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Alternative Fuels Mythbusters: Electric

Twenty years ago, the phrase “electric car” probably conjured images of a green, dome-shaped hovercraft putt-puttering across an open and nebula splashed sky, perhaps to the worming tune of a staccato-jabbed theme song. If it sounds like we’re describing the opening sequence to the Jetsons, you caught us. But we would be wrong, because George’s space car was not electric; it was a multi-propulsion system hybrid, powered by nuclear fusion and fueled with “high-octane pellets”. And also because storing a car in your briefcase is silly.

Back here on Earth, electric cars have turned out to be, well, much more down to Earth. Most major manufacturers offer at least one full or hybrid electric vehicle, and electric cars have technically been around since the 1830s. As a survey conducted by Consumers Union and the Union of Concerned Scientists reveals, however, many (too many) of us are still confused about the myths and facts of electric and hybrid electric vehicles.

First, a little vocabulary. There are a few different types of electric vehicles driving around, the key difference being whether the vehicle is fully electric or a hybrid electric. The long popular Toyota Prius is a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), meaning its design combines an electric motor with a conventional internal combustion engine (i.e. gasoline power). So while the Prius runs on gasoline, the combination greatly improves the mpg efficiency and reduces emissions. Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) go a step further by allowing their owners to charge them and run entirely on electric power for a distance before an accompanying internal combustion system kicks in. As the name suggests, fully electric vehicles (EVs) run solely on electricity which is stored in a battery that can be charged from a wall outlet. Fully electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, although - as we’ll discuss - there are emissions associated with the electricity that charges them.

Without further ado, some things you should know about electric vehicles:


Myth

There are no public charging stations for an electric vehicle in Indiana.

Fact

There are currently 141 electric stations equipped with 307 charging outlets in Indiana. The introduction of the BlueIndy program alone prompted the installation of 75 stations in and around downtown Indianapolis, with plans to expand to 200. The stations are primarily for use by the ride-sharing service, but are available to any electric vehicle driver with a charging membership.

Many would-be electric vehicle drivers cite anxiety over getting stranded roadside with a drained battery as a primary dealbreaker. A study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, though, found that electric vehicles meet the daily driving needs of 87% of Americans. This means that nearly 90% of us could swap out our gas-guzzlers for an EV today and be able to get where we need to go during a typical day on one night’s charge no problem. What about longer trips or vacations? A car-sharing service, rental or secondary car, could easily supplement those infrequent occasions.

Myth

I can’t afford a fully electric (EV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or hybrid electric vehicle (HEV).

Fact

Yes, electric cars—new cars in general—can be expensive, but so is climate change. As with any innovative product, electric vehicles have also become much more affordable since they first hit the market several years ago. The average price of a new car in March of 2016 was $33,666. This falls to $31,355 if you exclude luxury, high performance and sports cars (i.e. the average for sub-compact through full-size cars, light trucks, SUVs and minivans). The average price for an HEV, PHEV or EV was $31,708, a difference of less than $400.

That same MIT study found that:

“...the daily energy requirements of some 90 percent of personal cars on the road in the U.S. could be met by today’s EVs, with their current ranges, at an overall cost to their owners — including both purchase and operating costs — that would be no greater than that of conventional internal-combustion vehicles.”

Not only have up front prices begun leveling out, over time, electric vehicles can save money—most significantly on fuel costs—but also on maintenance. Electric vehicles have fewer liquids and moving parts, therefore less to keep track of and less wear and tear to deal with. There are also tax credits up to $7,500 available to those who purchase electric vehicles. The best part? With increased demand and progressive innovation, electric cars will only become more affordable.

Myth

Indiana’s electricity is primarily from coal-fired plants so an electric vehicle does more harm to our environment than good.

Fact

While it is true that a majority of Indiana’s electricity comes from coal, an average EV still emits about 3,000 lbs. less CO2 per year than a conventional gasoline fueled vehicle. That amount is roughly the same or higher for PHEVs and HEVs. (You can see Indiana’s power source breakdown—and its impact on vehicle emissions—here.) Not to mention that power grids are only getting greener. As Don Anair of the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out, “The good news is that as the nation’s electric grids get cleaner, consumers who buy an EV today can expect to see their car’s emissions go down over the lifetime of the vehicle.” (Already have an electric? You can check CO2 emissions—both from the vehicle tailpipe and from power production and distribution—for individual vehicle models here.) Taking advantage of green energy options is an affordable way to reduce emissions from electric vehicles—and emissions in general—right now.

We never said air quality was a single-faceted issue. If we want more electric vehicle options, we have to show we’re willing to pay for them, and if we want green energy, we have to demand it. You can support the development of green energy infrastructure in Indiana by enrolling in your provider’s green energy program. If Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL) is your power provider, the utility is also piloting the first EV charging program in the state. Learn about it here.


Electric vehicles are already one of the cleanest driving options available and have the potential to be completely emissions free with a clean electric source. To learn more about the myths and facts of alternative fuels, check out our Alternative Fuels Mythbusters infographic.