5 On Your Side

Electric cars are safe, but are they the car of the future?

Posted May 3, 2011
Updated April 3, 2012

It still seems a little odd to many of us to have a car that you just plug in. Yet plenty of people, such as Eddie Luvic, are sold on the idea. "I saw the Chevy Volt on the floor. I looked it over, and I had to buy it," says Luvic.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently ranked the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt among its top safety picks for front, side, rear and rollover crash protection.

But on other fronts, the vehicles both still have a ways to go, according to Consumer Reports.

The group’s auto testing engineers thoroughly checked out the Volt – which has a backup gasoline engine – and the Leaf, which is 100 percent electric. Range – or how far an electric vehicle can go on a charge – is a big issue. Consumer Reports Jake Fish says testers found that cold weather is a problem for the cars. "The Nissan Leaf can go about 100 miles on a charge, but that's in ideal conditions" says Jake. "In our experience, cold weather can shorten that to about 65 miles."

Testers also say in low temperatures, the Volt has trouble fully heating. It can go anywhere from 25 to 50 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in, which can take the car up to 300 miles. But Fisher says that comes at a cost, "The added gasoline engine makes the Volt expensive, and on long drives you may wind up actually using more fuel than you would in a conventional hybrid like the Prius."

As for recharge time, with a 220-volt charger that you can install in your home, the Volt takes about four to five hours. The Leaf takes about eight hours on average. The Leaf costs about $35,000. The Volt is even more, about $45,000. And even with federal and state tax credits, Consumer Reports says neither is likely to save you money.

"Electric vehicles have come a long way," says Fisher. "But they still have a long way to go before they're ready to replace the average person's primary vehicle." But if you're willing to pay a premium for going gas-free, one of the vehicles might be right for you.

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  • Mr. Iowa May 5, 2011

    Salty: Toyota has made a very credible car in the Prius. Perhaps you mean Nissan, since they created the Leaf.

  • Alex25 May 4, 2011

    NO.

    We are and will be Oil based for many decades to come.

  • SaltyOldJarhead May 3, 2011

    baracus, you are quite right, they are aimed at different market segments.

    I think the Tesla is aimed at people who love cars. The Leaf and Volt are aimed at those who lump cars, stoves, and refrigerators into the same bucket.

    That said, I would probably rather have one Tesla than three of those ugly things.

    I just wonder why GM and Toyota couldn't have made more credible electric cars.

  • baracus May 3, 2011

    "What on earth were GM and Toyota thinking?! Tesla has two models of totally electric cars that have been on the market for years now that go 245 miles on a charge, will whip a Porsche to 60 mph, have a 7 year, 100,000 mile warranty on their batteries, and look absolutely stunning!"
    The Tesla sedan is not in production yet. The Roadster is awesome but at $101K AFTER the tax rebate it is more than 3 times as expensive as the Leaf.

    They are obviously geared towards different market segments. The Tesla will driven by elites who want to be seen in it or who are trying to make up for the carbon footprint of their 5000+ sqft mansions. The Leaf and Volt will be driven by greenies who don't mind spending a little more for less car to get that warm fuzzy feeling inside.

  • SaltyOldJarhead May 3, 2011

    What on earth were GM and Toyota thinking?! Tesla has two models of totally electric cars that have been on the market for years now that go 245 miles on a charge, will whip a Porsche to 60 mph, have a 7 year, 100,000 mile warranty on their batteries, and look absolutely stunning!

    The GM and Toyota offerings are laughable by comparison. Who would buy such an ugly, ill-designed car?