Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Why I Don't Yet Own an Electric Car

I'd really like to own an electric car. I'd like to fuel my vehicle at home. I'd like to routinely leave the house with a "full tank." I'd like to escape the tyranny of oil changes. I'd like to spare myself and the world noise from engines and emissions from tailpipes. I'd like to be part of the future of automobile travel.

So why am I still driving the gas-powered Nissan Rogue I bought two years ago?  I hate that car. Why don't I just dump it and go electric?

Given my past posts about the luxury-car pricing of electric vehicles (here and here), it'd be reasonable to assume that that's what's holding me back. I used to believe that myself. A recent test drive of a VW ID.4 taught me otherwise.

When the ID.4 was announced, it looked to be the first all-electric AWD compact SUV that wouldn't cost an arm and two legs. I put down a deposit on Day 1.

Before the ID.4, I didn't think very carefully about the features I wanted in an electric vehicle. EV price tags told me everything I needed to know: they were too expensive. Because the ID.4's price didn't constitute an automatic veto, I had to think about what I really wanted in a car--about features so important, I would reject cars lacking them. 

Most of the things I insist upon are so basic, it's hard to find cars that don't offer them. A power driver's seat, for example. However, there are two things I care about that are less than ubiquitous. The first is the ability to view the area around the car as if seen from above. This capability goes by many names, including bird's eye view and surround view. On my Rogue, it's called the Intelligent Around View Monitor. It's my first car with this capability, and though I hate the car, I've become so fond of this feature, I'd consider it an unacceptable step backwards to lose it. The ID.4 doesn't offer it, and when I performed the thought experiment of asking myself if I'd accept an ID.4 as a replacement for my Rogue for free and realized I'd turn it down, I recognized that a 360-degree camera was a non-negotiable feature for me.

That rules out not just the ID.4, but also Tesla's Model Y. For a car with as much tech as they pack into Teslas, it's surprising that they don't offer an all-around view capability. (My understanding is that Tesla has announced that this is coming as part of their self-driving option, but they haven't yet released it.)

My second must-have feature is a moonroof: an openable window in the top of the car. I've been hooked on these since a car I bought in 1995 happened to come with one. I think they're great, but modern automotive designers seem to think they can be replaced by giant glass roofs. None of Ford's Mach-E, VW's ID.4, Tesla's Model Y, Jaguar's i-pace, or Hyundai's IONIQ 5 offer a moonroof, but all offer a fixed glass roof. No moonroof equals no purchase for me, so this criterion eliminates all those cars.

That leaves only one candidate EV: the Volvo XC40 Recharge. It's a compact SUV, it's got AWD, and it offers a moonroof and a 360-degree camera. It's a hoot to drive, too, based on one of the most enjoyable test drives I've ever taken. (The sales rep made copies of my and my wife's driver licenses, threw us the keys to the demo car, and told us to drive it wherever we wanted for as long as we wanted.) Its infotainment system was particularly impressive, supporting the kind of natural language interactions I'm accustomed to having with my phone (and that are unavailable on the ID.4). 

Unfortunately, the XC40 Recharge has an EPA-rated range of only 208 miles. That's a problem, because one of the things I want to be able to do is take a day trip that's about 210 miles long. Any gas-powered car can do that, so I didn't even think about it when looking at EVs. It made me realize that I have a third non-negotiable feature: the ability to make a 210-mile trip on a single charge. Because EPA estimates are just that (estimates) and because nobody's going to drive a car to the point where it's completely out of fuel, I'm not going to seriously look at any EV with an EPA range under 235 miles. That knocks the XC40 off the board. 

The resulting board has nothing on it. There are zero compact SUV EVs offering AWD, a surround-view camera, a moonroof, and an EPA range of at least 235 miles.

Currently, it's not the cost of EVs that's keeping me from buying one, it's the failure of  EVs to offer the features I consider essential. I'll thus keep doing for a few more years what I've already done for what seems like an eternity: watching and waiting for the EV industry to produce a car that checks all my boxes.