If you were to compare the automotive market of a little more than a century ago and today, you would find an interesting comparison – they are remarkably similar. In the years before and just after 1900 it was almost the Wild West when it came to cars. You had steam cars, electric cars, some diesel trucks, gasoline-powered vehicle. (Look at Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, 3rd Edition by the late Bev Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark Jr., two of the pre-eminent old-car historians of the 20th century, source:www.oldcarsweekly.com and you will see that the world tried just about every method of propulsion just as we are doing now).
To this point, the winner of the fuel war is still gasoline, but electricity is coming on strong and biodiesel and other forms of petrochemical fuels are also making their appearance – ethanol, methanol, but the race seems to be coming down to gas and electricity right now. There are even clean coal to gasoline processes that were invented just before World War II and which power much of the German army throughout the war (that process was expensive, but was missed by our war planners until near the end of the war see “Masters of the Air,” the definitive work of World War II and pinpoint strategic bombing).
The market, right now, though, seems to be settling most firmly on:
Gasoline-powered cars are still the norm, but hybrids with their gas-powered charging/power engines are also showing the electric cars can work, especially when used around the city where the driver can take use a hybrid to its fullest at low speeds where regenerative braking (flywheel effect) and occasional engine turn-ons when the batteries are down keep the vehicle in the electric mode most of the time (the author drove a Honda Insight around the local area some years ago, driving it to see if the charge would stay up, which it did and the Insight actually shutdown at a light and started right up at the tap of the right foot).
Still, in a way, hybrid cars are little more than glorified gasoline-power cars because when you need hard acceleration from them, the gasoline engine leaps out of its battery charge role and assist the electric motor achieve and hold highway speeds.
No, the two real electrics that are coming are Nissan’s Leaf and Chevy’s Volt. Both are all-electric, although the Chevy does have a small charging engine, which his all it does. That leaves the Leaf as the true all-electric coming to market.
When the Leaf appears the world will see something it hasn’t seen since the Baker Electric of 1905, a truly all-electric car (yes, GM did try its EV-1 series of research vehicles in the 1990s but they went’ nowhere when gasoline dropped in price).
The Leaf will be cutting edge in every sense of the word from is Bluetooth technology, remote starting, ability to charge through a smartphone or laptop and LED headlights to its powerplant, an 80-kilowatt electric motor fed by lithium-ion batteries.
Indeed, Li-on batteries are more expensive but they also have something that the more standard nickel-metal hydrides (NIMh) batteries lack and that’s the ability to pack away more power per pound.
According to various articles and reviews we’ve seen, the Leaf – we haven’t had a chance to see one yet, but will when it is available to us – will charge in four to eight hours (shorter if you can find a high-capacity charging station) and will give you about 100 miles of range
For most drivers, the 100-mile range will be more than adequate for daily driving. Top speed is about 90 or so, which is pretty good and mid-range acceleration was compared favorably with the Nissan Altima 2.5 (source: www.edmunds.com).
Handling should also be excellent as this vehicle has a low center of gravity and the rather weighty battery sled (pack) sits between the wheels so all of the weight is low to the road. There will be two models available the SV and SL.
The SV will include:
• Remote start
• Remote charge through a smartphone or laptop
• Li-on batteries
• LED headlights
• 6 airbags
• Satellite radio
• Keyless starting
• Stability control
• 3 years of roadside assistance
The SL adds:
• Automatic headlights
• Solar panel on its rear spoiler
• Rearview camera
Interestingly, both models will carry prices in the low $30s but when you factor in the still-available $7,500 federal tax credit, plus your trade (if you have one), and then these cars become very affordable. Like any vehicle you can lease or trade yours for one.
Nissan will install a home-charging station. The price was put about $2,200, but half of that is recoverable in a tax credit (source: www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car and www.edmunds.com). So you are covered if you are worried about charging.
The only other real electric (all-electric) competition this year will be Chevy’s Volt. There’s one key difference between the Leaf and the Volt. The Volt has a small engine that is only linked to the battery pack for charging, so there will be a tailpipe (source: www.edmunds.com).
(sources: www.edmunds.com, www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car, www.oldcarsweekly.com)