of that ‘Vette and had to squint to see him in my rear view mirror.

OK, so maybe the other guy didn’t know he was in an “off-the-line” competition. And after about 60 or 70 yards he would be blowing by me.  But assuming you’re not involved in reckless road racing and just want to drive a fun, safe, good-looking cost-effective car that doesn’t generate smog, the race to the future for your car is bound to be won by those powerful electrons.

So, don’t fear the electrics. You’re going to love them, regardless of whether Gavin says you have to, or not.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts columns are posted on Wednesdays, alternating with the “Usually Reliable Suspects.”


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