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The frequently asked questions about electric cars heard at this weeks Earth Day fairs

The Earth Day fairs this week were popular places for electric car enthusiasts to gather and show their cars to others, these are the questions heard over three days of earth day activities this week.

It’s Earth Day weekend and electric vehicle owners across the country have been invited to come to Earth Day fairs to show off their cars. Whether or not they are aware of it ahead of time, an electric car owner buys for themselves the role of electric car ambassador. Usually this happens in the normal course of life in the parking lot when someone approaches exclaiming “An electric car! How cool!” and starts asking questions. And then there are those special occasions such as Earth Day celebrations, or an Easter parade, where the local electric car enthusiast club organizes a public showing. It’s all a chance to show your electric car to neighbors, educating them person-to-person about living with electric cars.

What’s happening is the second wave of prospective electric car owners are looking at the first wave electric car early adopters, eager to see whether the water is fine. Earth Day, being about awareness of our environmental impact, and how to lessen that impact, is a massively good time for electric cars to be seen by the public. Some of those people will be the second wave of electric car adopters.

The last three days, as an electric car owner (a 1971 Karmann Ghia electric car conversion), I’ve gone to three separate Earth Day fairs and talked with a lot of people. You don’t have to wait until the next Earth Day to see electric cars. There are groups of electric car enthusiasts all over the country. The Electric Auto Association has nearly 50 years of history, with its members having constructed thousands of electric vehicle conversions. EAA chapters tend to hold monthly meetings, and are open to newcomers asking questions. Additionally owner groups for both the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are springing up across the country.

Here’s a few of the questions heard over the last three days:

How fast, how far, how long to recharge are the most common questions we are asked. The answer depends on the design of a specific electric car. All the electric cars available today travel easily on the highway, at highway speed, with great acceleration. The range and recharge time depends on the specific car, the battery pack capacity (in kilowatt-hours), the power of the charging unit (in kilowatts), and the charging ports on the car.

For example the Chevy Volt, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf all have 3.3 kilowatt charging units, which add 12 miles or so of range per hour of charging. The Ford Focus Electric and Coda Sedan both have 6.6 kilowatt charging units, which add 25 miles or so of range per hour of charging. These electric cars, at these charging rates, require anywhere from 3-8 hours to recharge if the pack is fully depleted. Of course if the car is not fully depleted the recharge will happen faster.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf have an optional different charging mode, fast charging. If you can find a CHADEMO compatible charging station (these are just beginning to roll out in several places such as Chicago, California, and especially the San Francisco Bay Area) these fast charge stations can take the car to 80% of a full charge within 20-30 minutes.

When will there be an electric car with 400 miles range, costing the same as a gasoline car? Many people believe that before electric cars can be successful they must be capable of exactly replacing the current capabilities of gasoline cars. That means 300-400 miles of driving range, pop into a station for a quick fillup while you take a pee break, and you’re back on the road.

The short answer to the question is, several years still. Battery capacity and costs will eventually converge to support a 300-400 mile range electric car with quick recharge capability. Some recent announcements from IBM’s Battery500 project, Envia Systems, General Motors, and PolyPlus all promise future battery technology offering higher energy density and lower cost, but a few years into the future.
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