US Flexes its EV Muscles

By Kate Shifman

Electric vehicles have been gaining steam lately (no pun intended). From the sexy celeb-endorsed Tesla to the widely publicized Nissan Leaf, major car manufacturers are outdoing each other in looks, design, and features.

Courtesy of Teslamotors.com

Travel range and charging options remain the main challenges in widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EV). An average range for these cars hovers around 100 miles, which is sufficient for a daily work commute. Whisking your love away for the weekend, though, may quickly turn into nerve-racking staring at the charge indicator depleting while your partner scrambles to get a signal on his or her smartphone, trying to locate a charge station among the rolling hills.

Countries such as Denmark, the UK, Israel, and the USA are competing for the best solution and a piece of the market pie. In the States, Ford Motor Company is poised to become the leader in the American EV market as it unveils an electric version of its popular Focus model this fall: the Focus Electric. The 23-kilowatt-hour (kWh), high-voltage, lithium-ion battery’s performance is regulated by an advanced active liquid cooling and heating process, aiming to maximize battery life.

A host of smart features and apps are designed to enhance the driving experience and ease “range anxiety.”

But the real news comes in the charging department.

Photo by Kate Shifman

Although the Focus Electric will come with a standard 120-volt power cord for at-home charging, consumers also will be able to purchase a 240-volt charging station. This option cuts down the charging time in half, leaving the Nissan Leaf and other competitors filled with envy.

For more insight on Ford’s electric and hybrid fleet, check out our coverage of Forward With Ford.

Hot on Ford’s heels is Toyota Motor Corporation, which is currently the leader in the hybrid market. Recognizing the perfect timing to enter this quickly growing market, Toyota has announced a partnership with celebrity-favorite electric carmaker Tesla to install Tesla powertrains on the 2012 Toyota RAV4 models. The RAV4 reportedly will have the same 100-mile range as the Nissan Leaf and other smaller EVs, but its larger size and SUV design is sure to make it a major player in the competitive family car category.

Courtesy of Toyota.com

Taking the “if you build it, they will come” approach, big players and start-ups are competing to become the standard in EV charging.

Courtesy of Business Wire via Walgreens.com

Drugstore chain Walgreens has just announced plans to install 800 EV charging stations in their parking lots. The rationale here is that, while you shop, your car is charging and, presumably, one may stay in the store and shop longer while waiting for the charge to complete. There will be two options: a quick top-off of 30 miles in less than 10 minutes and a “Level 2” charge of 25 miles over a period of an hour. It’s worth noting that quicker charging adds more wear to a battery. NRG Energy will install and service the eVgo chargers. Installation is slated for late July 2011 in major cities: Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Washington is not waiting on auto manufacturers or recharge suppliers. The state is building the nation’s first EV highway. Charging stations are set to be located every 40 to 60 miles on Interstate Highway I-5 and US Highway 2 in Washington between the Canadian and Oregonian borders.

Even car sharing is now going electric. Car sharing schemes have gained popularity in the last few years as convenient and economical ways to get around the city. Car2Go is an international startup that takes the idea further by offering solar-powered smart fortwos in Vancouver, Austin, Hamburg, and other cities.

Courtesy of Daimler Media Library

In addition to an impressive 41 miles per gallon, the cars are fitted with fully integrated 100-watt solar panels on the roof to power the car’s telematics and charge the battery. The company has announced plans to expand its fleet to include all-electric vehicles with a driving range of 84 miles. The scheme will launch in San Diego by the end of 2011.

For more on electric vehicles, see coverage of the 2011 New York Auto Show, complete with test drives and customer testimonials.

Kate Shifman is a New Yorker, sustainability professional, photographer, and publisher of Solar In The City, a solar and energy efficiency guide for the city dweller.

© 2011 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.

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