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TheStreet Open House

What Does It Take to Sour on the Electric Car Experience?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Sales of electric cars are growing but all is not well in electric car land. While owners of plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt remain extremely happy, there is a specific reason why some EV owners are souring on their experience.

The issue is electric car charging congestion. The number of electric car chargers has grown rapidly in the last three years. The precise numbers are hard to get because there are different networks and they count chargers differently (workplace or not, etc.).

In any case, using round numbers, there has been an increase from 2,000 three years ago to 20,000 now. The problem is that while only 18,000 electric cars were sold in the U.S. in 2011, the number grew to 53,000 in 2012 and now 96,000 in 2013.

Cars are like cats, they are sitting still and asleep at least 21 hours out of 24, on average. That's when you want to have them plugged in to charge. We are now approaching 200,000 plug-in electric cars on U.S. roads but with only approximately 20,000 chargers -- and far from evenly distributed -- this becomes a problem in many areas.

The most popular electric cars are priced around $30,000 to $35,000 before tax adjustments and they have a rated range of approximately 80 miles, per the EPA. We hear to no end how this is enough for almost everything most people do with their car, most notably commuting to work.

Yes, it's true that most commutes are well below 40 miles, and if that is all you did with your car that would work just fine. The problem is at least twofold:

1. Real range is sometimes a lot less than 80 miles.

On a cold day, you could lose as much as 30% of your range. This means you are now down to 56 miles. Then, when the car is a few years old the battery may have lost up to 20% of its capacity, so now you are down to 45 miles. Then, if you want to keep up with traffic at 70-75 miles per hour, you will likely lose another 10% or more. So now your range is 40 miles, or half of the rated 80 miles.

As Clint Eastwood said in Dirty Harry: Do you feel lucky?

Surely someone will now object and say: "I have 35 miles to work, and I charge there, so even at 40 miles, I am fine."

Alternatively, "I have 18 miles to work, and I don't charge there, but I'm still fine."

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