Is an electric vehicle right for you? Many people will ask themselves that for the first time this year. Prices are falling, battery range is rising and mainstream brands are adding new EVs at a breakneck pace.
“This year and in the coming years, we will see a much wider array of EV offerings — in all body styles and a wide array of prices,” says Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs.
Similar improvements are coming for driving range and charging infrastructure.
From the Mustang Mach-E and VW ID4 — both on sale now — to the Chevrolet Bolt EUV coming this summer and GMC Hummer EV sport truck arriving in the fall, you’ll be seeing a lot more EVs on the road soon.
They offer a host of benefits, but their differences from gas-powered vehicles are fundamental, particularly with refueling.
Here are four things to know if you’re considering buying an EV.
Prices for 240-volt chargers are falling
Anybody who owns an electric vehicle needs a 240-volt charger at home. With it, your car can recharge overnight, so you start every day with the equivalent of a full tank.
You can charge an EV from a standard 120-volt outlet, but it takes too long.
For instance, a 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV that can go 250 miles on a full charge would need 62 hours at 120v, but just seven at 240.
Without a 240v charger, you can’t realistically expect an EV to be your primary vehicle for daily use.
Just a few years ago, installing a home 240v EV charger cost up to $3,000, but prices have plummeted as competition grows with the number of EVs on the road.
Nowadays, wiring a house to add a 240v outlet for EV charging generally runs $500-$1,000, according to Detroit’s Family Heating, Cooling & Electrical.
How 400v DC fast chargers work
You’ll need to charge elsewhere occasionally. That’s when charging time becomes a big deal.
Charging an EV battery takes longer than the 5-10 minutes to fill a gas tank, but how long depends on a couple of factors.
First, voltage from the charger. Getting 250 miles of range when you’re charging overnight at home is good, but it’s a deal breaker if you’re going on a 300-mile trip.
In that case, you’ll want to look for a public 400v DC fast charger. They’re not as common as 240v public chargers yet, but you can find the nearest DC fast charger from the Department of Energy. Companies that build charging stations, like EVgo and Electrify America, have apps showing their networks.
Charging at 400v, a Ford Mustang Mach-E’s range goes from 5% to 80% in 45 minutes. That’s about 216 miles for an AWD Mach-E with the 270-mile extended-range battery.
But why stop at 80% when we fill the gas tank to the brim? Because batteries are different from fuel tanks.
A fuel tank is like a bucket of water, a single container. An EV battery is more like an ice tray.
The Mach-E’s extended-range battery pack consists of 376 individual batteries. When all of the cells are near empty — about a 5% charge — fresh electricity immediately finds an open cell. As each cell reaches capacity, the battery controller finds another that still has room for electricity, and monitors as they top up, like when most of an ice tray’s compartments are full.
Charging to 80% is easy and fast. Finding space for the last 20% could take as long as the first 80. The most time-effective thing is filling to 80, getting back on the road and filling to 80 again when the battery runs low again, rather than charging for three to four hours and getting only an extra 54 miles.
There’s another factor: your EV’s onboard charger, which regulates how fast the battery can accept electricity. For instance: The Mustang Mach-E adds 216 miles of charge in 45 minutes and has an 11 kW onboard charger.
The Chevy Bolt EUV has a 7 kW onboard charger; connected to the same 400v, it adds 95 miles of charge in 30 minutes.
The holy grail all automakers chase is a full charge in 10 minutes. They’ll probably achieve it, but nobody knows when.
Where you can charge in public
Good route-planning apps will help you find public chargers on a road trip. A Department of Energy website, for instance, says there are 45 DC fast chargers near I-94 between Detroit and Chicago.
Ford’s app will pick the charging spots where it makes most sense to stop along your route for optimum driving time and range.
“Most people have no idea how many public charging stations are within, say, a 10- or 15-mile radius because they're small, people don't look for them or even know what to look for, and they're rarely signposted,” says journalist John Voelcker, who has studied EVs.
Even during the COVID-19 economic downturn, charging stations continued to grow, according to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, which says the U.S. is already nearly halfway to having the number of public DC fast-chargers needed for 15 million EVs in 2030.
It’s virtually certain infrastructure initiatives under the Biden administration will encourage more charging stations, and investment to make charging faster and more convenient.
Gas engines aren't going anywhere
Despite all the attention on EVs, internal-combustion engine vehicles will be around for a long time.
There are millions on the road today. Some — and not just cherished classics — will still be in service 20 to 30 years from now.
Though automakers are shifting investment to EVs, they're not going cold turkey on internal-combustion engines. Some vehicles may remain better suited to gas for quite a while. Utilities need to field service or emergency vehicles when the electric grid is disabled. Same goes for vehicles, and in wilderness and rural areas.
These are the states with the most plug-in electric vehicles (PEV). See how your state and others compare.