Electric Car Range: How Much Is Enough?


The folks at Green Car Reports asked their Twitter followers to tell them how much range electric cars need before they go mainstream. Here are the results.

Well, that’s a surprise, isn’t it? We know from statistics that the majority of people drive 40 miles or less every day. Yet only 3% of those who responded felt 120 miles of range was sufficient. That’s three times further than the average driver travels on a typical day. The vast majority said a minimum of 200 miles was essential, while a third said they wanted 300 miles of range. Clearly, range anxiety is a powerful factor in the way people think of electric cars.

There is only one electric with 300 miles of range and it is the new Tesla Model S P100D with Ludicrous Mode — a car that sells for four to five times what a typical passenger sedan costs today. Surely price is also an important consideration when it comes to buying a car, isn’t it? According to Kelly Blue Book, the median price of a new light vehicle in America as of this spring was $33,666.

There will come a day when the price of batteries plummets just as the price of computer chips did 30 years ago. But even though Elon and company are pushing as hard as possible to make that happen, it’s going to be many years before there are electric cars on the market that sell for the price of a Civic or Corolla. Until then, there will be more electric cars on the road but the total number will probably be less than EV advocates hope for.

Wishing for a car with 300 miles of battery range pretty much guarantees a car that is out of reach for many shoppers. Some of the disconnect between reality and expectations is down to the media, which emphasizes range over all other electric car attributes. That’s why manufacturers need to do more to educate buyers and why events like National Drive Electric Week are so important to moving the electric car revolution forward.

Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid electric car

Ford recently upped the capacity of the gas tank in the Fusion Energi PHEV by a half gallon so it can advertise it is the plug-in hybrid car with the most range on the market. That claim is both accurate and deceptive. People hear the word “range” and assume it means how far the car can go on battery power. In fact, the electric range of the Fusion Energi is a very modest 21 miles. Ford’s claims create confusion rather than enlightenment. No wonder people are confused.

Source: Green Car Reports

About the Author

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.

  • Red Beard

    The vast majority of “mainstream” consumers, myself included, don’t have enough cash laying around to spend on 2 vehicles when one will do the trick. I understand that the average person drives very little day to day, but personally, I need for an electric car that I can use for both daily commuting AND extended road trips there by eliminating the need to own both an electric AND a gas guzzler. 200 mile range is the bare minimum needed to achieve this for my driving habits before I’ll convert to electric.

    • GregS

      The average individual might not be able to justify two cars, but many families have more than one, and could easily make an EV work if they had another vehicle for longer trips.

    • kevin mccune

      Yep ,I would love to have an electric AWD pickup ,with true half ton capacity and maybe a bit over 200 miles range, due to the great torque of the electric drivetrain and simplicity,you wouldnt need a transmission or transfer case.
      People do tend to miss some of the other advantages of electric drive,I am so glad my cordless drill doesnt require a gas tank and emit toxic fumes ,but you know what ,even before EVs become mainstream,the manus are hard at work cheapening they electric motors and adding transmissions(are we going to even want what they finally come up with ?)

    • If one was an EV, the occasional use long-haul road-tripper could be something from Hertz or Enterprise comfortably within the savings obtained by running an e-car 🙂

    • John DelphiaIII

      Would a trailer generator adding range help you? The cost could be borne by rentals, sharing schemes or a supplemental service provided by the dealer. It could also add to the electric car’s cargo space for long trips.

  • kvleeuwen

    I’d say make larger batteries optional and let people vote with their wallets.
    A poll like this is more like a wishlist.

    • dogphlap dogphlap

      That would be great. The Model S can be purchased with 60kWh, 75kWh, 90kWh and 100kWh packs so there’s a start. I think the Leaf is also available with one of two sizes of battery also. Unfortunately to get the largest battery means you have to buy a car with top specs which may not be what the buyer wants or needs so that will skew the results.

  • Gazz

    Building two cars is an environmental disaster. Its better to own one ICE and no second car then a 100mile electric with a ICE second car for long trips . 200 miles is a minimum to get around this. With real world issues like cold days, hills and degradation 250 miles is needed on paper.

    • RobSez

      Why not only a 100 mile EV and no ICE at all? We’ve been doing this since February 2015. Just got a 107 mile rated Leaf in June and I’ve gone 103 &104 miles around town several times so far. ICE rentals are about $40/day all-in for longer day trips and we can easily be on the road in an hour or less. Vacations are $350-$450 for a full week rental. Nowadays it’s getting close to that including gas. Thinking ‘outside the box’ or just a little differently has worked out great for us.

      • Gazz

        Rental is not scalable. During holiday times costs and availability would fluctuate like hotel rooms do. I work in aviation, follow motorsport and have family living away. Would have to rent twice a week or face tiptoeing from charge point to charge point with work in the morning.
        Just two years ago I did very little driving and because you never know what will change you need a good car.

        • I have never arrived at an airport to be told that there are no cars available. I’ve occasionally found that my choice is not available and ‘would Sir like a free upgrade to a rag-top Mustang’ has been my only option…..

          • Or – you can find that one whole Brand has no available Cars (Me, Vancouver, BC – July 15th, 2016, Hertz!) and rent from Alamo – ending up with $421.00 and change – for a 4 day Rental! Not going to drive even an ICE Car from Toronto to Vancouver on short notice for a Funeral – so EV, or not – the flight was the only option! Sometimes – All the Pollyanna thinking can’t handle reality – like the very limited accommodation – with what was available at high prices!

            Same with The EAA Airventure Oshkosh Convention: Motel 6 – day before $65, During the week of the show – $320!

            Car Rentals must have been like that in July in Vancouver – as that was the most I ever paid – and – I only ended up with a Beetle 2 Door! (Gas, not Diesel!)

  • ejwu

    I think Tesla should make the extended battery range as a feature that can be rented, instead of buying. It’s just like their 60 model that has some of the battery modules disabled by software, but can be upgraded to the range of 90 or even 100 model for a paid period. Most people don’t need that much range for daily commute so they buy the cheaper model. Then the night before their road trip they pay on the Tesla website (or the app) to enable all the hidden battery banks for the days, and switch back to normal short range commute mode after the trip.
    I think this will increase the sales of their cheaper models quite a bit.

    • The 60 has cells for a 75 (kWh) and the 75 has cells for a 75, so that could be a rent-able upgrade from 60 – 75 – over the phone or online, but – to get to the 90 or the 100 – you need to remove your battery and put in the other one – without battery swap stations all over – that would be somewhat pricey done by hand at service centers!

      Maybe – if the time comes when Tesla can offer their Model S or X for Rental by Existing Owners (First) – and later by the public at large, many of these concerns will fade! Just like Tesla Energy, and Tesla Solar – you could have Tesla Rentals! It would be a wholely owned, but separate division!

  • GregS

    Agree that 200 miles is minimum, and that many would prefer 300.

  • WebUserAtLarge

    I would prioritize super fast charging over larger battery. A 100 mile car that could be recharged in 5 minutes but cost thousands less then a comparable 200 or 300 mile car would get my $s.

    • John DelphiaIII

      Some potential ultracapacitors might be able to do this in five years, bypassing using chemical batteries entirely.
      Maybe possible to inductively or thru magnetic resonance to even chargeup while still moving in a special lane on the freeway, cost being sent to your smartphone as you go…

      • ET’s? (or is that – ETR’s? Electric Toll Roads!)

        That give a whole new meaning to HOV Lanes:
        ‘Hate Other Vehicles’;
        ‘Have Other Vehicle’,
        ‘Heavy On Volts’,
        ‘High On Volts’,
        etc., Etc!

  • Peter Egan

    The question should have been in two parts A) primary vehicle B) secondary vehicle.
    50% would likely accept a true rage of 100 miles for a cheap second vehicle. But for a primary vehicle, 200 to 300 miles is not unreasonable. It’s range puts a limit on how far you can go on a day away from your regular routine – this is very important to people.

    • kevin mccune

      This is true ,but what really needs to change is the paradigm of” a full tank of freedom ” freedom aint free as I notice everytime I fill my “guzz ” up ,in my case an electric would work marvelously ,but alas ,I cannot afford one.
      America is a wide open ,stretched out country as opposed to places like Europe .In particular parts of Europe and Island nations ,electric drive makes a lot of sense,you can buy an E-bike now with 100 miles of range,but I think the price is around $6000 ,a pretty hefty price tag,maybe justified ,maybe not.
      E Drive is coming(in a form we will be able to stomach or not,that is the quandaray.)

  • People are idiots, they are expecting to be able to make it through exceptional days, not average days.

    The average commute in the US is not a 300 mile round-trip. If it was, not only would I continue to think people were stupid, but frankly 300 miles would take 5-6 hours of travelling.

    Average commutes of around 20 miles each way makes a 60 mile range perfectly viable for commuting and give you an extra 50% of discretionary ability.

    The exceptional days, when you need to visit your aunt in Winnipeg (and you live a long way from Winnipeg), are just that, so why would you not deal with that exception and rent/hire something that was capable of consuming those miles ?

    If you need to do to Homeless Depot to get a few bags of DIY stuff, the electric commuter may not cut it, what you need then is an F250 or bigger, again, why drag an empty F350 around all day when you only need one twice a year when you decide to start a project ? Just rent one when you need it.

    If only there were places that you could drive to which would give you a big-ass truck for a few hours in exchange for a small payment ?

    Oh wait.

    I ride a motorcycle as my daily transport, 78 miles a day 4-5 days a week. It is the best way that I have found to cut through the traffic and arrive vaguely sane in the middle of London.

    Because commuting is my majority use-case, it is awesome. it only has a 150 mile range, which means that I fill up twice a week and the cargo capacity is capped at about 25kg and there is only enough room for two people, but it solves the most important problem ‘How to get to work without sitting on a train or spending 4hrs in traffic’.

    An electric car with a 60-80mile range would solve the majority of the commuters commuting duties. It would not solve all of them, there are people that need 4×4’s and gun racks and whatnot, but the majority would be fine. The gas savings would more than pay for occasionally daily rentals.

    Besides my bike, I have a Fiat 500 available, if we go to the DIY store and we cannot fit our purchase into it, we rent a van for an hour for $12. Quick, easy and efficient.

    • Steve Hanley

      Perception is reality, Max. People think they need 300 mile range, ergo, that’s what they want. Historically, major changes in perception take a generation or more to take effect. I’m sure my grandkids may never own a car at all but will select from a menu of choices, according to their daily needs.

  • roseland67


    Inform the masses how this should be done please.

    • Steve Hanley

      Wait 30 years??? By then ICE cars will be like brass era cars — interesting curiosities.

  • John DelphiaIII

    Government sponsored Level 3 chargers along the nation’s freeway rest stops and real world results of using chargers as a ‘lure’ for cafes, shops, malls and resturaunts are more important than +200mi batteries. If the distance between chargers is 3/4 the range, plus chargeup in a half hour at a reserved or planned travel break: no range anxiety!

  • Marc P

    Of course, at this point, people will say they will buy what most resembles what they have now, since that is what they are used to and comfortable with. Right now, I make about 20+ outdoor trips a year to remote areas, pulling trailers, canoes, and gear. My destinations are anywhere from 200 to 400 km’s from my house. At my destinations, there is often no electricity at all…, so plugging in isn’t even an option. (We’re NOT talking National parks, here… I’m in Canada, after all!)

    Buying a 160km range EV and renting 20+ times a year for when I need more just isn’t practical. That being said, the leap for most people probably won’t be as big and could make sense in the not too distant future. I hope to be able to afford a PHEV SUV as my next vehicle in about 3 years. With about 40 to 60 km of EV range, I could meet all my normal weekly driving needs with electricity alone and use dino juice for those longer weekend trips.