1st Gen Honda Insight

Staff Car Report: Balancing Range and Price, The challenge For Budget Electric Car Buyer

Having emigrated to the U.S. and sold both our previous staff cars (a 2009 Mitsubishi i-Miev and a 2005 Toyota Prius hybrid) before leaving the UK we’ve been busy in the Walton-Elliott household looking for appropriate transport. But making that switch from the UK where everything is close — and where even my mum’s fairly remote house was technically reachable using our little iMiEV — to a place where driving for a couple of hours is a normal journey, we’re struggling.

Our old Mitsubishi iMiEV would have struggled here in the Pacific Northwest. With over 12 miles to our local city center, its 55 mile range – somewhat less in winter – would have been practical if the area was as well served as our former home of Bristol was with chargers. But from what we can tell, it’s not. This is the thing we’ve discovered that’s put a crimp in many an cunning EV plan. Rapid chargers are not nearly so common. Most of them near us are both pay-for and in private lots, and the Level 2 chargers we’d got used to seeing in every public parking lot? Not so much. At least, not where we are.

The distance between the rapid chargers is often just doable in the leaf. Theoretically.

The distance between the chargers is often just doable in the leaf. Theoretically.

Much of the parking here is on-street, robbing us of the quick-top-up while shopping, which is how we managed the iMiEVs limited range in the UK. And because they were usually either free, or single-fee once you plugged in (and there were lots of them), you could plug in and wander off. Here, we need to schedule a return trip to the car (for either cost or politeness’ sake), and for one of our main journeys it’s actually not possible in most of the cars we can afford.

Our to-be-EV-project-Minor is chugging down the East Coast working its way towards the Panama canal (on a ship, not literally), so until it arrives we’ve got a base-model 2009 Toyota Prius that we’re borrowing, and an older model Dodge Caravan we’re also borrowing (which is definitely not evolved transport). When the Minor arrives, we can use it as a petrol car until we make a decision. But at some point we’re going to take the plunge and buy a cleaner car of our own out here. Because after being in a family with an electric car, we’re struggling to imagine life without one.

But which car should we buy? That question has led to many a debate.

Until our Morris Minor arrives stateside, we're borrowing a couple of other cars. Neither are electric.

Until our Morris Minor arrives stateside, we’re borrowing a couple of other cars. Neither are electric.

The problem stems from the fact that the journey between our intended home and our family here clocks in at over 102 miles (or over 140 miles with the first DC CHAdeMO quick charger after 70 miles). Our future plans involve being able to make the trek from our home to Seattle with ease (a 56 mile journey without any rapid chargers until we get into Seattle). So we’re starting to consider other options. A converted (but aging) Chevrolet S-10 pickup, with an alleged 190 mile range seemed tempting. But the stick-shift transmission means my partner won’t like it, and it needs ‘at least’ two new batteries… a statement I’ll admit to be more than a little concerning.

A nearly-new BMW i3 with Range Extender seems like a plausible, if expensive, option. The difficulty is getting one of them in our price range, and with the SAE Combo CCS DC charger standard being rarer than hen’s teeth in this part of the world, I suspect we’d be more reliant on the range extender than we’d like to be.

The Kia Soul EV would kinda work… maybe.

And then there’re slightly more ‘out there’ options. Like some sort of NEV / City car / 1st generation Nissan Leaf for around the town/city we’re in and some sort of hybrid for out-of-town. I’m quite a fan of the CVT equipped first generation Honda Insight hybrid as an option (it’s the nearest I can get to an EV-1…). So I’ve spent the morning looking at early Hondas, and at early model Toyota Prii (although really I’m a bit weirded out by the concept of a car that has no value at all in the UK selling for over $4000 here), and also at battered and foxed later Prii, ones that need new batteries, and pondering options.

The 1976 CitiCar / Commuta Car, it's electric, but not fast.

The 1976 CitiCar / Commuta Car, it’s electric, but not fast. Photo: Photo Klaus Nahr, cropped by Mr. Chopper, via Wikimedia.

I’ve also wandered into the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle / Converted (self-built) electric car / what the hell is that? territory. Being a classic car geek with a soviet bent, I’ve been tempted by Moskvas and Ladas for our ‘distance car’ but the discomfort and thinly veiled disgust I feel every time I fill that tank on the Prius prevents a purchase (probably a good thing, really). Although I did fall in love, briefly, with an IZA Kombi – something that looks like the lovechild of a Range Rover and a Morris Marina.

Thankfully I’ve so far restrained myself from buying a Commuta Car, despite one being on ebay at the moment.

But not for the first time, we’re faced with a difficult choice, familiar to many an EV buyer with restricted funds. Range and price rarely combine in the perfect combination so which do you choose. Being as we’re buying a used car, with the 100 mile Leaf now having made its debut, and the 200 mile Bolt planned for 2017, the value of these second hand EVs is likely to fall now, too. So there is the added urge to ‘wait a little bit’ and see if we can muddle through with the Minor and ‘another vehicle’. It’s all adding another spoon of complexity and excitement to the mix.

We’ll let you know which way we jump — and if you have any thoughts of your own (or happen to know the Pacific Northwest and its charging networks better than us) leave them in the Comments below.


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  • KIMS

    Stay your course if at all possible, and just “hang tight” until summer/fall and see what things look like then.. The Bolt is sure to put a squeeze on the Leaf, and who knows what Tesla will do now that a competing (range and price) vehicle will be available on the market almost a full year(?) before its own model 3?! The next 6 to 18 months should see all sorts of exciting upsets I think! And as much as it may go against what you want and believe, putting down 2-3 k on a used old gas car might just be the ticket to keep saving and making do for a few more months..

    • UCannotStopMe

      Neither the 200 mile range much-acclaimed Bolt nor an equivalent Leaf will be any competition for a Model 3. It’s the infrastructure that makes the difference, followed shortly thereafter by charging speed.

      Nissan, GM, and BMW will be playing chase until they figure out that their duct tape and bubblegum NRG EVstop charging network doesn’t cut the mustard.

  • vdiv

    Plugin hybrid or bust.

  • UCannotStopMe

    You should look at the Arcimoto SRK 8. With a base price of $11,000 before incentives, an optional 140 mile range pack (additional cost), seating for two and top speed of 85mph, it may fit your requirements. Failing that, I think a used Leaf gets most of your requirements met, and an occasional rental car with the savings until the 200 milers appear a year or so from now.

  • If you even _considered_ an i3, then just go for a used Chevy Volt for the win, much cheaper than i3. Covers majority of your local driving needs, and has gas for longer trips. Reported to have good reliability. I would run away from conversions or projects cars.

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