Plug-in electric cars are now on sale from several carmakers, and their sales will rise slowly over the next decade.
Right now, most of the marketing for those electric cars focuses on green themes or cost savings on the gasoline drivers don't have to buy.
But there's one factor no electric-car maker has yet used to market cars powered by electric motors:
They're just nicer and more fun to drive.
First, the numbers: Recent Ford research says if electric cars cost the same as gasoline cars, 60 percent of buyers would consider one.
But if the financial breakeven point were eight years, that number falls to 8 percent. And depending on the assumptions you use, many electric cars don't deliver even an eight-year payback today.
Nonetheless, ads for electric cars tend to focus either on the moral benefits of zero emissions (e.g. polar bears hugging Nissan Leaf owners) or higher gas-mileage numbers for plug-in cars with gasoline motors too (e.g. recent Chevy Volt TV ads--including one that neglects to note that you plug it in).
Nissan Leaf 'polar bear' ad
But here are the reasons that electric cars have a secret advantage:
- Tons of torque: Electric motors develop their peak torque (or "turning force") from 0 rpm, meaning that the cars they propel tend to have great acceleration from a stop.
- Sounds of silence: When electric-car makers suppress or silence the motor whine, electric cars are remarkably quiet--so much so, regulations will require them to emit noise at low speeds.
- Smooth, calm, vibration-free travel: A reciprocating gasoline engine vibrates constantly, changing as it revs up and slows down; transmissions make their own noises as they match a narrow band of engine speed to road speed over four to nine different ratios. Electric cars don't need any of that.
Anyone who spends a day in an electric car, then returns to one with a combustion engine, will suddenly become aware of all kinds of noises and vibrations we've trained ourselves to ignore as part of normal driving.
Seriously: Try it. Rent an electric car for a day and drive it around.
You'll notice that it's smooth, quiet, and punchy off the line. Sure, you may experience range anxiety, but no matter what the car is, you'll get 25 miles of electric range, maybe as much as 80 miles. That's enough.
Angry Driver with Road Rage
Then jump right back into whatever you drive.
Notice the rising and falling sounds? Feel the vibrations in the car and through the controls that carmakers take such pains to muffle?
There's one final benefit: A smoother, calmer, quieter car may just produce a calmer, quieter driver who's less prone to aggressive driving and road rage. Which would be a very good thing.
Anecdotally, electric-car drivers report being calmer during frustrating commutes--but confident that their cars' torque will give them a quick spurt of acceleration if they need it.
So while we may not see it for several years yet, eventually one adventurous electric-car maker will launch an ad campaign something like the following.
Our new electric car: Faster. Punchier. Quieter. Smoother. BETTER.
You saw it here first.