Guest Blog: Entering the World of Electric Vehicles

This is a guest post written by Samantha Beharrysingh, who is an active member of the Blue Ridge EV Club. To view the original post, click here.

Leilani Munter addresses the crowd at the 2016 National Drive Electric Event in Asheville, NC.

Last year, I heard an inspiring talk given by Leilani Munter (Race Car Driver and Environmental Activist) about the various ways that we can reduce harmful fossil fuel emissions on the planet.  Although many topics were covered, the important points that made an impression were: Going Vegan and Driving an electric vehicle (EV).  The information about eating a plant-based diet was a nice reminder. I have been a vegetarian for many years and fully understand the environmental benefits.  Conversely, the topic of driving EVs was still very new and interesting to me.  This information, coming from a seasoned female veteran in the world of EVs was thrilling, to say the least!

My introduction into the world of EVs started when my husband purchased a Nissan Leaf in 2013.  Although we had been driving hybrid vehicles for several years, I knew very little about purely electric vehicles.  I was excited about his purchase, although I never drove the car.

On many occasions, he encouraged me to drive his car.  One day, I had an errand to run about 35 miles away.  The entire trip would take 70 miles.  Wouldn’t it be nice to do this trip purely electric, I thought…  I took the Leaf on the long drive – knowing that my destination had a charger.   The car drove beautifully – one of the first things I noticed was the lack of engine noise!  Unfortunately, however, when I reached my destination, the charger was in use by another EV driver.  I waited for a long time, but no one returned.

At this point, I decided to drive back.  I had about 30 miles left on the car and I knew several places on my way home where I could charge.  As I began to drive home, however, I realized that I was driving uphill, which took extra energy that I had not planned for. As I continued to drive, a warning appeared indicating that I needed to charge.  I was on the highway, but the closest charger that I knew about was still at least 15 miles away!  Next, three flashing lights appeared on the dash.  I began to panic, since this was the first time I had ever taken the EV out alone.

After a few miles, an exit came up.  I remembered hearing that an EV charger had recently been installed at a business off the exit.  The only problem was that I did not know if the destination could be reached before running out of charge.  I obviously had much to learn about EVs!  On the slow drive to the charger, I practiced regenerative braking.  Fortunately, I made it to the destination of the charger – my trip was not over, but I was plugged in!

In the days following my first EV trip, I gained some insight into the concept of range anxiety.   Although there are differing opinions about the reality of range anxiety, it is my belief than an improperly planned trip with a limited range pure EV can certainly put a person in this predicament!

By no means is this experience meant to discourage future EV drivers.  Taking the car out of its range actually taught me many things about the workings of the vehicle.  After my first experience, I was more careful about driving the EV.  I took more time to understand the vehicle’s dash – for example, the difference between miles remaining and battery energy.  Additionally, I became interested in planning out trips more carefully and knowing where the chargers were located around my town.

I continued to drive the Leaf on occasion, but used the car on errands much closer to home.  About one year later, we traded in our other gas hybrid for a Ford C-Max Energi plug in hybrid.  This car is considered a PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle), which essentially means that it is an electric car that makes a seamless transition to gas when the EV miles run out.  Now our family would have the purely electric Nissan Leaf and the hybrid electric Ford C-Max Energi.

This purchase completely changed my experience and perception of electric vehicles.  I used the limited electric miles (20 around town) as a challenge.  I learned about the location of every charger and figured out ways to make my trips using the electric miles.  Further, I came to appreciate the quiet driving experience and figured out many useful errands to accomplish during my time at charging stations.

After driving the C-Max Energi for 5 months, I heard Leilani’s talk at the Electric Car Show and Ride Event. Her talk was very relevant and her references to the Vegan Diet and Driving EV’s drove home an important comparison for me.  In my own experience, I realized several important points about PHEV’s in comparison to pure EV’s.  Having a PHEV is like eating a vegetarian diet, while driving a pure EV is like becoming vegan.  Both diets are plant based, however the vegetarians sometimes eat dairy products, while the vegans do not eat animal products of any kind.  Some people get caught up in comparing the differences between these two diets, while overlooking the larger fact that both diets are positive measures to reducing fossil fuel emissions!  Further, many vegetarians become vegan over time.

Along this line of thinking, driving a PHEV may be a wonderful transitional vehicle for someone who is very interested in going electric, but not sure if the pure EV would meet all of their travel needs.  For these people, the PHEV’s are great choices.  These cars give folks a chance to learn about driving electric or how to use charging stations.  Many people want to be part of the new revolution in green cars, and this is a first step in that direction.  Although PHEV’s have gasoline back up, their main purpose is to utilize the electric range as much as possible, which helps to offset harmful fossil fuel emissions.  Interestingly, many charging stations are frequented by PHEV’s like the Chevy Volt, Ford C-Max Energi and Ford Fusion.  In the coming years, many other models will be available to the public.

After driving my Ford C-Max Energi for over a year, I am now excited to drive either the PHEV or the EV!  Taking the pure EV Nissan Leaf out is a fun experience for me now!  In this way, the PHEV has provided an immense service to me as an important transitional vehicle.  Now that I am more accustomed to driving a plug in hybrid electric vehicle, I know for sure that my next car will be purely electric.

For the people who are ready to jump directly into driving EV’s, there are many exciting options on the market.  Every year, new EV models are being released with greater range capacities.  On the other hand, if you are new to the world of EV’s and need a transitional vehicle, you may consider driving a PHEV to help make that transition easier.  The main purpose of driving an electric vehicle is to reduce harmful fossil fuel emissions.  With these two types of electric cars, everyone can become involved in the important work of reducing the effects of our transportation impact on the planet!

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