Sierra Club does a so-so job of telling you what electric car to buy

The Sierra Club has just unveiled a “quiz” that tries to help you know which electric car to buy.  While it’s a good idea, and the questions make sense, the answers they give aren’t very good.  Even so it’s worth going to http://content.sierraclub.org/evguide/pick-a-plugin and seeing what suggestions they have.

There’s an idea commonly held about electric cars – the typical EV’s can only be used around town because the driving range is too short.  The quiz perpetuates this idea with two questions: “How many miles total do you drive in a typical day?” and “For long trips, would you consider using another car in household, renting, car-sharing, carpooling, or taking bus/train/plane?

This is an important consideration.  If you routinely take long road trips, an electric car with only 80 miles range and no fast charging will be impractical.  A road trip in such an electric car is, tedious.  You drive 70-80 miles, stop for 3-4 hours, and repeat.  While the long distance trip can be taken it’s going to take a long time.  Especially if you have kids – that 3-4 hour charge time will add a whole new dimension to “are we there yet”.

Fast charging, even the CHAdeMO and CCS style, makes a big difference – if your local area has enough fast charging infrastructure.  The Sierra Club quiz didn’t take that into account.

Bottom line is that medium range trips are quite possible with an electric car, so long as it has fast charging, there is fast charging along the way, and/or you can charge at the destination.  If you’re a real hard-core road tripper, and can afford it, nothing electric beats the Tesla Model S.  Good news that in a few years (2017ish) we’ll have more choices for proper road trip electric cars.

Where I got stopped on the quiz is with this question: “Do you have access to an electrical outlet in a garage or driveway at home or at work?

My truthful answer to that question is “No — that would be tricky” because I’m living in an apartment complex, and positioning the car next to the apartment to charge through an extension card means parking in a fire lane.  The Fire Department rightly would fine me for doing so.
The typical advice is to have charging at home for successful life with an electric car.  Charging at home is most convenient.  But it’s quite possible to survive with an electric car if you lack home charging.  That is, if your public local electric car charging infrastructure is well developed enough.
I routinely see comments online from people moaning about public charging, and saying they never use it.  Those people are, then, trapped into driving within an area close to their house, at most 1/2 the range of their car.  The public charging infrastructure is what lets you drive further from home.
Please people – don’t let yourself be trapped – use the public infrastructure, it’s fine.  Well, okay, maybe it’s not fine, but it’s better than being trapped within a short distance from home.
Bottom line is that this Sierra Club quiz makes different assumptions about charging time than I do.
I find it quite possible, with faster charging, to make longer trips, or to have an EV with no home charging.  Where the Sierra Club would tell you to get a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, I’m trying to say that with care fast charging makes a big difference.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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