CEDAR RAPIDS - Electric cars often are seen as the future of the U.S. auto industry, but their presence in Iowa remains small.
There are only 41 "pure" electrics registered in Iowa, and engineers say the state needs infrastructure such as additional battery charging stations to make the vehicles more viable, The Gazette reported Wednesday.
"People don't trust the cars' range," said Jing Dong, an assistant professor in Iowa State University's engineering department.
Using an electric vehicle can be a challenge on a longer drive. A typical electric vehicle, such as the Leaf by Nissan, gets 73 miles from a full charge of its batteries, but there are only 33 public charging stations in the state, according to the Department of Energy. That includes stations in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.
Dong said there needs to be more investment in infrastructure - including the charging stations - to encourage people to buy electric cars.
"A lot of people talk about the chicken or the egg, who's first?" said Dong, who has conducted extensive research and development on the subject.
There are two kinds of chargers most commonly used for adding battery to an electric vehicle. The Level 1 charger plugs into a standard household outlet and delivers a full charge in about 12 hours. The Level 2 charger can deliver 10 to 20 miles' worth of charge in an hour. The Level 2 charger's cost of $750 to $1,000 can be offset with a federal tax credit rebate.
Experts in the field say electric vehicles will remain a niche product until manufacturers lower costs and develop a shorter charging time.
"Companies like Chevron are now pouring tons of money into battery development, and companies like Kum & Go have invested in infrastructure," said Brian Brownfield, an automotive technology instructor.
A new study by J.D. Powers and Associates shows electric vehicle owners raised their monthly utility bills by $18 by recharging their cars' batteries, compared with the $147 they would have spent on gasoline. The study calculates it would take an electric vehicle owner 6 1/2 years to recoup the $10,000 premium their cars cost over a comparable gas vehicle.
Improvements in battery technology should also reduce the cost of buying an electric vehicle. The Leaf lists for $36,050 and the Chevrolet's Volt lists for $37,579. Both cars are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax break that expires at the end of the year.