Are Electric-Car Enthusiasts a Little Too Enthusiastic?

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Nissan Europe / Associated Press

Some electric vehicle owners have over-the-top praise for their cars’ performance and practicality. Does that mean the vast majority of drivers on the road are stupid for not being EV early adopters?

Check out this article in the Washington Post, written by a columnist who says “I can’t drive my Mercedes-Benz any more” after owning an electric-powered $60,000 Tesla Model S for a month. Here’s a snippet of the breathless review, appropriately titled “Confessions of a Tesla Fanboy”:

When you step on the pedal in the Model S you skip a few heartbeats. The car literally seems to fly. It is frighteningly quiet and picks up acceleration like a spaceship shifting into warp speed. I’ve raced Formula Fords at Skip Barber Racing School and have driven Porches and Ferraris owned by my friends. They feel like super-charged lawn mowers when compared with the Tesla.

(MORE: It’s Not About the Range: How the Tesla-NY Times Controversy Misses the Point About Electric Cars)

A San Francisco Chronicle story quotes an EV enthusiast named Forrest North, who just so happens to run an app that helps locate EV charging stations, saying, “Plug-in vehicles have crossed over the point of being an economic no-brainer in the last few months.” North had this to say about owning a Nissan Leaf for two years, and driving it about 1,000 miles per month:

“I have not taken it in for a single service in those two years,” he said. “You can fit the entire cost of ownership, lease, service and fuel into the fuel bill of any other normal car.”

Now, if you swallow everything that EV owners like these say, it seems almost idiotic to still be driving around in a vehicle powered by a traditional internal-combustion engine and dropping money at gas stations on a regular basis.

So, are we all just dumb for not hopping aboard the Plug-in Express? Of course not. The truth is that there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical about the costs and practicality of EV ownership. It also seems like there’s good reason to be skeptical about what comes out of the mouths of EV owners.

Is plug-in ownership really “an economic no-brainer”? Jeff Alson, a senior engineer for the EPA, told the Detroit Free Press that he expects by 2025, plug-ins such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt will constitute a mere 2% of the marketplace. Even that estimate, deemed quite optimistic in certain circles, would represent huge growth compared to its current tiny, sub-1% status.

What about the claim that the entire cost of owning a Nissan Leaf is cheaper than what the owner of a standard car pays for gas? Ridiculous. Two years ago, Leafs were being leased for $300 to $350 per month. Figure around $4,000 per year, not including a down payment. Do you spend anywhere near that much on gas? That amount was roughly the same as the average gas bill for an entire American household in 2011. We’re talking about households with more than one car, of course. What’s more, insurance and electricity expenses for EVs aren’t even factored into the cost-of-ownership equation yet. (State and federal rebates for EVs aren’t factored in either.)

(MORE: At Under $19K for a Nissan Leaf, Does the Math on Electric Cars Finally Add Up?)

And how about the review comparing the Tesla’s takeoff to that a spaceship? Presumably, the author of the piece isn’t an astronaut. So perhaps this is hyperbole. He’s allowed to be of the opinion that the car blows the doors off Ferraris and Porsches, mere “lawn mowers” compared to the Model S. Then again, readers are allowed to take that in and think: hogwash. Here’s a guy who seems to be a little too in love with his new toy. After all, he admits that his heart skips a beat when he steps on the gas.

Why would plug-in owners exaggerate how amazingly awesome and surprisingly affordable their vehicles are? Why do they seem to view those who haven’t bought into the new technology with a certain level of disdain, perhaps even pity?

Any honest early adopter will admit that one of the motivations for jumping on new, untested technology is simple bragging rights. The decision is at least partly driven by egotistical, not economic considerations—because we all know that prices for new tech will inevitably drop. (See: the new Nissan Leaf model.) And whether it’s a brand-new EV, Apple product, 3-D TV, or even a fancy ride-on lawn mower, there’s a tendency among all proud new owners to want to show them off and justify the purchase price.

It’s wonderful that plug-in owners love their cars so much. Good for them. But that shouldn’t stop them from being honest about how expensive the vehicles are, and how they’re more limited than gas-powered cars in terms of driving range.

(MORE: The Early Adopter: Trendsetter or Sucker?)’s John O’Dell, who covers the green-car marketplace and who has loved owning his Nissan Leaf going on two years, admitted to me that EVs have a long way to go before appealing to the masses. “I like these vehicles. They’re neat,” he said. “But from a purely economic outlook, there are tremendous obstacles in the way of these cars going mainstream.”

So what about the early adopters who consider EV ownership an absolute “no-brainer”? Their infatuation with the new technology, and perhaps with their own status as trendsetters, may be skewing their assessments. “The bulk of plug-in owners are people who have at least sipped the Kool-Aid,” said O’Dell.