MIT Study Says Electric Car Range Anxiety Is Overstated


A study by MIT and the Santa Fe Institute published in the journal Nature Energy on August 15 finds that electric car range anxiety is overstated in most cases. The study analyzed the driving habits of drivers on a second-by-second basis. It concluded that 87% of vehicles on the road today could be replaced by a low-cost electric car even if there is no possibility of recharging it during the day.

Car-trip-distance-cumulative daily-distance-car-distribution_cumulative Daily-distance-car-distribution Distance-Distribution-Car-Trips

The finding confirms what we already know — the typical driver seldom drives more than 45 miles a day on a regular basis. That means even an electric car with limited range like an original Nissan LEAF has more than enough range to satisfy the needs of the majority of Americans.

In a note accompanying the study, Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration wrote, “Most trips can be made in an EV with current battery size and an even higher fraction could be made if the battery size target set by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is met.”

Jessika Trancik, a researcher with MIT’s “Institute for Data, Systems and Society” and senior author of the study says the research combined hourly temperature data in different US regions, survey data about trip lengths, empirical data on the fuel economy of different cars, and GPS-derived data on the speeds of vehicles and how they vary on a second-by-second basis. It assumed a modestly priced electric vehicle such as a 2013 Nissan Leaf and daily¬†overnight charging.

Cars-per-HouseholdThe study also gives a boost to developing carsharing models. Even though a car may be adequate for the majority of daily needs, drivers still want a car that can take them over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house occasionally, or camping, or for anything other than getting back and forth to work. A second car in the household could be used for that, but many believe in the future we may simply rent another vehicle to fulfill those occasional needs.

Expanding the network of fast-charging stations so people could recharge their cars while away from home would also reduce range anxiety significantly. The Obama administration is a strong advocate for expanding the public charging infrastructure.

Transitioning to electric vehicles would significantly reduce emissions in the US, which is a large part of the governmental push.¬†“If that 90 percent adoption potential was reached, then one could replace about 60 percent of gasoline consumption. That would only reduce emissions about 30 percent, which is still a very significant number,” Trancik said.

Studies like this are important, of course, but people buy on emotion and justify their decision later with facts. In other words, selling is all about emotion. Studies may say a given car has enough range for daily use, but the general perception is that 200 miles of range is the irreducible minimum needed to get people to consider buying an electric car. (Or maybe 200 kilometers in Europe, or 300 kilometers.)

Of course, longer range means bigger batteries and bigger batteries mean higher cost. Higher cost means fewer potential buyers. It’s a vicious circle, one that will only be broken in time as more and more electric cars take to the highways. The changeover to zero-emissions transportation is a process and it will take decades if not generations to complete.

Source: Times Picayune of New Orleans

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I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • PrezNixon

    While I generally agree with the analysis, this idea isn’t going to sell short range EV’s to the general public. They don’t want a short range EV, that then forces them to be dependent upon public transit or car sharing to fulfill the remaining small percent of trips that the short range EV can’t satisfy.

    This is perfectly fine for many EV enthusiasts. But in the eyes of the mass market buyer, if it doesn’t work 100% of the time for 100% of their needs that their current car works for, it just plain doesn’t work for them. If it doesn’t work, they aren’t going to buy.

    Pure EV’s are great. I like them a lot. But EV enthusiasts have to meet the mass market somewhere in the middle, and stop trying to convince them to change their lifestyles, and stop trying to get them to lower their expectations of what their car will do for them. That’s not going to lead to the mass adoption of EV’s.

    What is needed is more plug-in vehicles that actually work for 100% of owner’s trips every year. Not 87%, or even 99%. 100%.

    If that means PHEV’s that can burn gas and electricity, we need to collectively push those cars. If that means longer range EV’s, we need to push for more of those cars. Short range EV’s have pretty much run their course, and in a few years I don’t think anybody will be selling any of them anymore.

    • GregS

      There needs to be a significant cushion in range on top of a person’s “normal routine”. Unexpected things crop up all the time, and nobody is going to want to be stuck at home unable to make a trip because their car is charging.

      • trackdaze

        The 87% mentioned is any given day? So this would drop significantly over a 7 day week…..

    • trackdaze


      example 95%+ of the time seats 2 through 7 are unoccupied. Even so Many won’t even consider a 2-5 seater.

      Phevs appeal is much the same as a 7seater for it covers all bases. They just need to get rid of the traditional driveline including transmissions and use an internal combustion engine specifically designed as a (part time) generator. For cost and bigger battery offset purposes.

      • Steve Hanley

        I believe you have just described the Chevy Volt!

        • trackdaze

          Almost, Still got a planetary gearset. The 1.4l engine is derivative. Could do with one less cylinder.

          Next generation perhaps.

          • Steve Hanley

            You are sort of correct. Yes, the engine CAN be directly connected to the front wheels, but only in “when all else fails” limp home mode. It is never connected to boost acceleration, for example. No matter how hard you tromp on the go pedal, that engine is just there to keep the battery charged.

            And Volt 2.0 uses an all new 1.5 liter engine that runs on regular. The 1.4 liter required premium.

            I can tell you from personal experience it is almost impossible to detect when the gas engine kicks in.

          • GregS

            Wish they would put the Volt powertrain in a pickup. I could pure EV for my daily work commute and then mostly EV with gas backup for weekend trips. If EV range was 30+ I could probably do 80-90% of my driving on electric

    • roseland67


      all battery vehicle with small on board duty specific generator solely to charge the batteries.
      all local travel is completed wth electric, massive efficiencies and zero emission.
      When extended range is required, generator starts, keeps batteries charged, fill up gas tank using existing fuel infrastructure, (gas stations).
      Works 100% of the time for everyone.

      • Steve Hanley

        See comment above.

      • John George Bauer-Buis

        Could be a turbine like the Nikola One, or a Wankel rotary engine, too, not just a conventional engine.

      • I am unwilling to pay a lot extra, and reduce my electric range, by having to carry superfluous weight ‘just in case’. I am statistically and in practice more likely to need a flat-bed rescue because my tire has burst, than because my battery is flat. In 35,000 electric miles, I have had one flat tire, and no flat batteries. Do I carry a spare tire? No, I don’t. Again, because the flatbed recovery is all I need, for that rare, once in a blue moon event.

        • neroden

          There’s a sense in which I’m carrying superfluous weight just in case in the form of a larger battery. I’m perfectly happy to pay extra for this.

          If I don’t use the extra range, the result is that the *battery lasts longer*. (Because each cell is getting cycled less completely.) The result is that the car as a whole lasts longer. So if I don’t use the extra range, I get more years out of the car.

          This makes the extra weight from a larger battery worthwhile.

    • Peter Duncan

      The solution is not PHEVS, it’s better range. Wanting to sell cars with an ICE is marketing from the OEMs that fear to go out of business if we stop buying ICEd cars. All their established business is based on selling, maintaining and repairing those complex and fragile engines. They have no expertise in battery packs, would have to change their whole business model and assembly lines… and there is little expertise needed for the electric motors, they would lose their markets to their subcontractors and have to rely on providing empty shells only.

      HYBRIDS HAD NEVER BEEN A “BRIDGE” TO ELECTRICS. They are a mean to delay electrics. It has nothing to do with habits or lifestyle, as electrics are much more convenient and comfortable to use . This is B.S. propaganda from the oil companies and the ICE automobile cartel.

      • Peter Duncan

        I noticed a while ago that bogus commentators generally begin their Anti-EV comments by writing they just love EVs… but …
        It gives them more credibility. Nice try. Nixon..

      • terminator

        Nice and agreed!!

    • terminator

      Why would we want to push gas/electric hybrids when the technology is there to build batteries that can get 300 miles to charge?

      It’s a matter of getting them cheap enough which is going to happen within the next 2 years due to the mass production of batteries via the gigafactory.

    • Kurt Lowder

      When evs go more mainstream. I think we will see a wide variety of battery ranges. It will be interesting to see how much of each is bought. I want one low range car and one long range car. If i have kids and buy them a car. They are getting used low range cars. Mom gets the nicest long range car

  • Guy Hall

    The title to this article is incorrect. The range anxiety is not overstated. The anxiety exists by potential buyers. The correct title should be range anxiety is unfounded, as they’re trying to show that the range is not really needed. Unfortunately, this information or Insight is not really new we’ve known about it for some time. I don’t see any contribution here any different from other studies that have done the same thing.

  • That’s true, in terms of theory, but range anxiety is a psychological issue, not a material one. A bit like toilet anxiety, sexual performance anxiety, or career anxiety: it can mainly be solved through stress reduction techniques, practice, and plenty of experience. One very simple way of reducing stress is to provide people with plenty of public chargers, if I know that I am driving 350 miles in my Leaf (as I do a few times a year) but that there is a charger every twenty miles, then my anxiety is much relieved!

    • neroden

      For this reason, Tesla charges the cost of most of their Superchargers to the *marketing budget*. Most of them barely get used. They exist simply as a marketing tool so that people won’t worry about range.

  • neroden

    Personal testimonial.

    Before Superchargers existed, I drove my Model S from upstate NY to Lansing, Michigan. (We had to stay overnight in Canada to charge, and we had to charge at lunchtime each days.) There was an ice storm. Which caused power outages almost everywhere.

    We were fine. I no longer have range anxiety.