June 23, 2013

How To Dispel EV Range Anxiety

Sales of electric cars have picked up in the US, now that prices are starting to come down. But while the price cuts have made EVs much more affordable, range anxiety still runs rampant. After all, this is a big country, and American like to roam it. So a single-charge range of less than 100 miles is simply underwhelming, when compared to a range of more than 300 miles for most gasoline-powered cars. Especially if you consider it takes five minutes to fill a gas tank, but hours to recharge an EV battery.

Photo jepoirrier

For shorter trips, the EV is ideal - especially if you manage to power it from renewable sources. So it is very popular with car sharing schemes in cities, where the trip distance tends to be quite small, and the number of charging stations high.

Even outside large cities, the average American daily commute to work is about 16 miles. Even if you lived 30 miles from work, the 75-mile range on a Nissan Leaf will do just fine, with some margin for unexpected detours. If you can plug it in at work, that would increase your range by a factor two.

There are several ways to extend the range: you could put in an extra engine running on gasoline that can charge the battery (Chevy Volt: total range 380 miles). In a fully electric car, you could stuff in a larger battery at larger expense (Tesla: range over 200 miles). You could make the engine smaller and more frugal (Daihatsu Mira EV: range 1000 km).

Photo Tokumeigakarinoaoshima

If you want to make an EV go farther on a single charge, what we need is a combination of more modestly powered engines, and better batteries. Current battery technology that relies on reversible reactions in rather nasty chemicals is many decades old, and it's time for a renewed effort to change the battery paradigm.

Hopeful signs are around, such as the metal-air based battery developed by Liberty Electric Cars, which expects to deliver a 1000-mile range in a few years.

While we wait for the 1000-mile battery, there are still ways to get around the range anxiety. The US is actually well-suited for mass development of the EV, because we have so many multi-car families: One option is to reserve the EV for the short-range daily commute only, and to use the conventional family car for longer trips.

But if the EV is the only vehicle in your household, you need to look for more creative solutions. In most cases, the EV will do just fine on most days when you're about your daily commute; it's the occasional long trip that requires an alternative solution.

Time to look outside the box: in this case, your electric box on wheels. You could take part in a car-sharing program for the few occasions that you need to drive longer distances. Memberships in these programs is growing fast, as is the number of pickup points.

Another innovative solution comes from BMW, which plans to provide drivers of its electric vehicles with loaner gasoline cars for the occasional long trip. This solution will actually work better in the US, where vacations are short, than in Europe where people can easily go away for a month during the summer break.

I think this is such a cool solution that even before other manufacturers replicate it, you should try making your own arrangement with your dealer at the purchase of an EV: many of them already have loaner cars for customers to use during repairs. Perhaps they can be persuaded to rent you one at reduced rate for your long trips - especially if doing so is the difference between making or breaking the deal on the EV.

And this just in: the French rail company SNCF offers free rides for Nissan Leafs of families boarding the Auto-Train to their vacation destination. That's out of the box!



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