My wife and I are in the midst of trying to figure out what to do about replacing our 2006 Scion xA, a.k.a. Space Wart, and the “right” answer is less obvious than it might seem. Since I get asked about what car people should buy a lot, let me talk about my own situation a bit and then generalize.
Of course I want an EV, which I can then recharge from home with 100% green electricity. The ability to make my marginal CO2 emissions go to zero per mile while flipping off the oil companies would be immensely satisfying. The problem is buying or leasing an EV right now. You can’t get some of the vehicles I’d consider, like the Fit EV or the Fiat 500 EV, in my part of the country, and the Mitsubishi i is no longer in stock anywhere, as best I can tell. That leaves me with the Leaf. Also, even with the $7,500 tax break (plus state-level incentives in some states, albeit not mine) I think you have to be insane to buy an EV right now or so wealthy that you can find $20K to $30K in your couch cushions. There are so many weirdnesses with EVs still, that reading the Nissan Leaf Forum, for example, is painfully reminiscent of discussion groups I was in while beta testing early versions of Windows. I have yet to find anyone who thinks that the first generation Leaf will hold its value, so for me and not-exactly-wealthy couch cushions, buying a Leaf is out.
Leasing is problematic, I’ve found, as lease deals announced by Nissan for people in my zip code miraculously don’t seem to apply when I go into my local dealer. Plus, the three-year cost of a lease is pretty steep, all the more so on a per mile basis if you drive as little as I do.
The Leaf 2.0, which is expected in just a couple of years, will likely be much more attractive, leaving me to wonder if I should try to bridge from 1.0 to 2.0 with my current car or buy something like a Honda Fit that will be efficient and likely have a high trade-in when I get a Leaf 2.0 or something similar.
For those just itching to tell me to consider a PHEV, like the Volt or C-Max, they have similar problems: High cost to buy or lease for a 4,000 mile/year vehicle.
In a broader sense, I’m wondering where transportation is headed in the developed world, particularly in the US, where many people (read: men) lust after light trucks (pickups, SUVs, minivans), and drivers in general seem to suffer from the delusion that on any given day they need the ability to drive 1,000 miles without so much as a biology break.
Consider, for example, the Toyota i-Road concept:
While this looks extremely impractical for most drivers — its top speed is only 30 MPH, making it an NEV (neighborhood electric vehicle) — I certainly agree with Pete Sinclair who says, Toyota I-Road. I-Want One. Part of this is greenie enthusiasm for right-sizing transportation, and part of it is a reawakening of my gear head/biker roots. I would have no excuse for buying such a thing, even if it had greater speed and range capability, and I doubt I’ll ever have to make that decision; can anyone foresee Toyota actually marketing the i-Road in the US, especially in an area that averages about 100″ of snow per year? I don’t.
Yes, I try to minimize my miles driven, but I still need a vehicle. I’m willing to put up with babysitting the battery in an EV, and even paying more for such a vehicle than I “should” according to conventional, non-greenie thinking. But what, exactly should replace Space Wart, and when, is still an open question. In the short run, I plan to keep thinking about this (read: driving my infinitely patient wife nuts). Details as they occur…
 Once upon a time I was the proud owner of a Honda CB-1100F motorcycle, which had almost exactly the same horsepower as my Scion xA. How I managed to avoid turning myself into a snail trail with that thing still amazes me.