According to Steve Huff — who is trying to become the first racer to eclipse the 200 mile-per-hour threshold with an electric-powered dragster — electric vehicles (EVs) are not a future
aspiration but a present reality.
Still, industry experts continue to fortify the infrastructure needed for electric cars, and technological advancements are likely just around the corner. To show off some of the improvements and the work still to be done in the EV market, the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association (OEVA) hosted an event at World of Speed in Wilsonville Saturday, Sept. 21, as part of National Drive Electric Week.
Here are some highlights from the event:
Traveling with an EV
One of the most common assumptions about electric cars, according to Patrick Connor, is the difficulty of driving them long distances.
Connor acknowledges that, in many cases, this concern is founded.
"I've taken the (Nissan) Leaf on a couple trips and it was difficult," Connor said. "You have to chart out where you're going to stop. If there's a problem there, you have to have alternatives."
However, since he purchased his Tesla X, Connor said he has driven to Comic Con in San Diego twice without any complications. That's because Tesla built charging stations across the United States and the car automatically identifies routes based on the location of charging stations.
"Most of the stops are a half an hour, and after driving 100 miles it's good to get out, stretch your legs, get a drink," Connor said.
Debbie Jimmerson and her husband also have gone on road trips in their Tesla Model 3. And overall, they are satisfied with their Tesla experience.
"What I like about this car is the longer range. It's fast, it's really fun to drive and really responsive," she said. "We encourage people to get in and drive one, go test-drive one at the dealership, because you really don't know how they feel until you get in and drive them yourself. We'll never go back to gas cars after driving these for so many years."
Truckers' experience improved
One of the more innovative EVs at the event were Freightliner's eM2 medium-duty truck and eCascadia highway truck.
Drew Pearson, the EM2 innovation fleet lead, said about 30 of these trucks, which are designed for local and regional distribution, are being deployed in Los Angeles as part of a pilot program.
According to Pearson, the trucks can travel 150 miles and are more enjoyable to drive than the standard gas-fueled truck.
"Diesel trucks tend to be loud, slow, the power tends to struggle when it gets really heavy," Pearson said. "These just go no matter how much weight is in the back. You can listen to the radio at a quiet volume. You don't have to scream into the phone. The feedback from the drivers has been very positive. They argue over who gets to drive the electric trucks."
However, the company is far from releasing them on a wide scale. Pearson said it takes about five to six weeks to build one vehicle and that it isn't yet feasible to drive the vehicles long distances.
"When you compare this build to a production line, production lines are serialized, there's a lot more people involved in the build, it is in sequential order and efficient. These are all built by hand in a stall. It's still in prototype phase," Pearson said.
Pearson said the company is starting the pilot program in Los Angeles because of available government subsidies and because there are a high volume of shorter distance routes that could be useful to the businesses that lease the vehicles through the program. He would like to see Oregon politicians invest in EV products for truck drivers.
"There's a lot of money available down in California but not much in Oregon which, is a surprise to us. We would love to put some things in operation here," he said.
Future of drag racing?
Since Huff built a battery-powered dragster in 2017, his hands are clean following a day at the race track, rather than covered in grease.
Steve Huff Motorsports' "Current Technology" racer has eclipsed the 180 mph mark and is one of the fastest electric dragsters in the world.
Building the vehicle required many of the same components as any gas-fueled dragster. But the main difference was the placement of batteries that amount to 1.6 megawatts.
Huff said it has cost his company about $700,000 to build two electric dragsters but said that as the technology improves, it will be cheaper for serious drag racers to use an EV because they don't require as much maintenance. And he said the lack of noise on the electric versions allow racers a greater ability to focus.
"This is expensive once. The other way is expensive every weekend. The maintenance of the engine and parts they go through, they wear out very quickly," he said.
Huff plans to attempt to eclipse his 200 mph goal soon at the Woodburn Dragstrip and will display the vehicle at the Portland International Auto Show. Huff is relatively new to the EV world but is motivated to help turn essentially a novelty product into a staple of the drag racing community.
"This electric thing has been a tremendous amount of fun. We've discovered a lot of things," Huff said.
A different feel
Along with seasoned electric vehicle veterans, dozens of novices test-drove electric cars for the first time at the event.
Attendee Hannah Lauer, for her part, drove the Chevrolet Bolt, a Nissan Leaf and a Volkswagen e-Golf. Lauer said the feel of the brakes was one of the main differences between the EVs and her current car, an older Mazda.
"It was different. It feels like all of the sudden the power dies," she said.
Douglas Hardy, meanwhile, was impressed by the acceleration of the Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona.
"I was surprised by the pick up. It feels like they have a lot of power, particularly for how small of a car it is. And they were quiet," Hardy said.
Both Hardy and Lauer mentioned state and tax credit and rebate programs that are available for the purchasing of electric vehicles, which can lower the price tag by as much as $10,000. Many of the electric vehicles at the event cost between $35,000 and $50,000.
"If it weren't for federal and state credits, we probably wouldn't be looking at them," Hardy said.
Along with the cost, Dan Nelson said the difficulty of driving an EV on road trips and the potential need for him to add an electric line to his garage were barriers to purchasing an EV. Currently, he's undecided.
For more information about the OEVA, visit http://www.oeva.org/.
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