OK. Let me begin by acknowledging that the data I am about to share with you may qualify as “ancient history.” Starting way back in 2010, which in the world of electric cars is equivalent to the dawn of time, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund conducted a survey of electric and plug-in hybrid car users to learn how the new technology affected driving habits. The purpose of the Fleetwise EV300 study was to help government and corporate fleet managers understand how the new technology could help then save money. What they found is that EV range anxiety is real and has a powerful impact on how drivers use electric cars it the real world.
After collecting data for 6 months, the study results were analyzed and a final report was issued in the spring of 2015. In all, 52 cars were included in the survey, including Chevrolet Volts, Ford Transit Connect Electrics, Mitsubishi i-MiEVs, Nissan LEAFs, and Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrids. One of the most interesting findings of the survey was that, no matter what the official range of a car might be, drivers always allowed themselves a 30 mile margin for error.
If someone was driving a Nissan LEAF with a theoretical range of 84 miles, for example, that driver would typically only drive 50 miles or less, leaving 30 miles left over to account for such contingencies as snow storms, traffic, or higher than normal demand for heat or air conditioning. Drivers of cars with more range drove further, but still left themselves the same 30 miles of unused battery capacity, just in case.
Our own Jo Borras had an upfront and personal experience with range anxiety recently while test driving a Mitsubishi i-MiEV for a week. The car’s charger threw a code in the middle of the night, so when he climbed in the next morning, he barely had enough range to get to work, not the full battery charge he expected. As it turned out, he just made it before the car signed off completely.
Range anxiety is nothing new. Most people who drive conventional cars have some place on the gas gauge that tells them it’s time to start looking for a gas station. Some never let the gauge get below 1/2; for others the magic number is 1/4. But very few people are comfortable letting the needle fall below E. There’s a gas station on every corner and it only takes a minute to get a splash and go.
Public electric chargers are often hidden. You need a smartphone app to find them and when you get there, the nearest charger may already be in use. Either that, or it is part of a network you don’t belong to. Some chargers use different plugs than others, and when you are done with all that, you have to put your life on hold for at least 30 minutes to get enough charge to make a difference. No wonder electric cars haven’t gone mainstream yet.
Jo Borras will tell you the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is a pretty good car, but would he be comfortable living with one as his principal ride? No way! Not now. Not with the rudimentary charging infrastructure available in America today.
Charging infrastructure is the key to the green car revolution. Until we conquer range anxiety, most people will refuse to consider an electric car for their own personal needs. But governments, carmakers and utilities are standing around with their hands in their pockets, saying “After you, Alphonse,” and hoping someone else will put up the money to build it.
If you are a conservative, you believe market forces should solve this problem. If you are a liberal, you think government should be leading the way. But here’s the thing. The electric car revolution is not about electric cars; it is about curing the world of its fossil fuel addiction while there is still time. If it takes a partnership of public and private stakeholders, what’s wrong with that? Some people might even call that leadership.
Source | Images: Toronto Atmospheric Fund.