Drive an Electric Vehicle and Never Buy Gas Again

Clean and efficient, the electric vehicle is finally coming of age.

| April/May 2006

  • Comparing a gasoline car to an electric vehicle.
  • GEM currently is the dominant neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) manufacturer with more than 30,000 vehicles sold in five different models, including short- and long-bed cargo carriers.
  • Although Toyota chose not to continue production of its all-electric RAV4, electric cars make sense to the people who own them, such as actor Ed Begley Jr. “My Toyota RAV4 EV handles great,” he says. “It’s the perfect car for around town, and the batteries are in perfect shape after nearly five years and 50,000 miles. The best thing is I get to fuel it with solar power from my rooftop.”
  • The GEM eS neighborhood electric vehicle, a Dynasty IT sedan.
  • A 1976 Porsche 914 powered by an electric motor (batteries shown in trunk).
  • The idea of an electric car conversion is nothing new — MOTHER EARTH NEWS wrote about Robert Bucy’s Renault in the March/April 1976 issue.
  • Made by Electro Automotive, this sporty electric conversion car uses a 1965 Aztec body and Volkswagen chassis. It’s powered by a 96-volt battery series and can travel up to 100 miles at a top speed of 85 mph.
  • Today, advanced, more powerful lithium-ion batteries are being developed that allow electric and gas/electric hybrid cars, such as the modified Toyota Prius shown at left, to significantly increase their performance and range.
  • General Motors committed to build a production version of an electric car called the EV1 to meet the requirements of California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. The EV1 above is fueling up on electrons at a San Francisco hotel in 1998. Unfortunately, GM abandoned production, then recalled and crushed all the vehicles after the automaker and the federal government successfully sued the state, forcing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to abandon its ambitions for a ZEV mandate. Now CARB is trying to control greenhouse gas emissions, and the auto industry and the federal government are suing again.

Electric vehicles — powered entirely by batteries rather than a gas engine — have been around ever since Henry Ford’s wife drove one in 1914. Today, they offer greener and much more affordable transportation than conventional cars and trucks.

One easy, affordable option that is gaining momentum is the “neighborhood electric vehicle” like the one shown in the Image Gallery — a small, inexpensive car that can travel at 25 mph for up to 30 miles before it must be recharged. These clean, quiet little cars can be a great alternative for short, in-town trips. (And for those of you who are gearheads, see Make Your Own Electric Car[link: ].) At the same time, new lighter-weight, faster-charging battery technologies are making speedier, longer-range electric vehicles (EVs) more feasible. These advances are combining with air pollution concerns and oil depletion issues to make electric transportation a hot topic.

For our oil-addicted nation, electric cars have two unexcelled virtues: They don’t rely on petroleum, and they are remarkably energy-efficient machines. The maximum theoretical efficiency of the typical gasoline engine is about 30 percent; diesels are about 35 percent efficient. But in real-world driving conditions, both numbers drop significantly. Only a tiny fraction of the energy in a gallon of gasoline actually ends up doing useful work — the rest is wasted as heat.

In contrast, electric vehicles are far more efficient than conventional cars. The motors of EVs exceed 90 percent efficiency, and their batteries are better than 85 percent efficient. In addition, some EVs have regenerative braking that can recapture as much as 30 percent of the vehicle’s kinetic energy to recharge the battery. Because they have fewer parts and are so much more efficient, EVs cost much less to operate.

For instance, the EV manufacturer Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) says its low-speed vehicles operate at a cost of just 1 cent per mile. A 2006 Honda Civic sedan operates at a cost of about 8 cents a mile — that’s an 8-to-1 ratio! (See the comparison chart in the Image Gallery.) Furthermore, if you recharge your electric car with wind or solar power, you could power your vehicle entirely with renewable energy. And once you pay off the initial cost of your system, the electricity would be free.

Are Electric Vehicles Really Cleaner?

When talking about the virtues of electric cars, questions often arise about the air pollution generated from power plants (half of which burn coal). Several independent studies have shown that even if all the electricity used to recharge an EV’s battery pack came from an entirely coal-fired power grid, the power plant’s emissions still would be significantly less per mile driven than those from the average gasoline-powered vehicle. For details on these studies, see “Electric Vehicles and Pollution” later in this article.


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