That's going to be one of the underlying messages when manufacturers start releasing electric cars for the larger market in the near future.
While consumers overwhelmingly say they want plug-in cars, consumers will have to be educated on the differences between them and gas-burning cars, says Debra Reed, CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric, which will take delivery of 10 to 15 all-electrics Nissan when they come out next year.
Nissan and SDG&E showed off a "mule" of Nissan's electric commuter today. The functioning vehicle sports the same basic motor and other electronics that will come with the production all-electric cars, said a Nissan spokeswoman. However, it is housed in the shell of an existing car.
So what are the differences? For one thing, consumers are going to have to become disciplined about charging their cars at night, not during peak times. People will also have to remember, and accommodate, the comparatively short driving range.
"You don't want customers to think they are going to run out of gas," she said in an interview. "The challenges are going to be range and customer behavior."
Off-peak charging, of course, is one of SDG&E's big concerns. California could accommodate four million plug-in cars right if consumers charged them in off-peak times. "If it is on peak, it will require additional generating capacity," she said.
Nissan will be one of the first major car companies to release all-electric cars. General Motors will come out with the Volt around the same time, but it will be a gas-electric serial hybrid. Toyota has a plug-in hybrid coming in the near future too. Ford will release an all-electric commercial delivery van in 2010, but won't come out with an electric passenger car until 2011. (Tesla Motors already sells all-electric cars, but with a production volume of almost 20 a week, it's tough to classify it as a "major" automaker.)
Nissan's town car will sport a range of 100 miles, run on lithium-ion batteries, get the equivalent of 367 miles per gallon, and also be capable of being charged in four to eight hours.
The utility and Nissan are also conducting research on high-speed chargers that could charge a car in 26 minutes, said Reed. (Nissan's Minoru Shinohara, who oversees technical development at the company, also told us last year that the company is working on charging systems that will charge the car while driving.)
One of the more interesting aspects of Nissan's car will be the price. Nissan's spokeswoman said that it would not – repeat, not – sell for a premium, and that's before the $7,500 federal tax credit is added. Factor that in and it could be a bargain. Most car manufacturers have had trouble keeping the price point down on electric cars because of the cost of batteries. Even plug-in hybrids like the Volt have seen their prices increase because of battery costs.
Although Nissan's car is a five-seater passenger, many of the initial customers will likely be fleet buyers, similar to those that will buy Ford's van. The shorter driving range is less of a problem for fleet owners, who mostly buy cars for local trips. Fleet buyers can also afford to erect their own charging stations, if needed.
Electric cars will also have to compete with natural gas ones. SDG&E owns 5,900 fleet cars. 1,200 of the total are alternative energy cars. Of those 1,200, 1,100 run on natural gas.