Those Mean, Lean, Green Machines
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written by Josh:
My God, I think to myself as I watch the numbers before me skyrocket. I’m standing against
the side of a 2004 Chevrolet Suburban at a Chevron station. All around me, people are pulling up in those trendy little compact cars.
There’s a Corolla to my left, a Sentra behind me, a Focus to my right.
eye rests upon the display of the pump filling the Focus. It’s moving just as fast as mine is. Even though the two of us are paying
the same price, his stops off just as he hits $34.68. The driver places the nozzle back in its cradle, prints his receipt, and drives
off. My eyes return to my own pump. I’m dismayed to find that, at $64.23 (and still rising), my tank is still not full. I should mention
that the Focus pulled in after I started fueling, pulling out before I was done.
car quickly takes the Focus’ place. It’s an unusual looking car. At first I don’t recognize it. It’s like the face of a movie star.
You’ve seen it on television hundreds of times, but you don’t know what its name is or what it’s famous for. As the driver gets out,
I watch as he takes the nozzle and inserts it into his tank. After racking my mind for any details I can pull up, I finally realize
why this car looks a tad bit different. It’s no ordinary compact. I’m looking at one of the launch vehicles (no pun intended) of one
of the newest fads to hit the street (literally). I’m parked side by side next to the all-new Chevrolet Volt.
the driver begins fueling I call out to him. From my knowledge, at the time of our encounter, the Volt wasn’t out to consumers yet.
So how the hell does this lucky guy have one?
He turns around. The sunlight splashes off of the golden Chevrolet badge on his shirt.Gotcha. This is a Chevy employee taking the company’s latest creation out onto the road to drum up a little free publicity.
“Nice car.” I say.
He grins, “Everyone says so.”
I laugh. I know his tank is small and he won’t be at the pump long, so I want to get to the point.
“What’s the mileage on it?” I ask.
“With the short daily commutes we do here on the island—,”
He pauses for emphasis, “Oh – I’d say it’s about unlimited.”
I nod. We talk a little bit
more about the car and the intense technology behind it. His tank clicks off. He returns the nozzle to the pump. He wishes me a good
day, getting back into the Volt. He pulls out in a cloud of – oh wait that expression doesn’t work since it’s not running on gas.
Only now does my pump click off. In the time it took the Suburban to fill up, two compact
cars were able to fill up with time to spare. We’re reaching a point in time where gasoline engines – even the most fuel-efficient
– are becoming a growing burden on our world’s resources. Car manufacturers and consumers alike are realizing this and are asking
the question: what do we do?
Chevrolet and Nissan are the frontrunners in the battle for
the first mass production, mass distribution electric car. Chevrolet is standing behind its Volt; Nissan, its Leaf, both with hopes
that their car is going to do for the automotive industry what Apple’s iPhone did for the cellular phone industry.
Now, I’m a car geek. I love cars. I study them. My god, my sketchbook is filled with them. So, knowing this, quite a few people, young
and old alike, have come to me and asked about the differences between the current king of hybrids, Toyota’s Prius, and Nissan’s Leaf.
To start off, there are a million differences between the two – a million and one. The
most notable difference between the two is that Toyota’s Prius, although a hybrid (running on both gasoline and electricity) still
won’t run on pure electricity. Simply put, if there’s no gas in the tank, it won’t move. The Leaf, on the other hand, is one hundred
percent electric. Its engine runs on a battery – it’s like a cell phone. You plug it in at night and it charges up. Unplug it in the
morning and you’re good to go. It’s so similar, in fact, that Nissan launched an ad campaign in conjunction with Apple’s iPhone.
Now that’s both good and bad.
That means that if you’re the proud new mommy or daddy of
a Leaf, you’ll never have to stand at a gas station. You’ll never have to inhale those revolting fumes or touch that disgusting nozzle
ever again. Your car won’t use any power while idling in traffic (assuming that you aren’t using the radio or air conditioning) and
you’ll be the envy of all your friends when it comes time to calculate yearly fuel cost. Guess what? Yours will be zero!
It also means, though, that if you do happen to exceed the (Nissan’s estimated) one hundred mile range (which is debatable, considering
that batter power, like anything else, will be heavily dependant on your usage of the car’s features, your driving habits, passenger
load, temperature, and so on) and don’t live in a city with EV (electric vehicle) powering stations, you’re out of luck. So sorry,
but your longest commute has to be less than a hundred miles. To allay you completely of range anxieties, try to stay under eighty
miles on a single charge.
Also, the Leaf is a new model with no real-world long-term ownership.
Factors like the impact your new beauty will have on your electric bill are unknown. For those of us who enjoy decorating our homes
with lights during the holidays, we know that there’s a significant uptick in energy usage when the bill comes in January. Those are
lights – this is a car that’s going to be plugged in almost every night.
That’s the Leaf.
What about its American competitor? What about the Volt? Well, critics of the car have made some bold statements that the Volt is
not, in fact, an electric car. Instead, said critics have pegged it as a sensationalized hybrid – and in fact this is true. The Volt’s
engine can pull power from its gas tank and its electric battery.
So with that in mind,
how is that any different from the Prius that’s been on the road – and wildly popular – for the last nine years? The biggest difference
is, of course, that the Prius will not move if there is no gas in the tank, whereas the Volt can. The Volt is not dependant on gas
at all. It won’t take one sip – until the car’s battery is fully exhausted (which shouldn’t happen until after the first forty miles
driven on a full charge). And even when the battery is fully exhausted and the gas engine has kicked in, gas mileage is still going
to be (assuming you aren’t traveling for more than around eighty miles) more than a hundred miles to the gallon. That’s more than
twice what the Prius gets, and gives you a lot more flexibility (and peace of mind) than the Leaf.
On the downside, the Volt is around ten thousand more than the Leaf (US Government rebates and dealership and manufacturer sales will
of course vary the final total cost to you).
So should you buy a Volt or a Leaf? Well,
it all depends on you.
History of new products, cars especially, has shown us that the
safest thing is to wait a few years before making a move to the new technology. Let some other sucker be the lab rat. There will be
problems that come up as more and more people adopt the new technology. We’ll start to see what real-world long-term ownership is
like. Two to five years down the road we should know for sure.
In respect to that, is your
current vehicle really not going to last you another year or two? Just asking.