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Forget the Tesla Killer. Which Electric SUVs are a Subaru Killer?

The current bunch of new and soon-to-be released electric SUVs are a weird crop. They look like SUVs, sure. But are they really just 21st Century station wagons?

When it comes to compact SUVs, I think of the Subaru Forester as a great example with plenty of internal space, plus the capability for moderate off-roading (if you prefer competing models from Toyota, Honda or Mazda, great — those are good for gasmobiles, too). I don’t see the same degree of capability from the electric compact SUVs that are on the market or coming soon.

This is a major miss, especially as it relates to Subaru.

You’ve probably heard that Subaru owners are a bit like cult members. But the brand’s hold over its flock is wavering. It’s badly misread its buyers, who largely skew toward environmental causes. Subaru is losing big points in its crowd by dragging its heels on electrification. This is largely based on my own conversations with other Subaru owners.

Add the lukewarm Continuous Variable Transmission to the equation, and the Forester looks particularly vulnerable to a similarly-featured electric SUV.

So why can’t any of the coming SUVs steal a huge chunk of Subaru Forester buyers?

Electric SUVs Need More Utility

They simply don’t have enough utility. Oh, they have sport-aplenty, which is all the press can babble about while overlooking utility at every turn. All the current and coming electric SUVs will demolish a Forester in performance — and in efficiency, too, because that’s just the nature of electric motors versus gas motors.

electric SUVs
I wonder how much the sloping roof on the Tesla Model Y cuts into the specs on its interior space versus a more traditional roof.

The lack of utility comes down to two important specs. The Forester, for all of its gas-powered flaws, is simply way better in these two areas: ground clearance and cargo space.

Ground Clearance is Critical to Beat The Subaru Forester

Look, a stock Subaru Forester is hardly a rock crawler. But it has a decent 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

How do the electric SUVs stack up? Poorly, with one exception.

  • Nissan Ariya: Not Available
  • VW ID4: 8.26 inches (this beats my 2006 Forester, which had 8.1 inches)
  • Model Y: 6.6 Inches
  • Ford Mach E: 5.7 inches

The Ford Mach E is by far the most putrid in the clearance department, with the VW ID4 coming in the closest to respectable.

Electric SUVs
The Ford Mach E lags in interior space and ground clearance. Kevauto, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

When I go camping or just bouncing around the backroads, ground clearance matters. Nobody wants to beat up their undercarriage.

I’ll grant you that most Subaru owners probably don’t beat up on their vehicles as much as they’d like to. But it’s good to know they can handle it should the need arise.

Cargo Space Also Lags

I have a family of three. We do our camping in a 2017 Subaru Forester. It’s the latest in a line of Subaru vehicles for us, and it will likely be our last.

For now, my electric Toyota RAV4 handles all of our in-city family outings, with the Forester handling road trips. The RAV4 is actually laid out better internally, with rear seats the move fore and aft independently.

electric SUVs
Electric SUVs NEED to be able to do what this 2014 electric RAV4 can do.

Still, the Forester gives us about 76 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats folded down, and nearly 31 with the seats folded up. That’s by far the leader among the vehicles we’ve mentioned. Here are measurements for the other electric SUVs:

    • Nissan Ariya: 14.9 cubic feet behind the seats, total not listed
    • VW ID4 64.2, cubic feet with the seats folded down, 30.3. Behind the seats
    • Model Y: 68 cubic feet (no specs on just the rear cargo area, and I’m not sure whether this figure includes the frunk)
    • Ford Mach E: 54.7 cubic feet with the seats folded down.

Again, the Mach E stinks the place up. It’s like Ford isn’t even aiming to make this a useful electric car. The Model Y appears to come in a close second, but it would be nice to definitively answer the question about the frunk.

It’s also worth noting that these interior room specs are for all-wheel-drive versions of each model. For some reason, the feature eats into interior space.

Final Thoughts on an Electric Subaru Killer

Ford, VW and Tesla all have the tools to fire a serious broadside at the Subaru family of vehicles. They offer decent alternatives to maybe the Crosstrek, but the Forester and Outback offer utility that this bunch of electric SUVs just can’t match.

Why? Maybe they were gunning for efficiency.

It’s possible to solve the interior space issues by using a roof- or hitch-mounted cargo box. Sure, that adds some drag.

Unfortunately, the lack of ground clearance doesn’t seem as easy of a fix. These vehicles don’t look they’d readily accept a larger tire to improve ground clearance.

CategoriesGearfeatured

This is a huge electric vehicle charging problem. Here’s how to fix it.

It’s easy to ignore a problem that you can’t see. People who live in the Phoenix area can’t deny the brown cloud that sometimes — too often — settles over the Valley. The culprit behind the brown cloud is also hard to deny: gas and diesel-powered vehicles "by a large margin," according to Scientific American.

So we can see the problem, but what can we do about it? It’s obvious. Get some of the gas and diesel vehicles off the road with electric vehicles taking their place. There are two big obstacles to getting more drivers into electric vehicles — the initial cost and figuring out where and how to charge them.

The first one is up to the auto makers. As they figure the technology out, prices will start to drop. They already have, actually. The Tesla Model Y will be unveiled tonight, and it will be the least-expensive electric SUV/CUV by a long shot. You can bet that more automakers will unveil EVs in this class.

arizona electric vehicle charging
The VW ID Buzz is a sign of EVs to come.

The second issue — where to charge — is something Arizona’s elected officials can address. But they haven’t, likely because they’re not connecting the dots.

The Overlooked Electric Vehicle Charging Problem

Here’s the shocker about charging an electric vehicle: The costs vary wildly. Putting 25 miles of charge into my car can vary from being absolutely free all the way up to about $6 at one of the Blink charging stations that have sprouted like barnacles near city and state buildings. Can you imagine the price of gas fluctuating that wildly?

The state of Arizona has no regulations governing EV charging prices. That’s nice at the free end. But at the high end, it completely kills a major incentive for getting out of a gas/diesel vehicle and into an electric vehicle.

Arizona’s Electric Vehicle Charging Costs are a Mess

The ubiquitous Blink network charges members 4 cents per minute to charge. That’s $2.40 per hour, which usually gets me about 15 miles of charge. That costs more than the average price of gas per mile for my old Subaru — at the current $2.23 per gallon, I’d go about 25 miles in the Subaru. Considering that even a less-efficient electric vehicle like my Toyota RAV 4 EV gets the equivalent of 77 mpg, Blink makes it more expensive to operate a cleaner vehicle.

Arizona electric vehicle charging
An old-generation Nissan LEAF getting some electrons.

Charging at home is your cheapest option. You’ll need an EVSE (aka ev charger), a 110-volt adapter and possibly a 240-volt connection if you want to charge faster. But we still need options away from home, and they need to be priced consistently.

Why Arizona’s Electric Vehicle Charging Prices are All Over the Place

Arizona doesn’t have kilowatt-hour pricing like some states. That allows networks like Blink to set any price per minute that they like. For some reason, cities like Phoenix and Chandler along with educational institutions like Arizona State University have contracts with Blink, despite its high prices (and reputation for unreliable charging). In states with kilowatt-hour pricing, Blink prices still tower over the average cost per kilowatt hour; sure, Blink should be allowed to profit for their services. But in California, the average price per kilowatt hour is 15.2 cents, while Blink charges 49 cents per kWh. I wonder what the utilities who actually provide the power think of Blink’s markup.

In Arizona, the average kWh cost is 11.1 cents. Blink’s charging costs about 48 cents per kWh (based on a charging cost of $2.40 per hour, which gets you about 5 kWh of power). It’s clear that charging at a Blink station costs more gasoline, based on the average mpg of gas-powered cars. Another comparison: gas stations average about 5 cents per gallon in profit. That would be like Blink charging 53 cents per hour rather than $2.40 (based on my RAV 4’s 77 empg, 40 kWh battery, charging speed and kWh price for SRP). Put another way, if gas stations marked up at the same rate, your gallon of gas would cost $10.09 per gallon (based on $2.23 per gallon of gas).

arizona electric vehicle charging
Signs like this get ignored way too often. (photo by Mariordo, aka Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz)

Sidebar: Are EVs Cleaner?

EVs have their doubters -- people who ask "are EVs really cleaner?"

Some will even recite talking points about rare-earth minerals (which are not actually that rare) used in batteries, and the environmental cost of manufacturing the batteries. People who raise these issues would like to believe that gas-powered vehicles and their fuel are made from unicorn milk that somehow has no environmental damage.

But hey, as it turns out, the Union of Concerned Scientists has addressed their questions with a very conservative "cradle to grave" analysis comparing EVs to ICE (internal combustion engine) cars. The results are conclusive: EVs are cleaner, especially as electricity grids get cleaner.

I’d also add that areas like Phoenix particularly need EVs. If vehicle emissions are the main source of our air pollution, we must put more of them on the road (I also favor more mass transit options, but that’s a topic for another time).

Fix the EV Charging Problem, Fix the Brown Cloud

If Arizona’s elected officials want to clear up the air, they need to encourage more people to drive electric vehicles. That means preventing networks from gouging customers, especially since the networks don’t even produce the power.

The clear solution: Craft legislation that sets kilowatt-hour pricing, and caps it at a reasonable level. Put it on a level playing field with gas — which is also heavily subsidized, which will ignore for the moment — and electricity wins every.single.time. This will help put more EVs on the road, which will, in turn, fix the brown cloud.

Arizona could offer more incentives to buy electric vehicles. Cities could also do more to ensure that gas and diesel vehicles don’t block charging stations. But those are issues for another post. Fixing the pricing problem helps the consumer/driver without costing the state, cities or residents money.