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Living With an Electric Car

¶ ALTHOUGH sales of electric cars have remained slow since they came to the American mass market in late 2010, early buyers tend to be true believers and quite likely to give their new vehicles the benefit of the doubt. For many, the honeymoon period is still on, even if for some the romance is definitely over — or transferred to another electric car.

¶ Jackie Eskin, a computer consultant in Fairfield, Conn., who works from home, loves her Nissan Leaf battery electric, which she has been driving for six months and 2,000 miles. “I’m extremely happy,” she said. “It’s wonderful, and I love it.”

¶ Before Ms. Eskin bought her car, she kept track of how many miles she drove each day and found it was rarely more than 15. That convinced her that she could live with the car’s 73-mile Environmental Protection Agency range rating. “I haven’t really experienced range anxiety,” she said. Her major issue with the Leaf? It doesn’t have a sunroof.

¶ Paul Beerkens, a Chicago-based programmer for a hedge fund, also owned a Leaf, but traded it in after only six weeks. He told a reporter for (to which this writer also contributes) that dying batteries almost left him stranded during a snowstorm with his children in the car, so he bought a plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.

¶ Though reports of Volt fires have hurt sales, Mr. Beerkens loves his, especially its range of 350 miles or more. He’s driven the Volt 4,000 miles and filled it with gasoline only once. Like many Volt owners, he tries to drive the car using mostly electric miles.

¶ “The 40 miles of electric range has been working really well for us, and we have been able to supplement it with public charging when necessary,” Mr. Beerkens said. On family vacations, he and his wife have been able to persuade hotel managers to let them plug their car into outdoor outlets. Charging at home, he said, costs only about 60 cents, thanks to cheaper nighttime electric rates and the relatively small Volt battery pack. “It is so cheap to drive an electric car,” he said.

¶ Dr. Michael Rabara, a Phoenix psychologist, isn’t likely to encounter a snowstorm, but he sold his Leaf because, he said, its battery pack showed signs of capacity loss after 10,000 miles in the Arizona sun. The Leaf’s 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack is air-cooled and lacks a liquid temperature management system like those in the Tesla Model S and other electric vehicles.

¶ Like Mr. Beerkens, Dr. Rabara remains committed to electrified cars and now drives his Volt most of the time (though his girlfriend still leases a Leaf). “We just don’t like using gas: the politics, the pollution, the varying prices and the fact that it’s a finite resource,” he said.

¶ Some people see advantages to both the Leaf and Volt — and so buy both. Felix Kramer of Berkeley, Calif., founder of and the new, said that “the tough decision is which car to drive.” The Leaf has a longer electric range, so that’s the car Mr. Kramer and his wife favor for around-town driving.

¶ For longer trips, especially to their condominium in a Lake Tahoe building certified as energy-efficient, the Volt is pressed into service.

¶ Mr. Kramer likes the cars, though he says both could use upgrades to their dashboard displays. On the Leaf, for instance, he’d like to be able to see the percentage of remaining charge in the battery, rather than a highly variable mileage-based range estimate that changes with driving conditions. He’s put 22,000 miles on the Volt and 12,000 on the Leaf.

¶ Mark Swain, a Valencia, Calif., computer animator, is a serial electric car driver.


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