"The electricity used to charge the Leaf costs about 3 cents per mile, on average," said Nissan spokesman Steve Oldham. "A car with a gas engine that gets 25 miles per gallon, at $3 a gallon, would cost 12 cents a mile."
Also appealing are the decreases in pollution and national oil dependence the electric engenders - as well as the $7,500 you can knock off your tax bill when you buy one.
The less appealing side of the electric is its range - or lack thereof. With the exception of the Volt, which employs a small gas engine to run a generator when the battery gets low, these cars are limited to the range afforded by their plug-in charge. In the case of the Leaf and the Focus, that's up to 100 miles. The Volt can go only about 40 on the plug-in charge, but its range can be extended about 300 miles when the engine-driven generator cuts in.
Most people do not drive more than 100 miles a day. In fact, the Department of Energy has found that 78 percent of Americans commute less than 40 miles a day. So, a lot of suburban commuters and urban dwellers would get along just fine with a 100-mile pure electric - unless they wanted to take a longer trip.
To take the longer trip, and banish what the industry calls "range anxiety," we need a national car-charging infrastructure. And that might be closer than you think.
The government has committed part of a $114 million electric vehicle grant to installing charging stations in public places, and estimates there will be 13,000 in place next year. Also, private companies are springing up to install them.
Among the infant operations is Car Charging Group Inc., based in Miami. CCG installs the 240-volt chargers in places such as the Mall of America in Minneapolis and the parking facility at the Google offices in Manhattan. So far, it has installed 35 chargers at 30 locations around the country. The units cost $1,500 to $20,000 each, depending on the complexity of the installation, according to CCG president Andy Kinard.
The company pays for and owns the charger and, in most cases, shares revenue with the location owner.
During this introductory interlude, use of the CCG chargers is free. But that will change soon, Kinard said. The company plans to start charging about $3 an hour.
Being legally obliged to charge by the hour, instead of the kilowatt-hour as utilities do, creates a glaring inequity because of the electric cars' varying charging rates. The Leaf, for example, charges at a rate of 3.3 kilowatts per hour, while the Focus takes on 6.6 - or twice as much electricity. Yet under regulations enforced in every state save California, only utilities can charge by the kilowatt-hour, so CCG must, in effect, charge the Leaf twice as much.
Kinard said that a number of states were taking steps to allow companies like his to charge by the kilowatt-hour, and that he expected that change to spread across the country.
While a lot of work remains to be done on our national charging infrastructure, things are being accomplished. For example, apps have been developed to help motorists find a charging station. The Focus electric will tell the driver where the stations are, whether they are in use, and allow the reservation of charger time.
Contact columnist Al Haas