We may be living through the dawn of the electric car age, but other than the ubiquitous Teslas, the occasional used BMW i3 and an Audi e-tron or two, electrics are actually rather hard to spot in the wild.
In July 2023, Ford dropped the price of the F150 Lightning EV (one of the coolest cars I’ve ever driven) by $10,000; though they did sell nearly 4,500 Lightnings in the second quarter of 2023, the company’s overall EV sales are down from last year. It seems that lack of proper charging infrastructure is keeping people from making the leap to electric.
But compared with other major automakers, Ford’s EV sales are booming. Companies are producing electric vehicles, but they’re just sitting, unloved, in dealership lots. It’s gotten to the point where some announced electric vehicles are almost mythical—until they appear in front of your very eyes, it’s hard to believe that they actually exist.
Over the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to drive a couple of these rare electric birds. Mileage (and range) vary, but they both had flaws, which is one of many reasons why they’re not all over the roads right now. They’re like dead-end branches on the electric evolutionary tree.
Toyota: Too Late to the Party
Given that Toyota blew up the car industry when it introduced the Prius, one of the most revolutionary autos ever made, it’s somewhat surprising that the manufacturer has done such a poor job in keeping up with the electric age. Though the company announced plans to fully electrify its fleet by 2027, that’s a generation in car terms, putting it way behind its competition.
The bZ4X is Toyota’s first fully electrified vehicle. The fact that I just had to look up the name of the car for the 20th time–it looks and sounds like a random series of symbols assigned as a temporary password—is indicative of the impression (or lack thereof) that it left on me. From the bizarrely arbitrary name, to the unattractive triangular design that’s half RAV4 and half Tesla Cybertruck ripoff, to the cheap checkered fabric that covers the dashboard, everything about the vehicle feels haphazard and hurried.
Except, importantly, the drive train. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to get behind the wheel of an electric car, you know what the acceleration is like—quiet, smooth and fast. And the bZ4X (yes, I just had to look up the name again) is no exception, as it zipped around very nicely for a car that otherwise looks and feels relatively clunky.
The most important aspect of an electric car is the range, and in that sense, the Toyota offering is very mid, landing anywhere between 220 and 250 miles, with a smaller battery pack than a comparable VW or GM vehicle. I also found the charging process to be somewhat slow and strange. I expected this when I plugged it in at home; 110-volt home outlets are notoriously slow and unreliable unless you have a dedicated charger. You can expect to add two miles per hour, at best.
But when I took the Toyota to the ChargePoint down the street, which gets you at least 10 miles an hour, the charging kept shutting down on me. It was 100 degrees at 9 p.m. in Texas, so I was running the AC while I sat in the car, trying to charge it. The car then asked me if I wanted to enter “My Room” mode—I had no idea what that was, but it probably wasn’t an homage to Virginia Woolf. If I said no to “My Room,” the car just turned off. The charger then read that the car was no longer plugged in, so it shut off as well, and I had to start the process all over again. If I said yes, it charged, but then after 15 minutes or so, it turned off the radio, AC and lights.
The Toyota bZ4X costs nearly $50,000, slightly under the average cost of an EV, though certainly less with electric car tax breaks. There’s no way that price can hold, and it’s highly unlikely that Toyota can move its inventory of this product when there are so many better options out there. Five years ago, this car might have felt innovative—now, it feels like a side hustle.
The Genesis G80 is an electric version of one of my favorite genres of cars–the upscale dentist-mobile, which I’ve named in honor of the golf-playing medical professionals who prefer it. Genesis started off as the upscale division of Hyundai, and then separated to become its own boutique label. The version I recently test-drove cost $81,495, approximately the cost of the gas-powered G80. It had cooled and heated seats (though I certainly didn’t need the heating, thanks to the scorching Texas summer), a smooth white-leather interior, a sleek profile, a decent (though maybe a little over-involved) dashboard tech and an acceleration in Sport mode that at least mimics, but doesn’t really rival, Tesla’s Ludicrous mode.
I miss having access to this car like I miss any upper-level luxury experience. Driving it was a beautiful float around town. Still, it features some obscurities that will keep it from being anything other than an oddity. The G80 has a “one-pedal” drive system, which was common in early electric cars but is slowly being phased out. When you take your foot off the accelerator, the car stops rather suddenly, so you have to be careful. They might have gotten away with that in 2014, but at this point, electric cars need to move beyond these obstacles.
The logistics here weren’t exactly intuitive. I had to watch a YouTube video to figure out where the electric charge port was located—it was cleverly hidden behind a panel in the expansive front grille, but the problem is that most public chargers are built to plug into the side of the car, usually on the front. That was a weird, overly-cute choice by Genesis.
I left the G80 parked overnight at the public charge station. When I dropped it off, it had 90 miles of range out of approximately 280. When I picked it up 12 hours later, it had 185 miles of range. That was enough to get me through the next couple of days, but it still wasn’t enough in the grand scheme of things—at least not really. We have to figure out a way to charge electric cars more efficiently and more quickly. Otherwise, cars like the ones I’ve been driving will continue to be compliance novelties, not autos that customers will actually buy.