Ford Motor Co. is turning heads as it prepares to unveil electric and gas-powered versions of the same model of vehicle, the Focus. Debate has raged over whether electric cars are an appropriate replacement to fossil fuel-dependent traditional cars, but Ford's experiment provides the first opportunity for consumers to compare the tangible, user-level pros and cons for themselves.
So what are the arguments for and against electric vehicles?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric cars are more efficient than gas-powered ones, are better for the environment, quieter and don't rely on a foreign fuel source. Most of their problems, the DOE says, are related to their batteries, which are heavy, expensive, space-consuming and take a long time to charge. Gas vehicles can travel about 300 miles between fill ups, while electric cars can go about 200 miles between recharges. (Motorheads can get an in-depth look at the nuts and bolts of the electric car via this blog from Scientific American.)
A documentary called Who Killed the Electric Car posits that the only reason we're not already all driving electric cars is the fault of "an industrial culture whose aversion to change and reliance on oil may be deeper than its ability to embrace ready solutions."
Indeed, many Americans (on the right, left and middle of the political spectrum) have said they would prefer it if their country did not rely on the middle east for its energy supply. For many, it's not a question of pollution or consumer choice, but a matter of keeping our country safe and our soldiers out of war zones. It's a campaign issue for both Democrats and Republicans. Experts have said producing cars that don't run on gasoline is a major step in that direction.
The fact that electric cars don't burn fossil fuel is their major selling point, not just because they're not foreign-oil dependent, but because their emissions don't pollute the environment. But Time magazine's HealthLand blog claims electric cars are just as polluting as gas-powered ones--at least in China, where the electricity used to charge them is predominately sourced from the burning of coal. That's an easy fix, though, since Americans have more clean, domestic power sources available to us--hydropower, solar power, wind power.
In a post called "Why electric cars are awesome," CleanTechnica points out Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf have been called a failure by the media for selling only 17,000 units by January, even though just 6,000 Toyota Prius sedans were sold in their first year and have since taken the market by storm.
And even though electric car sales pale in comparison to sales of cars with traditional combustion engines, demand for them far outpaces supply.
"People debated at length whether the Nissan Leaf all-electric car would be practical or cheap enough for the mainstream. But that debate was moot because Nissan doesn't have enough Leafs to sell to the mainstream anyway . . . . The limiting factor right now is not public interest in electric cars, it's the car companies' ability to make them," writes the Good News blog from Good magazine.
At the time the blog was written, the Leaf had a 20,000 person waiting list.
Ford's experiment will be one indication of consumer preference, though it may not be able to solve the theoretical riddles surrounding the question of gas vehicles versus electric ones.
What's your opinion?