Electric plug-in cars going farther, becoming easier to charge

Electric cars have come a long way since mass-produced models hit the market just a few years ago.
Now, they can go much farther, and it's easier to charge them.

The 2017 Chevy Bolt EV is a bit of a game changer in the world of electric vehicles. On sale since December, it's the first electric car with over 200 miles of battery driving range for about $30,000. The official rating is 238 miles of driving, and the base price is $36,600, which means under $30,000 after government incentives, starting with a $7,500 federal tax credit.

Next up is the long-awaited Tesla Model 3, with a pre-incentive base price of $35,000, and a driving range of 215 miles. So far, the car is a hit without anyone having even driven one. Tesla has received over 300,000 refundable deposits from customers who want to reserve one. Full production won't be ramped up until late this year, so many of those customers won't get their Model 3 until sometime in 2018.

Improved battery technology means better range at lower cost for all kinds of electric vehicles. For example, Volkswagen has been able to increase the range of its fully-electric e-Golf by upgrading the battery pack for 2017 models. VW is now focusing heavily on electric cars after the financial and public relations disaster of their diesel cheating scandal.

The 2015-2016 e-Golf was rated at 83 miles of driving, while the upgraded 2017 gets a marked increase to 125 miles. I actually charged one several times during a testing week, and after one full charge, I was able to get the estimated range display to show 139 miles of available driving. (As the saying goes, "your mileage may vary.")

Even the Nissan Leaf, the first mass-produced electric car which went on sale in late 2010, has seen its range go up in recent years. It once offered 75 miles of driving, and now it's up to 107 miles thanks to an improved battery. The current Leaf is going to be replaced soon by an all-new model, which is rumored to be good for 200-plus miles of range.

Better range with electric cars is one way to convince more people that an EV could fit into their lifestyles, and improved availability of public charging is another -- at places like shopping centers, office buildings, and amusement parks. In other words, any place people will be parking for a few hours and can top up their cars' batteries. ChargePoint, the country's largest network, now has 38,000 stations and is adding more each year.

Additionally, Volkswagen is required to foot the bill to install hundreds of stations in California for use by any electric vehicle as part of its settlement with the state in the diesel cheating scandal. Look for VW-funded charging spots in less affluent communities, a factor that's also specifically part of that settlement.

EVs still won't fit everyone's lifestyle, but continued development means they're now a bit easier to live with, and should get more so in the coming years as battery performance and cost continues to improve.
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