From: Sonari Glinton, NPR Topics: Environment
Published November 21, 2011 08:24 AM

Can Electric Cars Help Automakers Reach 55 MPG?

Under rules announced by the White House this summer, cars will have to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — nearly twice what the current average is. Reaching that goal will take not only feats of engineering but also changing how Americans think about their cars and how they drive them.


The electric car is one of the ways carmakers expect to lower their average fuel consumption and get to the 55 mpg average. The problem is, people aren't buying, whether all-electric or plug-in hybrid.

General Motors is struggling to sell 10,000 Chevy Volts this year and Nissan has sold just over 8,000 Leafs. For context, about 13 million cars are expected to be sold in the U.S. in 2011.

Brian Brockman with Nissan took me on a test drive of the all-electric Leaf. As you start the car, there's no accompanying sound of the engine turning on since there's no gas engine under the hood. Not only is the car quiet, it's also smart and it looks genuinely space-aged.

The Leaf doesn't fly but Nissan claims the car gets about 100 miles per charge — sort of.

Brockman says physics naturally takes over even with these cars. If you're going 80 miles an hour on the highway, you will naturally get more resistance against the car.

"The car has to work a little bit harder, so the range is going to go down a little bit faster," he says.

What Brockman doesn't say is you're only going get reach the 100-mile range on cool spring days doing about 40 mph, when you're not using the AC and car is going downhill. Consumer Reports, which tested the Leaf, said it gets an average of about 65 miles on a charge.

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