Electric cars are a lot like Pit Bulls. No matter how many supportive things are said about them, they still frighten a good portion of the population. Still, under the right circumstances, driving an electric car is a realistic proposition for those willing to take a few concessions on the chin. Seattle for example, has developed an advanced charging infrastructure where early adopters can swear off gasoline completely. As a coffee-swilling member of the Emerald paradise, I tightened the Velcro straps on my sandals (to keep my socks up) and decided to see if I too could survive a week driving an electric car - a Ford Focus to be exact.
EVE OF CAR DELIVERY
Upon further inspection, my turn of the century apartment complex does not feature exterior electrical outlets. The review will have to be moved twenty miles east of Seattle to the city of Kirkland… at my parents’ house.
The commute thickens.
A Ford rep shows up with the Focus electric. He cautions that with a full charge the car has a real-world range of about sixty miles. “Basically you have to get comfortable with being almost out of gas all the time,” he says.
My high school bedroom overlooks the driveway. Surrounded by bobble head figurines, I stare skeptically down at the Focus through half-shuttered blinds. Plugged directly into a 120-volt wall outlet in the garage, the Focus could take up to 20 hours to reach full charge. With a 240-volt Level 2 charging port (about $1,500 including installation), full charge is possible in 3-4 hours.
Having arrived at half-charge, the Focus is now almost juiced to the max and ready for our maiden voyage. The range display reads 56 miles; turning the heat to high shaves off nearly ten miles. Set to low, the range settles at 52 miles.
Our family neighborhood sits atop a giant hill, which is both good and bad news for the Focus’ range. A display in the dash grades drivers on the efficiency of their braking, acceleration and cruising. Travelling down the hill, I’m cautious to brake gradually, milking as much juice from the regenerative braking as possible to send charge back to the batteries. On a half-hour drive, making trips up and down the hill, I achieve a perfect score in every category. Back at the house the Focus shows it only used one mile of range.
These are the sorts of victories that vindicate EV owners, and in extreme cases, lead them to name their Golden Retriever “Jonathan”.
A retired neighbor spots the Focus electric in our driveway. He enjoys golfing regularly and leases a new sports car every year or so. Glaring at the Focus, his expression says both “pfff” and “hmfff.”
Of the colorful examples he sites of why an electric car wouldn’t support his lifestyle, most revolve around being stuck in rural traffic, sweating bullets and clamoring desperately to locate the nearest charge station. He isn’t an early adopter, and in reality the Focus EV certainly wouldn’t be able to accommodate the range his day-to day activities demand.
None the less, he agrees to go for a ride around the neighborhood. As a car guy he can’t help but be impressed by the Focus’ instant torque and straight-line acceleration.
“It’s quicker than a four-cylinder” he says.
Feeling cocky and looking like a disheveled coffeehouse rat, I schedule a haircut in Seattle, nearly twenty miles away. This is going to take planning. The website Plug Share proves to be a comprehensive source for locating electric car charge stations. Apparently Seattle is teeming with Level 2 quick chargers, most of which are located in parking garages where I would have left the Focus anyhow.
A few bad apples have uploaded “bootleg” charge stations to the website, most of which really aren’t charge stations at all, but non-public electrical outlets used primarily by maintenance workers. One of my fellow West Seattle residents went so far as to post a picture of their Chevrolet Volt charging from a wall outlet at our neighborhood Safeway.
“Snug up against the wall and score a few clicks of juice while shopping,” he writes.
On the trip to Seattle it becomes apparent highway miles don’t last as long as city miles in the Focus EV, especially if you fail to adamantly obey the speed limit, or in other words, drive as you normally would. Inside the city, the range display shows we used about thirty miles for a twenty mile trip. Luckily the parking garage I selected is equipped with Level 2 quick charge stations. Better still, the chargers are located at the very front of the garage, next to the entryway, as if by driving an electric car I’m entitled to bump disabled persons down to the sub-levels.
The Focus charges while I go for a trim.
Less than an hour of quick charging brings the Focus’ range close to 50 miles. Total cost for the charge is less than $3 – not bad for a 40mile round trip.
On the drive home I’m inspired to drive aggressively by a thermos of coffee and a “rock block” on the radio. Back at the house the Focus’ range meter is sapped to less than 15miles. Despite the relatively close call I was able to enjoy the electric giddyup worry free; before leaving Seattle I mapped out the trip on the Focus’ navigation system. Even with a happy throttle foot and frostless windows the car knew it would have enough charge to get us home.
A press car representative arrives and hums away with the Focus. Relieved, my Subaru wagon looks comfortingly expensive, dirty and archaic. She can barely manage 20mpg on the highway, but gas stations throughout the country will be happy to gouge my credit card whenever I'd like to avoid being stranded.
Culture shock aside, I didn’t take a trip all week in the Focus Electric that caused me any inconvenience or stress beyond having to plan a route beforehand. If I had access to a Level 2 quick charge station, or even an exterior electrical outlet at my home, the Focus Electric could easily serve as my day-to driver in Seattle.
If only my apartment complex hadn’t been built in 1922… Then again, that Safeway where the Volt likes to go is just down the street.