Let us ask ourselves a question: What is an electric vehicle these days?
If we based the answer strictly on the Jaguar I-Pace we reviewed earlier this year, it should be a vehicle that does not require any gasoline or diesel fuel to power it. Just the charge from the electrical grid to allow the batteries to provide energy for the motors to run.
Considering the automotive market these days, it is not a foolproof future. It is an outcome of the future that we do recognize as real, given the number of Teslas on the road across the Upper Midwest and the growing interest in battery-electric vehicles within our community.
Then, there are the headlines. HourCar has committed to converting its car-share service to go fully electric by the end of 2020. That would mean replacing its fleet, along with installing charging stations within the city of St. Paul—all through Federal grants and partnerships with the Metropolitan Council and Xcel Energy.
To understand what this means for us back in the Twin Cities and across the Upper Midwest, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to see where the electric vehicle and its promise for the future are heading next. The Washington Automotive Press Association, along with Audi, Electrify America, Exelon, and Kia welcomed me for an information exchange and demonstration of the latest battery-electric vehicles to come into our market. This event was called the WAPA EV Day,
The good news for EV customers is one such vehicle is sparking interest in the Twin Cities. The Audi e-tron quattro SUV is promising an estimated range of 204 miles, which you can go 54 miles based on a quick 10-minute charge. The e-tron can be recharged with DC Fast Charging, as well as Level 2 240V charging. Currently, that means taking your e-tron to one of several Goodwill locations in the Twin Cities for recharging using the faster Level 3 system, or to a number of other locations—including Hy-Vee supermarkets—to use their Level 2 chargers to top off.
Through a partnership with Electrify America, Audi customers will also get the first 1,000 kilowatt hours of charging at no additional cost when they purchase an e-tron SUV or any of the upcoming electric or plug-in vehicles Audi is set to introduce well into the next decade. That first set of charging is good for approximately 2,000 miles of driving. Electrify America operates a network of more than 16,000 across the country, with plans on adding another 2,000 chargers at 480 sites by the end of 2019.
As for home charging, Audi has a partnership with Amazon to purchase a system, along with facilitating the installation of a new charger at your home. Audi asks its customers to separately arrange this apart from the purchase of their e-tron quattro SUV. Other manufacturers—including Tesla—offer home chargers to be included in their purchase, however, installation is arranged through selected vendors locally for costs not covered in the vehicle’s purchase. It has been stated that 80 percent of all electric vehicle charging is done at home.
According to Mike Moran, manager of PR and Communications of Electrify America, they will open up their first charger in the Twin Cities out in Woodbury this summer. There is a charger in Eau Claire, Wisconsin presently. Audi dealerships can allow their customers to have their e-tron vehicles charged on site, as well. It is also suggested to the use the PlugShare app via their mobile phone for other charging stations across our region.
I had a chance to ride along in the e-tron inside the indoor electric vehicle track, sponsored by Exelon. This track is part of the Washington Auto Show for attendees to experience the power of an EV. Along with the Audi e-tron quattro, we had a Hyundai Kona EV and a Nissan Leaf to ride along with professional drivers. Needless to say, the Audi is quick: they claim a 0-60 MPH sprint of 5.5 seconds. I found plenty of controlled roll and lean through tight maneuvers, but it is also a very comfortable place to be.
The Audi e-tron quattro SUV is arriving within months, starting at $74,800.
For something more affordable, Kia presented its new Niro EV to us. This is the latest member of the Niro family, joining the Hybrid and PHEV models later this year. It features a battery-electric driveline with 291 pound-feet of torque.
There are only a few visual differences between the Hybrid, PHEV, and EV models. The EV’s front end lacks a grille. To your right is a large plug-in port integrated with the front “grille.”
Kia’s target for battery range is 240 miles, which positions it with other popular EVs priced under $50,000. This group includes the upcoming Kia Soul EV, the Hyundai Kona EV, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus, and the Nissan Leaf e-Plus.
I took the Kia Niro EV on the streets of Washington, D.C. and found that it was at home battling traffic in the District’s tight streets while maneuvering around bicyclists and scooter riders. This means that it will do very well right at home here in the Twin Cities and the Upper Midwest.
Pricing has not been announced for the Kia Niro EV at this time. Initially, the Niro or Soul EV will not be for sale in our region.
Between Audi, Kia, Hyundai, and Nissan is a commitment to providing full battery-electric vehicles to customers who are ready to plug in and pass up the local gas station. This next wave of EVs, including the Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQC, represent the fact that by sticking to conventional vehicle designs and to meeting customer’s needs that acceptance of such vehicles should be made easier.
While we are seeing commitments by Xcel Energy to provide the infrastructure for more home and public charging of EVs, it comes down to providing vehicles to our market and widening the choices for both individual and fleet customers to purchase them. More vehicles on the road mean more choices for consumers in this segment.