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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! All you need to know about the rebirth of the plug-in electric car, 11 Nov 2011
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This review is from: High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug in the Auto Industry (Hardcover)
The book is well-written, in the typical NYT journalistic style, and very comprehensive. Mr. Motavalli managed to chronicle in a short book the rebirth of plug-in electric cars (PEVs ) and the state-of-the-art of the industry as of mid 2011. As the book's introduction explains, PEVs include all-electric cars (EVs or BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), but not the conventional petrol-electric hybrids, such as the Prius, which do not plug-in.

The book was very well-researched, with a lot of primary content as many key players were interviewed just for the book, and of course, Mr. Motavalli's ample experience as a green car journalist, bringing along all his behind-the-wheels test drive experience with almost all the plug-in electric cars available in the world today. The book covers all relevant aspects regarding PEVs, advantages, disadvantages, barriers to wide adoption, the key role of EV battery technology, the deployment of charging infrastructure, fast charging standards, battery swapping, you name, every aspect is covered. There is even an entire chapter devoted to Motavalli's test drives of several PEVs, which includes his experience with the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, Th!nk City, Aptera 2e and the Toyota Highlander FCHV. By the way, electric vans and truck are out of the scope of the book.

The book is aimed for a wide audience, not just the early adopters, techies and green car fans. Actually, regular consumers with an interest in PEVs will find this book quite a primer to help them decide whether is the right time to go electric or wait. I believe it would have been helpful for the layman to include some pictures, at least of the most relevant PEVs, such as the Volt and Leaf.

My other quibbles about the book have to do with its bias towards the American market. Despite covering all PEVs from the big players and start-ups, with the exception of China, the discussion is mostly focused around those PEVs already available or slated for the U.S. market. Surprisingly there is almost nothing about the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (renamed Mitsubishi i for the American-spec version), launched more than a year before the Nissan Leaf and actually, sharing the leadership in global sales of electric cars as of October 2011. The i-MiEV is only mentioned a couple of times in the context of plug charging standards. The REVAi (or G-Wiz) is also missing, despite having sold a few thousand units since 2001. Also other European small city cars are not included, such as the Buddy, Mia electric and Tazzari Zero. And the Japanese market is only covered in terms of its charging infrastructure and charging standards, despite sharing the world leadership with the U.S. in terms of PEV sales. Also, the book has a very interesting chapter about the potential of Iceland to become the first 100% electric transportation country, but surprisingly there is nothing about Norway, despite being the country with the most PEVs per capita in the world. It would have been interesting to learn some lessons from the Norwegians, who are ahead of the rest of the world.

The last chapter presents the author's vision of commuting in 2030, a very creative scenario indeed, but Mr. Motavalli closes the book with a down to earth view of what he believes is likely to happen next, and his "Ten Most Likely to Succeed" list is included. I agree with most of the cars in the list, and also share with the author his educated guess that the chance of survival is higher for the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Prius Plug-in, but not for the Ford Focus Electric, which has a base price higher than the Leaf and the same as the Volt (to be fair, pricing of the Prius PHEV and the Focus EV was not available when the book was finished). I believe that price is the most important factor for the successful adoption of plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars, therefore today's premium with respect to gasoline-powered cars will have to shrink significantly for PEVs to become affordable and the remaining premium has to be paid back in a few years, just like conventional hybrids today. And finally, just as Jim Motavalli wished for in the book, if I had the $41,000 to spare on a car, I'd spend it on the Volt, really a technological marvel and a game-changer.

Considering that all-electric range and the price of the battery packs are the two deal breakers for mass adoption of PEVs, I recommend an excellent complementary reading about the present and future of battery technology, Seth Fletcher's Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy. And for those who want to know more about the Volt's development and innovative technology, do not miss Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future.
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