2016 Nissan Leaf SL fast-charging at NRG evGo Freedom Station, Hudson Valley, NY, Dec 2015Enlarge Photo
We are on the cusp of a revolution in the electric car industry.
But it is not at all clear that the revolution will or even can happen, because the charging infrastructure is just not there--and it is not clear that there are any plans to develop one.
The industry desperately needs a reliable and affordable network of intercity DC fast-charging sites.
Unfortunately, aside from Tesla's development of the Supercharger network, there is little evidence of any effort afoot to make this a reality.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This opinion piece was submitted by reader and electric-car advocate Tom Huffman of Springfield, Missouri. Green Car Reports occasionally publishes thoughtful opinion pieces that advance the discussion of energy-efficient cars; this is one such piece.
If this doesn't change, and fairly soon, then the nascent electric-car industry may never achieve more than a tiny market share made up largely of the relatively small number of green enthusiasts.
In some ways, this is a problem brought about by good news. The cost of batteries has fallen so fast that several manufacturers are poised to release affordable pure battery-electric cars with 200-plus-mile ranges.
Nissan Leaf 'Advanced R&D Electric Vehicle' shown at company annual meeting, Yokohama, Jun 2015Enlarge Photo
By the end of 2018, Chevrolet, Nissan, perhaps Tesla, and conceivably other makers will have brought to market these game-changing vehicles.
Second-generation electric cars have the potential to revolutionize the industry because they fix the main problem that car electrification has faced so far: batteries that were too expensive, and that offered insufficient range
Typically, we use our cars for three types of trips.
Local: These trips are generally no longer than 40 to 50 miles a day, but they constitute the majority of driving for most people.
With home charging, the current generation of electric cars—the 107-mile, 30-kilowatt-hour Nissan Leaf, for example—are perfectly adequate for this role. If all of your driving is restricted to the local area, then an electric car does not need 200 or more miles of range.
Regional: Some of our driving includes day trips with destinations 40 to 75 miles from home. For instance, I live in Southwest Missouri, and there is a system of lakes south of me near the Arkansas border. But it is at least 40 miles to the closest lakeside recreation area.
Mitsubishi i electric car at San Antonio Missions National Historic ParkEnlarge Photo
I cannot comfortably travel to these regional destinations in my 84-mile Nissan Leaf.
Unless I know in advance that a charging station exists at the destination (and it rarely does), I am limited to destinations in roughly a 30- to 35-mile radius from home.
Long Distance: Finally, most of us take one or two long distance trips a year for vacation or to visit relatives. Currently affordable electric cars can't make these trips, for two reasons.
First, there is no network of intercity fast-charging stations along the interstate highway system.
But, second, even if there were, the cars' relatively small batteries would require recharging every hour or so. This simply isn't practical for long-distance driving.
For these reasons, the current crop of affordable electric cars are generally marketed as city and local commuter cars with no capacity for intercity travel.
Tesla Motors Supercharger network in the U.S. - map as of January 2016Enlarge Photo
The new generation of 200+ mile electric cars is designed to change all of this. But will it?
Electric cars will succeed as a mass market consumer product only when they are both affordable and practical for local, regional, and long-distance travel.
Battery-electric cars with 200-plus miles of range will, in the majority of cases, open up regional travel. They will also be more useful for local driving in some new cases.