At the start of the electric car revolution in 2011, AAA decided it would be a good idea to have some roadside assistance vehicles capable of giving electric car drivers a boost if they ran out of electrons while on the road. AAA currently has about 54,000,000 members. Each year, it gets over 32 million calls to help stranded motorists — half of them from drivers who have run out of gas. It seemed likely to AAA management that drivers of electric cars would need a similar service from time to time.
It decided to add service trucks to areas where electric cars are most popular — Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, and Orlando. Each truck has an onboard generator capable of recharging any electric car. Each has plugs and adapters for CHAdeMO, CSS, or Tesla Supercharger standards.
Much to the surprise of AAA, however, the trucks have been used less often than anticipated. Electric car drivers, it seems, are far more conscious of how far then can drive without running out of battery charge than drivers of conventional cars are about how much fuel is left in the tank. Greg Brannon, AAA director of automotive engineering and industry relations says, “Our feeling is that they keep a pretty close eye on it and manage their drive accordingly—much more so than a driver of a gasoline vehicle.”
It seems that electric car owners automatically leave themselves about a 20% reserve, probably because they don’t want to get stuck with the bill for getting towed home if they run out of electricity. “It seems that folks who drive an electric vehicle are very aware of the range of that electric vehicle,” says Brannon. He says the number of service calls AAA has gotten because of electric cars running out of charge are “in the thousands, but not tens of thousands, of incidents.”
With 250,000 electric vehicles on the roads now and more expected soon, AAA is considering whether it should expand its roadside recharging service to other cities. But Brannon calls nationwide demand for such services “fairly low.” According to research from Thomas Franke of Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany, most electric car owners soon learn what he calls “stress buffering behaviors” to reduce the risk of running out of charge. They mentally calculate a minimum of the available range they are comfortable and won’t go below it before heading home or searching out an available charger.
Manufacturers are also helping drivers to avoid running out of electricity. They are including low charge warnings that are more aggressive than the simple “low fuel” warning lights found in conventional cars. They often include chimes or buzzers that become more and more persistent as battery charge drops below certain limits. The Kia Soul Electric chimes every 60 seconds once range drops below 10%. Other manufacturers reduce power, forcing drivers to limp slowly to the nearest charger.
AAA’s Brannon says, “EVs are the future. It’s just a question of how quickly and how many.” He thinks that today’s electric car early adopters are more aware of the limits of their cars. As electrics go more mainstream, he thinks the number of people who get caught low on battery charge while driving may increase. If so, it’s comforting to know AAA will be nearby to help, because that’s what they do.
Source: Car and Driver Photo credit: AAA