Today’s electric cars evolved in a series of fits and starts. The first modern electric vehicle, the General Motors EV1 was controversially given the axe in 2003 and spawned a documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” The early 2000s gave rise to true hybrids like the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. Tesla spearheaded the current charge toward making practical non-hybrid electric cars with the Roadster in 2008 and the Model S in 2012.
“The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed,” William Gibson famously said. Electric cars look to become more of an option in the market at large, as research allows prices to come down, and drivetrains to become better. Jerry Perez, noted automotive writer, says, “Unlike five years ago, electric cars are a present reality, and most definitely the future. It’s not what-if anymore, but how soon will everything be electric?”
An all-electric car future, with cars not unlike the Audi RSQ Will Smith drives in I, Robot, is looming large. The market currently has what are considered Level 2 autonomous vehicles driving on the roads. Levels 3 through 5 will likely become reality within the next five-10 years. Ford has announced a fleet of Level 4 cars by 2021. Audi is currently testing a Level 3 car. Every one of these looks to be an electric car.
Ambit Energy reviews these new 2017 electric cars as next steps along this path: Chevrolet Bolt EV, Ford Focus Electric, BMW i3 and the Tesla Model S. Electric cars have a fuel cost advantage over gasoline vehicles. They also can provide long-term cost savings and a reduced environmental footprint. And that’s just with today’s technology.
The Chevy Bolt EV is a compact hatchback with a base price of $37,495 (including destination charge) before incentives. The Bolt has an EPA-estimated 238-mile range. Some tests confirm that the 200+ mile range is indeed true.
Because GM has not committed to building charging station infrastructure like Tesla, Bolt drivers are left limited options for charging away from home. The Bolt does have an announced $750 optional fast-charging option.
Chevrolet states that the Bolt has 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, which is respectable, if not ground-breaking. The Bolt is front-wheel drive only, with no all-wheel drive plans at this time. The car also has 56 cubic feet of storage with the back seats folded down.
Delivery of the Bolt EV is expected to dealers by late 2016, with no waiting list.
The Ford Focus Electric is a compact hatchback like the Bolt. The sticker price is $29,120 before incentives or discounts. It should fairly easily qualify for the federal $7,500 tax break currently in place for EVs. The Focus Electric is currently the only EV in Ford’s lineup.
The Focus EV has a 23-kilowatt-hour battery pack that produces 143 horsepower. Power is sent through the front wheels only, like the Bolt. Top speed is governed to 82 miles per hour. The biggest downside for this car is the frankly unacceptable range: 76 miles. With other similarly-priced vehicles that travel as much as twice as far, this is a huge negative for the Focus. Ford has, however, upgraded the interior in the last few years to better-than-econobox levels. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association has also given the model a 5-star safety rating.
Some electric vehicles feel like a normal car, just with different propulsion. Some cars feel like you’re driving the future. The BMW i3 and the Tesla are the latter. The i3 features a carbon-fiber-reinforced passenger cell and an aluminum “drive” module that houses the drivetrain components. The i3 comes with front and side airbags, stability control, brake assist and traction control.
The i3 comes in three trim levels: Mega World, Giga World and Tera World, with Tera being the top level. Tera has leather upholstery, alloy wheels, sunroof and a 7.4 kilowatt hour onboard charger. The electric motor has 170-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Without the optional range-extending gas engine, the i3 has a 114-mile range, which puts it toward the bottom of the competition. If you include the range extender, that gets closer to 200 miles.
The Tesla Model S has been a game changer in several ways. The current range spreads from the Model S60 to the P100D with a price spread from roughly $50,000 up to an eye-watering $134,500. To be fair, one does get “ludicrous mode” that rockets the car from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds. That’s acceleration on par with the best of the current batch of supercars.
This is in a sedan that comfortably seats five. It also has dramatic exterior styling and luxury interior appointments and trim. Included with the top of the line P100D is a 315 mile range that handily beats any other car in the market. Tesla vehicles are top of the line in every respect.
While the Model 3 has more than 400,000 security deposits ahead of its release, despite nobody outside of Tesla and a select few inside having driven one, it may be the next breakthrough for electric cars. Until then, the Tesla Model S remains the king of the hill in the luxury EV market.