evaluating several very neat hybrid, alternative-fuel and electric
vehicles at the Western Automotive Journalistsí Future Cars-Future
Technology symposium two weeks back, I was struck by how darn fun
the little Fiat 500e was to drive. After learning more about this
little electric car and the inexpensive lease deal available in
California, I began to ponder the possibilities.
number-crunching, I discovered I was an ideal candidate for an
electric vehicle: My work commute was long enough that I was
spending a small fortune on gasoline but was still within the
90-mile EV range. In fact, I was spending more with my V-8 guzzling
gasoline each month than the entire cost of the Fiat lease and
electricity needed to drive it ó about $1 per day for electrons.
I obtained one
of the in-demand 500eís and have enjoyed a huge learning curve and
some interesting new challenges. I just get by using the supplied
120-volt charging device, called electric vehicle supply equipment
or EVSE. With this simple but very slow EVSE, I recharge at night,
when electricity rates are cheap. A better solution is the optional
$800 220-volt fast-charge EVSE, which needs a dedicated 30-amp wall
outlet or a public plug-in fast charger where available. The 220V
EVSE takes 4 hours from empty to full.
I found itís
easy to do better than the 116 miles-per-gallon-equivalent mileage
rating, unless I use the heater or air conditioning extensively ó
either zaps about 10 miles from the 90-100 mile estimated range ó
or ascend lengthy hills. Fiat did their homework on this car; most
folks would have no idea this thing runs on electrons. Acceleration
is brisk, braking regeneration is imperceptible, steering and
handling are crisp, and itís surprisingly roomy inside for two
full-size adults, despite the tiny exterior dimensions.
My last Fiat
was many, many moons ago, and I can safely say this car is from a
different planet. Fit and finish are Honda-like, itís loaded with
cool features, and the warranty will run out well after the lease
I have a hunch
the attractive lease terms on many EVs may be a short-lived strategy
to get these cars on the road to meet California emission mandates
and build green-car credits. My hope is battery technology will
improve such that greater range and lower cost will get here in time
to keep me EVing continuously. These cars drive magnificently.
It is an
acquired chore to plug in, unplug and search for outlets ó the
EVSE plug-in device comes along, just in case. Iím sure my
enthusiasm will dampen slightly along with rainy weather coming.
Daily range will also fall with more headlight, heater, and
Each day I try
new routes to work and experiment with accessory use. Iíve found
this car loves slow-speed city driving ó the more stoplights, the
better. On the way to work at zero-dark-30, with lights, bun warmers
and defroster blaring, running with the big dogs on the freeway at
75 mph, I average 120 mpge. Using surface streets during mild
daylight hours on the way home, I can squeeze 145 or more mpge. Each
20-mile trip gradually drains between 17 to 23 percent of projected
battery capacity. The projected range reading on the non-glitzy but
cool instrument display is clumsy but appreciated.
gallon equivalent is a reasonably calculated comparison of tank to
wheel and wall plug to wheel operating costs. For those with a
simple two-way commute and another vehicle for longer trips, EVs are
worthy of consideration.