Group 2 2013: The Future of the Electric Car

Is the electric vehicle an economically viable option for a greener future in the United States?


In a world where the economic and ecological effects of vehicles have been a major issue as to the success of vehicles, the emergence of the electric vehicle has offered an increasingly viable alternative to the standard gasoline car. With roots tracing back as far as the early 1830’s, electric cars have been researched by companies such as Tesla Motors to become the “green” alternative to personal transportation. Though inhibited by initial cost, electric vehicles offer a high potential to being long lasting and economically safe for consumers, as they do not require the purchase of fuel and are powered by batteries. Electric vehicles also proved themselves as a viable way to replace standard cars through high levels of performance. Many critics cast off electric vehicles as impractical, but in most cases the efficiency and overall performance of the electric cars met and even surpassed the expectations of critics. Having proved their worth, makers of electric vehicles look to increase production to assist in the ever growing movement towards economically and ecologically friendly vehicles.


Interest in the electric car has surged in the past few years due to economical and environmental reasons. When electric cars were first produced in mass quantities in the mid-nineteenth century, they were slow, low power, and very expensive. With technological improvements, increased demand, and the state of the environment, many efforts have been made to create an electric vehicle that is not only economically viable and environmentally friendly, but also attractive and powerful. While the United States is not typically seen as a leader in the “green movement,” the future of the electric car in the United States is very promising. As gas prices soar, production costs decrease, charging stations emerge, and more models released, consumer interest in the electric vehicle market has greatly increased. The economic benefits, environmental advantages, and highly rated efficiency and performance of the electric car make it a strong contender as the future car in the American market.

Historical Background

Electric Vehicle

The public’s view on electric cars has changed significantly in past years, but they have been around for nearly 200 years. Electric cars have been around since the 1830's. Mr. Robert Anderson invented the first electric car in 1832. Though very primitive by today's standards, this early version included non-rechargeable cells that powered the carriage.

Many people have an idea instilled in their minds about cars powered by electricity versus having a huge gas powered engine. Most people want a car with great gas mileage, a big and powerful engine, and also have a sleek, stylish look. Today’s electric vehicle offers all of these things while also being green with an electric powered battery. Since the first version was created so very long ago, companies such as Tesla have taken the electric car to the next level. They have two models in production and a third on the way. The models consist of the original Tesla Roadster, the Tesla Model S, and finally the Tesla Model X.

According to many critics, the Roadster is a great vehicle. It includes an engine that can take the vehicle over 200 miles on a single charge and can also go from 0 to 60 in four seconds. If you are looking for power and a way around out of high gas prices, look no further. The Model S is similar with a few changes in body style and more available upgrades for the car interior. On the other hand the Model X is an entirely different vehicle. It’s more of a SUV body style but keeps the great mileage per charge. This model gives the public the choice of having an electric car with more room that an SUV offers. As demand increases for the electric vehicle, technological improvements and performance enhancements are sure to follow.

Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors, INC is a company that started in California in 2003, that builds and sells electric cars and other electric vehicle parts. Tesla markets their other electric vehicle components, like the lithium-ion battery packs, to other companies like Toyota and Daimler. They have over 31 service locations worldwide with more on the way soon. The company first got all of the attention for the Tesla Roadster, the first fully electric sports car. The roadster was soon followed by the Model S and Model X.

The Tesla Roadster was the first all electric vehicle produced by Tesla Motors. The roadster was the first electric car for sale in the United States. With the car’s lithium-ion battery it could more than 200 miles just on a single charge. With Tesla’s testings, they found that the car could travel up to 245 miles after one charge. From 2008 to September of 2012, Tesla sold more than 2,400 Roadsters across 31 countries. The price of the Roadster started in the United States at $128,500. Engineering editor, Kim Reynolds, called the acceleration of the car breathtaking due to its ability to go from 0 to 60mph in under 4 seconds. In July of 2006, the Roadster was featured on the front of Time magazine as “Best Innovations 2006.” Two new models of the Roadster have been produced since February 2008. In July 2009 and July 2010 both featured new models of the Roadster with different upgrades. Tesla Motors produced the Roadster until the beginning of 2012. The next generation of the Tesla Roadster will be expected sometime in 2014 and will be developed around the Tesla Model S sedan.

The Tesla Model S started for retail in June 2012 in the United States. The Model S has won many awards such as “2013 World Green Car,” “Motor Trend Car of the Year,” and Automobile Magazine’s “Best Car of the Year 2013.” Around 2,650 Model S cars were sold in the U.S. during 2012 and 4,900 were sold in the first quarter of 2013, making the Model S the top-selling plug-in electric car. This car beat the sales against the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf. In June of 2013, the Model S was under a recall for problems with the seat latch-mounting bracket, found during routine testing.

The Tesla Model X was revealed in February 2012, releasing it SUV similar shape. In February 2013, Tesla announced that production would not start until early 2014 and they have already taken reservations for the vehicle.

The Economics Behind Electric Vehicles

Initial Costs

A major drawback that has hindered mass use of the electric vehicle is the high initial cost of purchase. Electric cars are typically much more expensive than traditional vehicles. However, price has decreased considerably over the past decade. As more people develop an interest in a “greener” future, so does consumer demand for electric cars. This has resulted in number of price drops over the past few years. Lowering the initial price of electric cars has certainly attracted mainstream consumers.

In addition to price reductions, President Obama has pledged to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. To reach this goal, President Obama and administration have introduced a few policies to encourage production and acquisition of the electric car. Through the Recovery Act, the United States has invested loans and grants towards the manufacturing of electric vehicle factories, batteries, motors, and other components. These investments have enabled companies to drastically increase production numbers. The Recovery Act has also supported electric vehicle demonstrations and outreach programs to better educate the human infrastructure of production as well as the general public about the consumer acceptance and public safety of the electric vehicle.

The United States has further helped promote sales through tax incentives. A majority of the States have adopted incentives, such as high occupancy vehicle privileges, waived emissions inspections, and tax credits to encourage the use of the electric vehicle. The Recovery Act has also established tax credits for purchasing the electric vehicle.


The fuel costs for electric vehicles are significantly lower than that of conventional vehicles. As gasoline prices continue to increase, drivers have shown an increasing interest in more fuel-efficient vehicles, like the electric car. Electricity as a fuel source is not only cheaper, but also more stable price-wise. As of July 2013, the average price for gasoline was $3.67 per gallon. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the national equivalent of electricity to gasoline is $1.18 per eGallon. Based on these numbers, electricity is $2.49 cheaper per gallon equivalent than gasoline. Fluctuations and increases in gasoline prices continue to push consumers towards purchasing electric vehicles.


The battery has advanced greatly since the 1990’s. Today’s lithium-ion powered battery is lightweight, functions in 4- or 5-passenger vehicles, charges quickly, and has an extended warranty on battery life. Such great advancements can only hint at the potential of future batteries. With batteries accepting greater charge, the costs of batteries are expected to decrease significantly within the next ten years. Recently, the lithium-ion battery price has dropped from $1,000 per kWh to $600 per kWh. One study predicts that the lithium-ion battery price will drop to $300 per kWh by 2020. The battery for the electric car is expected to be price competitive with the internal combustion engine by 2017 due to increased manufacturing know-how, learning curve improvements, lower-cost for materials, and further advancements in battery design.

Charging Stations

While public charging stations for the electric vehicle are not as ubiquitous as gasoline stations today, government agencies, manufacturers, and municipalities are quickly establishing an extended network of charging infrastructure to meet the increasing consumer demand. Companies like Coulomb Technologies and Vehicle-to-Grid technology are working towards better informing the public on how to use charging stations and locate the nearest charging station. The Department of Energy is currently funding a large project to build 12,750 charging stations across Tennessee, Oregon, San Diego, Seattle, and Arizona. Efforts to develop charging stations throughout the United States are increasing with increased sales.

Maintenance and Safety

Electric vehicles typically require less maintenance than conventional gas-powered vehicles because: there are fewer fluids to change, there are fewer moving parts that require constant inspection, regenerative braking means that there is less brake wear, and batteries require little to no maintenance. All vehicles on the market must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Battery packs are encased in shells that are built to withstand overcharge, vibration, extreme temperatures, short circuit, humidity, fire, collision, and water immersion.

Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors has struggled with sales over the past few years due to six-figured price tags and state law. Tesla Motors is interested in not only manufacturing their vehicles, but also selling them directly to the customer. However, many state laws prohibit car manufacturers from operating their own dealerships. This setback has greatly inhibited sales of the vehicle. In Virginia, Tesla Motors has opened a gallery to demonstrate and model the electric vehicles to interested customers. However, the showroom is not able to sell the product, which greatly reduces sales. Tesla has a petition for Virginia to grant an exemption; if granted, sales of these luxury electric cars would surely increase.

Despite the rocky sales, Tesla has managed to make better-than-expected profits. In the stock market, investors have pushed the stock up to $153 a share from $134. With such profits, Tesla has been able to pay back government loans; if sales continue at the current rate, Tesla is expected to pay back loans earlier than anticipated. As more federal and states tax credits are applied, prices for Tesla vehicles will decrease, more models will be released, and sales for Tesla electric vehicles will soar.

Electric Vehicles and the Environment

A recent study released by Renault and Stanford assesses the life-cycle environmental impact of the electric car compared to that of gas and diesel-powered vehicles. This “cradle to grave” analysis encompasses emissions released during use and production of each vehicle, as well as a large range of environmental impacts, including global warming potential, acidification potential, and eutrophication potential. The study found that gas and diesel-powered vehicles produce a far greater negative impact on the environment in terms of energy consumption, greenhouse gases, ozone pollution, and use of resources. While the environmental impact of producing electric cars is greater than that of gas engines, they produce much less pollution throughout their entire lifecycle.

Electric Vehicles and Performance

Recently, electric vehicles have been receiving significant amounts of praise for their performance on the road. Perhaps most notably, the Tesla Model S, a recently developed electric car from Tesla Motors, was named the Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2013. Two major things cited as to the prominence of the Model S are the car’s efficiency and general performance. In terms of the car’s efficiency, in a 212 mile journey, the car was found to have the equivalence of 118 miles per gallon per unit energy used. This shows how efficient the use of electricity versus gasoline is in a car that is still notably powerful.

The Model S also has won the hearts of critics through its previously mentioned performance capabilities. The vehicle has the ability to make a 0 to 60 mile per hour start in approximately 4 seconds, which is deemed rather impressive when coupled with the fuel efficiency it possesses. In addition, tests have indicated the car can easily handle over 200 miles of mixed environment driving without any major alterations to the vehicle. It is also well suited for the simple daily commute of approximately 40 miles per day. In addition, several stations have been added to west coast locations allowing for “supercharging” the car adding approximately 150 miles to the car’s driving range, allowing for longer distance trips enabled in as little as 30 minutes.


Current environmental conditions, along with consumer desires for travel efficiency, push for the development of new forms of clean or “green” transportation. Electric vehicles, such as those created by Tesla Motors, are one prominent, viable solution to this problem. Electric vehicles, though still in the early stages of development and availability, are proving to be very efficient in conservation of the planet, while still maintaining the performance levels desired by companies and consumers alike.

Companies such as Tesla Motors have begun to bring the prospect of a fully electric vehicle to fruition, as opposed to current hybrid vehicles and standard gasoline based vehicles. The ability to preserve the environment through reduction of emissions is the primary success of electric cars. Electric cars are also very pertinent in the sense that they do not require the owner to purchase gasoline, and instead are merely rechargeable. This fuel cost reduction is in part balanced by the pricing of the vehicles, as they are not cheap. In coming years, this cost will most likely be remedied as the efficiency of the design process of electric vehicles is improved and availability is widened to a larger percentage of the population.

Electric vehicles also maintain many of the current levels of performance standards in the vehicle industry. While critics may cite the fact that electric vehicles do not have the long distance capabilities that standard gasoline and hybrid vehicles possess, studies show that electric vehicles still possess a high level of competitiveness with current norms in the industry. An exemplification of the high level of performance in electric vehicles is shown by the Tesla Model S receiving the Motor Trend Car of the Year award in 2013. The judges associated with the award put the car through a variety of tests and determined it exceeds the expectations of a normal car and also succeeds in the mission of electric vehicles in preserving the environment through use of electrical power, as well as maintaining a high level of performance and efficiency.

Electric vehicles possess a high potential to take the transportation industry by storm through their effectiveness as a relatively cheap “green” form of transportation. They combine strengths of price effectiveness and great performance with reliability and environmental preservation to create a type of vehicle that brings successes to all aspects of the transportation market. The major downfalls of the current productions of electric vehicles are their high costs and difficulties of production. These problems will be remedied in the future as technology advances and the overall production process of the vehicles is solidified and protected. The advancements of electrical vehicles preludes a much more environmentally conscious and protective world, where vehicles are enjoyed without harming the life span of the planet we now inhabit.


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Very interesting topic. I leant a lot from the background. The subheading for economic part is perfect. Electrical vehicles could be a major transportation in the future I believe. However in this passage the in-text citation is a problem. I did not see the resource. I think this could be a problem. Anyway, this is a very good article and I like it very much. Enjoy the rest of the summer although only one week left.
(Xiuyuan Han)

Xi Li

Overall, it is an interesting topic, and electric car is free-pollution and good for our environment. And I hope in the future, we will have this type of car. However, I think this article is out of topic of controversy of electric car. It is just a introduction of electric car. In this article, firstly, in the abstract part, it does not talk a lot about what is the controversy side about this group, and I do not see what they are going to talk about during this article, very specific way. The abstract should guide the audience about what is in this article. And also, this article seems like just introduce about the electric car, and they do not make a clear comparison about electric and fuel car. Even though, electric car is cheap, friendly environment, but it still has its disadvantages. Everything has two sides, for controversy article, it requires us how to minimize the side which is "bad" for the writer. And try to say "good" things about electric car. But not absolutely just saying advantages. Should make comparison about electric car and fuel car. If electric car is so good, why people still produce fuel car? What is the disadvantages? And also, for the MLA style of citation, I do not see any citation in the article, they just list the references, but where do you guys quote? This is a big issue of this article. I like the sub headings of the article, it is really easy to follow. Good job! And enjoy rest of your summer everyone!Go hokies!

Bryan Faulkner

As an Electrical Engineering major, I am personally very interested in this Wiki Article and electric vehicles. Personally, I’m appalled at the amount of carbon emissions that we as a nation are currently outputting; the US can do better than it currently is. I thought that this article provides an excellent summary of the current and past engineering, environmental, and economic aspects of various electric vehicles; the US has certainly begun to advance and consider electric vehicles as a viable, alternative mode of transportation. However, I do not believe that this article fully addresses whether or not, an electric vehicle actually is “an economically viable option for a greener future in the United States;” the article seemed to take a somewhat passive position while never fully committing to one side of the current economic viability argument. To make this point more clear, I would suggest including more statistics, research figures, and informed projection numbers, so as to sway the argument one way or another; additionally, citing your sources is a must. Cheers, and have a great fall!

E.L. Smiling

This is a great article on the future of electric vehicles. You do a good job of thoroughly explaining each aspect of the electric car and its industry but what I would like to know is what the disadvantages are. The way the article is presented seems as if electric vehicles are God's gift to mankind. I understand you are pro electric vehicle but it never hurts to add the negatives sometimes and quickly respond with a positive that subjectively outweighs that problem. I'm really playing devils advocate here but what are the problems with electric cars that make them so unpopular? Why are people afraid to dive into the electric car industry? One main concern for me living in the northern Virginia and DC area is the battery life. While battery life has been extended over the past decade it is still not enough to endure the sometimes tireless traffic of northern Virginia. There is no way an affordable electric car battery could survive a 4 hour commute along 95 while playing music and having AC or heat on. While it would take about 20 hours to charge a electric car battery, it only takes a few minutes to pump gas in a standard vehicle. Again I'm just being difficult. I think this is a great article and you guys did a stellar job of making your points. Thanks and enjoy the last bit of summer.
E.L. Smiling

Josh Trimble

This article is very interesting and informative on the subject of electric cars. There is no doubt that electric cars are a thing of the future and something that will hopefully be owned by the majority of people. The benefits of electric cars are obvious in a lot of aspects, but this article brings out the aspects that might not be as obvious. An example of a benefit that might not be as obvious is the stated fact that “In terms of the car’s efficiency, in a 212 mile journey, the car was found to have the equivalence of 118 miles per gallon per unit energy used.” This is a great example for why an electric car can be so pivotal in the world. One thing that I would have liked to hear more about in this article are the things that have prevented us from using electric cars in the past. It would have been an interesting idea to compare what is different in today’s age that wasn’t available before. However, I believe this article was very well rounded and covered the majority of topics and questions that would be asked about this specific topic.

Justin Taylor

This article is very interesting and tells you whatever you need to know about electrical cars. Electrical cars are something that will play a big role in the future but I would like to know more pros and cons about this. I feel that with the world changing year in and year out who knows what the future holds but with this, I feel that if it was going to be something big in our future they would need to really do something thats going to set the bar high and change everything up with gas being put in cars. When it comes to giving great details and delivering all the information we need on each aspect of the electrical car, you guys did great. I really enjoyed reading this article and learning how things have gone over time. You guys did great on making points and backing them up. Really enjoyed the article and I am interested to see what happens in the future with this.

Samantha Gostling

I really enjoyed reading this article because it sets a big picture about how electric cars can help us. They gives lots of advantages about the electric car but I would like to see some disadvantages also. There are going to be people that ask how these electric cars are going to help us but also how they can harm us. "Many people have an idea instilled in their minds about cars powered by electricity versus having a huge gas powered engine. Most people want a car with great gas mileage, a big and powerful engine, and also have a sleek, stylish look", as stated in the article, this sort of bothered me because how do they know this is what people want? If they are going to assume this is what people are thinking then they need statistical evidence. Overall, I did like this article because I think that electric cars can help our future tremendously.

Yousef Alabdrabalnabi

As I want to join the Future Energy Electronic Center at Virginia Tech on my master degree, I am really supportive to the electrical cars. Not only for the economical aspect, but also because electrical cars are friendlier to the nature. There is enormous amount of harmful gases emit from cars every day. This article is interesting from the aspect of the history of the electrical cars and how they develop within the last decades. However, the article does not address the cost correctly. The initial price of electrical cars are more expensive than the conventional vehicles. Also, it might be true that electrical cars need less maintenance, but how much it is going to cast when the time came to be maintain? When, for instance, the engine breakdown, is it maintainable or it has to be replaced? In these days, I do not think that electrical cars are more economical, however; they are friends to nature.

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