The troubles of electric-car-maker Fisker Automotive have fueled another round of debate about whether plug-ins can live up to their promises. The California start-up missed a federal loan payment last week and told a congressional hearing that it may not be able to avoid bankruptcy.
This is probably the end of the road for Fisker. But definitely not for electric cars. Let me dispel some of the myths.
1. The electric car is dead.
This myth is partly my fault, perpetuated by the title of my 2006 documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" The signs back then weren't promising. Under pressure from car companies and other lobbyists, California rolled back its Zero-Emission Vehicle mandate, which had helped get nearly 5,000 electric cars on the road. The change freed carmakers to round up the cars they had leased - and then surreptitiously crush them.
Thankfully, it takes more than a crusher to kill a technology. Today, almost all the major automakers, along with a cast of new players, are investing in or building plug-in cars. California's mandate has also made a comeback, and some other states are
considering similar rules.
A new report from the Edison Foundation projects that between 5 million and 30 million electric cars will be on U.S. roads by 2035. "The electrification of the vehicle fleet is a foregone conclusion," says former General Motors Vice Chairman (and former electric-car basher) Bob Lutz.
2. Electric cars can't get people where they need to go.
I've been driving electric cars for 15 years and have yet to run out of power. But ask people what their biggest hesitation is about electric vehicles, and they're most likely to say something about the cars leaving them stranded.
The average American drives fewer than 40 miles a day. That's well within the 75-mile-plus range of most electric cars. And while batteries do run down faster in extreme cold, on a normal day Tesla's Model S can go as far as 265 miles on a single charge.
The answer to range anxiety for many carmakers is the plug-in hybrid, an electric car with a backup gasoline engine. The Chevrolet Volt, the Toyota Prius Plug-In and the Ford C-Max Energi all use electric power for the first 20 to 50 miles (or most daily trips) and then switch to gasoline for longer trips.
3. Charging is a headache.
Charging an electric car can be as simple as plugging it into a wall outlet. But AC outlet charging is slow, taking between eight and 24 hours. So it's not usually the method of first resort.
That's why most plug-ins are sold with charging docks that work in a home garage and can charge a car in four to eight hours, allowing drivers to treat their cars like their cellphones: topping them off periodically or charging them up overnight.
There are now 5,734 public stations in the United States, many with multiple charging points. The newest generation will charge your car nearly 10 times faster than home stations and 50 times faster than an AC outlet.
4. Electric cars aren't any better for the environment.
Electric cars have clear environmental benefits: They don't require gasoline, they don't pollute from tailpipes, and they operate at 80 percent efficiency (vs. about 20 percent for internal-combustion engines).
Skeptics cite a 2012 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which correctly notes that autos powered by coal-generated electricity are little better for the environment than small gas-powered cars. But the same report concludes that "consumers should feel confident that driving an electric vehicle yields lower global warming emissions than the average new compact gasoline-powered vehicle." That's because only 39 percent of U.S. electricity comes from coal. With the retirement of old power plants and the addition of cleaner energy sources, electric cars will have even greater advantages for the environment.
Another environmental concern is about batteries. Won't they end up in landfills like billions of disposable batteries do? The answer is no. Even gasoline-car batteries avoid that fate when they are exchanged and recycled.
5. Most people will never be able to afford an electric car.
At $102,000, the base price of a 2012 Fisker Karma was clearly beyond the reach of most drivers.
But this luxury car targeted the high-end market. By contrast, the cost of leasing a Nissan Leaf ($199 a month with $1,999 down) is equivalent to leasing a compact gasoline car such as the Mazda3 - except you don't have to pay for gas.
Keeping electric car sticker prices from dropping right now are low production volumes and the cost of batteries. But a 2012 McKinsey report estimates that the price of lithium-ion batteries could fall dramatically by 2020.
As the cost of electric-car technology trends downward and the price of oil trends upward, electric cars should prove the more affordable and, based on my experience, more enjoyable choice.
Chris Paine is a filmmaker whose documentaries include "Who Killed the Electric Car?", "Charge" and "Revenge of the Electric Car." He wrote this for the Washington Post.