Now that BMW has announced production of an electric version of their very popular Mini Cooper subcompact, interest in electric cars for urban use is likely to increase.
Popular Mechanics reports, “Dubbed the Mini E, it will be available for lease in three states—California, New York and New Jersey—and only to those companies and individuals participating in the 500-unit pilot program.
A 204-hp electric motor resides under the hood and powers the front wheels, a single-speed gearbox provides motive power and a 35 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack supplies the juice. Unfortunately, the battery pack takes the space normally occupied by the rear seats, so this Mini is just a twofer.”
It all sounds great, but there is a problem with small, stylish electric cars that must be considered. While these vehicles are likely to excite young, urban dwellers with a decent amount of disposable income, this same demographic is also less likely to have access to an outlet to plug into the car for charging.
Generation Y urban dwellers are more likely to live in an apartment building with a parking garage than a 3-bedroom house with a private garage. Adding electric in a shared building garage (or outdoor parking lot) requires the buy-in of building management and/or apartment owners.
As a former condominium and co-op owner in the New York City area I speak from experience when I say, “Good luck with that.” It is very hard to get building boards to agree on basic building upgrades let alone ones that will require tens our thousands of dollars in electrical system upgrades.
Given the lack of available charging infrastructure in and around major cities, it stands to reason that sales of plug-in electric vehicles will fare much better in the suburbs where vehicle emissions due to traffic congestion is a much smaller issue.
The problem is clear. Plug-in electric vehicles are most needed in areas that tend to have more vehicle congestion, higher emissions and higher gas prices. But people living in those same areas also have much less access to a reliable charging infrastructure.
A solution to this problem will likely make the difference between plug-in electric cars as novelty, second vehicles for the suburbs and plug-ins as the standard for urban private transportation.