Electric vehicles are not quite mainstream yet, but the price of one model, the Chevy Bolt, is dropping to an accessible range. Concord Monitor columnist David Brooks was lucky enough to test drive one, and wrote this week that there’s a learning curve for driving these cars. He spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello about the experience.
About that learning curve—what exactly would we have to unlearn as drivers in order to learn how to drive electric cars?
Well, what I said in that column is that the learning curve is less intimidating than you might think. The bolt, like any other electric car, has a couple of different options in the way you can drive it, and you can set it so that it’s very much like driving a normal car. You put a foot on the gas—everybody still calls it the “gas”—and you go forward, you take your foot off and you roll, you put your foot on the brake you stop. The only thing you’d really notice is that, because it’s an electric engine, it has much better acceleration.
But you can put it in other modes, in which you can use battery regeneration, so the slowing of the vehicle repowers the battery, and you can use that as a substitute for breaks. That is a little weird when you first start doing it. You can drive it with just one pedal and never take your foot off the gas pedal, never even touch the brake.
How much of a drain are the radio and the AC and the digital screen
A fair amount, in fact one of the things that the Bolt has is that it will give you a lot of data about that stuff. I drove it last week when it was brutally hot, and I drove it for about a half hour and 20 percent of the electricity we used was just to keep the cabin cool. So that’s kind of the equivalent of cutting your range down by a fifth—and you have to think about that in an electric car. A gas car, it has so much extra energy, electronics are almost irrelevant.
So that’s also part of the learning curve, you’ve got to keep that in mind.
It’s warm right now, but when it’s cold, gasoline engines give off some of their energy as heat, which we use to keep us warm. Can electric vehicles do that?
Yeah, electric vehicles are affected more by the cold than the heat. Heating an electric car in the winter is a real drain. I didn’t get into this in the column, but I have a friend who has an electric car and he said on those really cold weeks his range was reduced by a good third or more.
That’s probably the biggest thing you have to think about that’s different in an electric car versus a gas car.
And of course you have to keep range in mind. The Chevy Bolt, it has a range of about 200 miles?
Roughly. It depends. Two hundred and thirty seven is the stated maximum, 170 is not unreasonable—which is a lot, but you can’t go down to Springfield, MA, without thinking about it.
Tesla has those charging stations up and down in various locations. The Bolt doesn’t necessarily have that.
GM has not put the money that Tesla has into building these charging stations. They’re starting to show up here and there, but they’re nowhere near—I mean that’s one of the huge advantages for a Tesla owner. And the Bolt is also slower to recharge than a Tesla.
So those are all problems, but every vehicle has problems. You buy a pickup and you can’t park it half the time, you buy a little tiny car and you can’t drive it in the snow. No vehicle is perfect—this has just got different tradeoffs that we’re not used to thinking about.
Do you think more of these cars could be on the horizon?
Yeah, you’re average grandmother could get into this and drive it just fine. It’s a nice little car, a nice little hatchback, and it’s gotten quite good reviews. The question is whether the money makes sense, around 40 grand. That’s not chump change. And 200 miles—that’s not the 400 miles you’re used to.
I think it’s the first combination of price and range that could appeal to a mass audience. There will be some other cars coming out, notably the Tesla 3, that might match it, but for the moment it stands alone, and that’s kind of cool.