Have you been wondering where all the rage went since we wrote about electric cars back in 2013? They haven’t really swept the country like everyone thought. People talk about electric vehicles like they are national property, a sea-to-sea technology, an American child. But one could drive 600 miles across Montana and never see anything smaller than a Ford F-150. The fact is, an electric vehicle is like a shell buried in the sand: rare, wonderful, and usually found near water.
Electric charging station company ChargePoint released an early 2014 study forecasting the “Top 10 Regions for EV Growth.” Save one city, Atlanta, every epicenter was near beach sand or bay inlet: Seattle, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, San Francisco, etc. Los Angeles currently boasts the highest national concentration of EV’s, almost 28,000. In late 2013, the Wall Street Journal noted that the City of Angels and San Francisco accounted for 30 percent of annual electric and hybrid vehicle sales.
Are West Coast residents naturally more eco-conscious, perhaps because of the splendor of nearby Yosemite and Mt. Whitney? Or is the growth due to a meddlesome statistic called “driving range?”
Exhibit A: The Nissan Leaf. It is America’s celebrity electric vehicle, a four-door Smurf that generates 107 horsepower, attains 126 city MPGe, and boasts a driving range of 84 miles. Since the average driving range for a gasoline-powered car is 400-500 miles, what the Nissan offers is peanuts. Only metropolitan drivers can stomach its puny range. One study found that Leaf owners pilot their vehicles a measly 30 miles per day.
But all that may change. ChargePoint has more than 18,000 public stations – more stations than McDonald’s has restaurants. But once again, most live in California. And while three minutes at a gas station means 300 miles, a full hour at a Level 2 ChargePoint station means just 25 miles. Tesla and a few other electric car manufacturers have installed fast-charge DC stations, which zap a battery to full capacity in 30 minutes, but such a station costs $30,000.
And now for the critical number in this article: 100,000. That’s how many EVs were in the land of the free as of May 2013. Automakers are loathe to install $30,000 commercial chargers and develop $20,000 lithium polymer battery packs for a handful of Tesla Model S, BMW i3 and Ford Fusion Energi cars bought by wealthy residents in Bel-Air Estates.
The year 2015 brings a host of electric vehicles: the hot hatch Fiat 500E; the rugged Toyota RAV4 EV; the sporty Cadillac ELR. Pundits forecast market sales to erupt by 200-300 percent.
But Montana is unlikely to see one.