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Plug N’ Play

The first practical electric vehicles hit the auto market around 1890. Over the next 125 years electric vehicles would fade into obscurity, resurfacing temporarily at times when some innovations were made. Until now, electric vehicles were deemed a fad or pipe dream, not being practical for the demands of modern driving. Today, the most talked about Auto Company in the world is Tesla Motors, who have brought electric vehicles to the front of consumers’ minds while bigger producers, such as BMW and Chevrolet, plug in to keep up.

Supercharging the market – Tesla Motors and the revival of the electric

Tesla Motors draws its name from Nikola Tesla, the man widely credited for creating the Alternating Current (AC) form of electrical supply. The first Tesla vehicle, the Roadster, uses an electrical motor that is based off the design created by Tesla himself in 1882.

The Roadster quickly got the attention of both the industry and consumers by delivering a stunning 0-100 kph time of 3.7 seconds (by comparison, the fastest production car, the Bugatti Veyron, has a 0-100 kph time of 2.4 seconds) and offering nearly 400km to a single charge. Charging the battery from empty to full could be completed in less than 4 hours, with options available like mounted home chargers, or simple extension cords that could fit any outlet. The electric motor also meant that the Roadster has 295 lbs-ft torque from 0 rpm. These specs turned the electric car from a somewhat silly means for the eco-obsessed yuppies, to a must have performance sports car.

Over 4 years, the Roadster quickly sold over 2200 units worldwide. At more than $100,000 per vehicle, these numbers also caught the attention of big car companies, and introduced the modern electric vehicle as the car to beat. Tesla expanded into other models, offering the Model S – A luxurious modern sedan, and the Model X – A SUV Crossover. Plans are in the works to deliver a consumer vehicle under the 30k price point, as well as pickup truck.

Part of Tesla’s success comes from its charging system. Supercharging stations allow Tesla owners to charge their vehicles for free, as stations are powered by solar cells. These stations provide up to 270 kilometers on a 30 minute charge. Tesla plans to expand these stations to cover 98% of the US population and major Canadian metropolitan areas by 2015. The current infrastructure is on place to drive coast-to-coast across the United States using Tesla Supercharging Stations.

Follow the leader

While Tesla motors weren’t the first to offer electric vehicles, they certainly made the biggest impact the last decade. Other car manufacturers aren’t just sitting by while a newcomer captures the future market though. Other major electric vehicle releases include the Nissan Leaf, The BMW i3 and the Chevrolet Volt.

The Nissan Leaf is another 100% electric vehicle. While it only offers 135km per charge, it does hit an average consumer price point of 21k. The Leaf isn’t supported by a network of advanced charging stations, the Leaf is simply charged from an outlet or generic stations. It is much easier to find a Nissan dealership than it is a Tesla dealership however, so any required service would be easier to schedule.

The BMW i3 is a two-door crossover style vehicle that is also 100% electric (with traditional drive models available). This vehicle offers a slightly more luxurious ride than the Leaf, and beats its range by offering 160 km on a charge. The i3 is also capable of receiving a full charge in as little as 3 hours with optional equipment.

The Chevrolet Volt may offer the best intro to electric vehicles for people not ready to commit to full electric. It offers primary electric drive with a gasoline range extender, with well known features like OnStar, and Sirius Satellite radio. However, the volt only offers about 60 kilometers on a charge, and charging can take from 10-16 hours (Or 4 hours with optional equipment). The Volt does retail for under 30k with tax credit incentives. Despite having sub-par electric performance, the Volt does offer a very fuel efficient vehicle at a very good price.

All electric vehicles deliver and incredibly quiet operation, so much so that in Europe, legislation has been suggested that would require electric vehicles to produce some kind of sound to allow pedestrians to be made aware of their approach. The electric motor also offers full torque the minute you put your foot on the gas, and certainly take some getting used to when accelerating.

Why the future is bad and change is awful

There are a number of arguments against the coming future of electric vehicles. Naysayers claiming an economic collapse from lack of fuel sales, vehicles being stranded without a charge between sparse charging stations, having to turn off ac and radio features to save battery power, and current higher cost of electric vehicles are all arguments that traditional gasoline engines are favorable. Many opponents of the electric vehicle would prefer to see hydrogen or natural gas vehicles receive the same attention as electric vehicles.

Another major roadblock for electric vehicles is the concept of “Compliance Cars”. Auto brands are required to have their total vehicle emissions below a certain benchmark, a number that is brought down by electric or hybrid vehicles. In 1996, GM released the EV-1 in order to comply with recently introduced California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations requiring all major automakers to offer a zero emissions vehicle. The EV-1 was released as a lease only vehicle, and could only be serviced via select Saturn dealerships. GM was not happy about this ruling, and fought hard with litigation to get the rulings overturned. It succeeded in 2002, when it repossessed all leased EV-1’s, despite outrage and opposition from customers (who were willing to outright purchase their vehicle). Every EV-1 was then destroyed, with only one remaining functional on display at the Smithsonian. These half-hearted attempts at producing an electric vehicle are bringing the industry down, with no major manufacturer willing to go against the large oil companies. To put it in perspective, start-ups like Tesla offer vehicles with 400km battery range, while Range Rover is unveiling its Hybrid model, capable of less than 1km of full electric travel at about 50km/h. A typical (human) marathon is roughly 42 kilometers.

Regardless of your stance, electric vehicles have become centre stage for car companies moving forward. With a growing demand for more eco-friendly options and rising fuel costs, the electric car has never had such a prominence in a field dominated by large gas guzzling engines.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk spends part of his time managing Tesla, and part of his time as CEO of the SpaceX program, working towards consumer space travel. When the CEO of a car company also heads up a leading space travel transit company, you can’t help but feel certain of where the future is headed.

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