In a fast-improving EV market, is mythical range anxiety still a problem?
When the first crop of modern EVs started to be sold/registered in the UK, one of the biggest reasons not to consider one lay in the lack of distance it might cover on a full charge, although Iain Robertson heard constant tales that range was not an issue!
There was a time, around the 1960s, when fuel prices were an affordable few shillings, although fuel consumption, even for a smaller engined car, was significantly greater than today. When the OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) fuel crisis hit, in October 1973, with limits being set on how much pump fuel could be provided to queuing consumers pushing their cars to the dispensers, a race commenced around the motor industry to start producing cars that were markedly more frugal.
By the turn of the New Millennium, the 60-70mpg diesel car was a run of the mill prospect and several petrol models could eke out equally impressive returns. Clever engine management systems could even turn turbocharged models into fuel economy champions. With most fuel tanks capable of containing 10 to 14 gallons of petrol, or diesel, we have all become accustomed to the family car possessing a range in excess of 500 miles, almost enough to drive from London to Edinburgh, without stopping. Yet, even when we do stop, it can take less than 10 minutes from inserting the fuel nozzle, to collecting the receipt from the overweight youth behind the smeared glass pane protecting the till.
Confronted by an early EV of less than a decade ago, that same trip might have been impossible, without serious disruption; firstly, due to an available range of just 90 miles (although 75 was nearer the mark), secondly, through a lack of public recharging posts and, thirdly, because finding a recharger unoccupied would still require around 40 minutes to obtain around 50 miles of charge, if you were fortunate. EV range anxiety was invented.
However, the carmakers producing those early EVs were adamant that range was not an issue and a growing band of EVangelists was only too keen to support their incredulous claims. To a certain extent, they were not wrong, as most daily average mileages seemed to be around 35 miles, well within the capabilities of an overnight ‘top-up’. Thus commenced a development period, during which larger capacity batteries, more potent electric motors and a recharging network commenced a major growth surge. Tesla was already having its hay day.
While the situation is truly better than ever, the issues related to range anxiety remain extant and you cannot blame the consumer, who is soon to be forced into acquiring electrified transport and its various idiosyncrasies. Having been given a level of range expectation in regular transport, even (pandemic restrictions notwithstanding) a regular monthly trek that empties the tank sets a level of expectation. Tell the consumer that he cannot have that 500-mile potential but that a quarter of that rate should do and the negative reaction is inevitable. The car buyer invests heavily in the privilege of running their vehicle of choice; while most vehicle users drive alone, providing them with a perfectly adequate two seats is unhelpful, when they may want four at least, on occasion.
One of the main reasons that I have not driven every EV model presently available lies in my home base being in Lincolnshire, where there used to be a distinct shortage of charging posts (none exists in my village) and not having a personal wallbox. The other reason is that I rely on test cars being supplied to me and each relevant carmaker has confessed that, without a local charger, delivering an EV with its battery drained is a pointless exercise.
A good journalist pal of mine carried out a test recently, using six of the most recent EVs – Tesla3 (with extended battery option), Audi e-tron, Jaguar i-Pace, Nissan Leaf (in its more powerful form), Kia e-Niro and the Mercedes-Benz EQC. His plan was to drive, with five colleagues, from London as far north up the A1 as possible, to test the claimed mileage ranges of each model. A number of parameters were insisted upon: 1. The six drivers would not exceed any posted speed restrictions; 2. Although exterior temperature was around seven to eight degrees Centigrade (a level of ‘chill’, which would naturally reduce anticipated vehicle ranges), each car would have 20-degreesC dialled into their heating systems; and 3. Each vehicle’s battery pack was fully charged the night prior to departure.
The results were fascinating and in order of battery depletion:
|MAKE AND MODEL||ACTUAL MILEAGE||PERCENTAGE ACHIEVED OF STATED RANGE|
While accepting a degree of experimental error, had I invested £60,000 in Merc’s new EQC, I would be sorely disappointed. Yet, similar remarks could be made about the similarly priced Audi and even the Tesla3. Not for the first time have I been informed that the Jaguar i-Pace is incapable of living up to expectations but, by the same token, I can fully comprehend the success that Kia is enjoying presently for its relatively low-powered e-Niro. If there is one lesson that EV manufacturers should learn from what was a ‘real-time’ exercise, it must be to stop lying about their vehicles’ range expectations, even though the amount of percentage variance for fossil-fuelled cars against their Average Combined Fuel consumption figures run not dissimilar parallels.
Perhaps more interestingly, when an EV runs out of charge, it can slow markedly, while sounding a ‘low battery’ warning (not all do). Even registering zero miles left, some of them managed another 10-15 miles of range, a useful safety margin. Yet, only a few could be pushed to a charger, as most EVs lock their drivetrains, when their batteries are depleted, demanding a call-out to any one of the recovery services. It is also worth noting that most of the sat-navs in EVs will recommend the screen locations of chargers, although Tesla promotes only its own superchargers.
Conclusion: Manufacturers, dealers, magazine testers and EVangelists need to resist telling lies about the range potential of EVs. However, the consumer needs to plan journeys better, which includes extra time for recharging en-route.