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April 26, 2013

5 myths about electric cars

(Continued)

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. This myth is so pervasive that General Motors applied to trademark the name for it: "range anxiety." A controversial New York Times test drive in February of Tesla's Model S, which ended up needing a tow to a charging station, seemed to confirm the fear.

 But that test drive - covering more than 500 miles in temperatures as low as 10 degrees - was not your everyday trip. 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.

I didn't have my own garage when I first leased an electric car, so I often used a public charging station within walking distance of my home. 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. Tesla just installed several of these supercharger stations on the East and West coasts, and Nissan recently announced plans to install 500 in the coming months.

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