By on December 18, 2009

starting out on empty

Would you set out for a drive with your low fuel light on, knowing there was no place to buy gas? That’s the painful reality many EV drivers are going to be faced with every morning after unplugging their fully-charged battery and heading out on the road. Most conventional cars have about 50 to 60 miles left after the gauge hits empty, plenty of time to find a gas station. But according to a Consumer Reports test of a Mitsubishi i-MIEV, the stated range of 100 miles with a full battery is more like 60 or 50 under typical conditions, if you consider using lights at night, indulging in heat or A/C, or driving at 65 mph typical. I do. And so will most drivers. Disappointment with their $40k electric mini-car is inevitable. Just don’t say Darryl Siry or I didn’t warn you:

I wrote about the potentially misleading and confusing issue of EV range here, and former Tesla exec Darryl Siry has gone public with his concerns of EV makers’ unrealistic claims here, and more specifically, he took Nissan’s 100 mile claim for the Leaf to task here. The problem is well understood by EVers, but not at all so well by the public. Here’s the sixty second capsule version explanation:

IC engines operate at very low efficiency levels, from effectively zero% at a stop light, to maybe in the teens or low twenties at high speeds. We’re used to getting better mileage (range) on the freeway than in the city. But the amount of actual energy required to propel the car is much higher at speed; this is masked by the improved efficiency of the gas engine at those higher speeds.

An electric motor operates at close to 90% efficiency pretty much all the time, so there is essentially a direct correlation to the energy required to move the car, and the mileage (range). And since EV’s use no energy at a standstill (if the heat, lights and radio are off, as in the tests), city driving patterns are dramatically more favorable to EVs.

That explains why EV makers like Nissan and Mitsubishi are using the EPA City”, or “UDDS” driving cycle. This test cycle assumes an average driving speed of 19.59 mph and in the 22 minute driving cycle, it assumes you only break 40 mph once, for about 100 seconds, and never exceed about 58 mph. Not exactly a typical commute from the ‘burbs.

If the EV manufacturers used the US06 driving cycle, which more closely resembles typical US driving patterns, the projected range would be significantly less. But that wouldn’t look good in all the PR and ads. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: EVs potentially make great city cars. But head out on the highway, and you’ll be looking for an adventure all too soon.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

52 Comments on “EV Range High Anxiety: Normal Driving May Cut Range In Half...”


  • avatar
    ash78

    I suspect this will be a non-issue to most buyers, since these cars are ideally built for a daily commute, with maybe an errand or two built in. Assuming you can’t plug in at work, this range should still suit just about everyone except the most exurban Atlantans or Angelenos.

    • 0 avatar
      guyincognito

      Which most buyers are you referring to? The ones who buy an SUV for the off chance that they might need to haul 7 people and a 6000lb trailer? Or who now purchase an equally heavy and jacked up CUV with the same downsides as said SUV but none of the upsides? Or the ones who refuse to buy minivans because they are not cool? I fail to see evidence of this rational, get exactly what they need with almost no margin, buyer, at least in America.

    • 0 avatar
      Geotpf

      In theory, I could buy one of these, since I live two stop lights away from my job.  It would work in 99% of the situations where I need a car, and I could always rent a normal car for long road trips.

      In practice, I already own a car I plan on keeping for at least five or ten years, so never mind.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Developing an accurate ‘gas’ gauge for an EV is tricky engineering.  Still, I think customers will adjust once they learn the peculiarities of their own car, just as we all understand how much range we have left when the conventional gas gauge in our cars reads low.
     
    However, I maintain that dual-fuel vehicles (Volt, plug-in Prius) will be especially annoying to consumers because range will be dependent upon the level of two fuels (electrons and gasoline), and always changing due to ambient temperature, electrical loads, and battery aging.
     
    In the litigious climate of the US, wild range variations from the mfr’s claims could kill the EV market, if the recent suit against Honda for their Civic hybrid is any indication.

    • 0 avatar
      toxicroach

      The Civic hybrid suit was settled for next to nothing.  Some certificates only usable to buy more Honda products, and a bit of cash thrown around.  I’m sure the class action lawyer did ok, but it’s not like Honda took a big hit on that.  And really, most juries are not going to get too upset at a company for using the government issued fuel mileage in advertising. 

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      toxicroach: True, but how many hybrids is Honda actually moving off the lots these days?

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      The gas gauge has two uses,
      1) how efficient are you driving
      2)How far can you still drive.
      The first is the most important until you have a range left of 60 miles which in a conventional car is a sign to start looking for a gas station. In fact an accurate gas gauge is a bug, not a feature.
      But battery cars have the problem that their range isn’t that much above 60 miles so a realist range indicator is important
      Volt etc. have the gas backup so efficiency indicator is more  important than range indicator

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    You should see what’s happening on the various blogs, posted by people who are leasing MINI-e electric cars. A lot of them are here in New Jersey and it appears that now that we’re experiencing winter weather, the range of said electric cars has dropped dramatically.

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      What do these electric cars use for heat? Pure resistive would be nice and toasty, but would suck some major KWh. A heat pump would be more efficient, but would not work at cold temperatures. One morning last winter in Chicago, it was -23F. It’s surprising how badly cars work at these temperatures. My Audi would stay stopped, with it in drive and my foot off the brake. The diff lube must’ve been as thick as tar. I had to rev it just to move at all. How will EVs work in these conditions?
       

  • avatar
    Dukeboy01

    @Rod Panhard

    I believe it. I drove one of our pool vehicle Toyota Prius earlier this week with temperatures in the 30′s. It was not a happy car. The gas engine was much quicker to run, even in the city, than compared to the last time I had driven one when the temps were in the 50′s.  

  • avatar
    rnc

    Paul – Is it 5 or 6 miles when the gauge hits “E”? 

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      In a typical gas car, the two to three gallons left in the tank when the low fuel warning light comes on will take you some 50 miles or more, unless you have a real guzzler.

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    Suppose you use up your battery by the time you get home. That sounds OK. Now suppose you’ve just plugged your car in to recharge it, and go into the house. You get an emergency phone call and have to leave at once.  Now what?  Will the green people representative pull up and sweep you away?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Pure EVs are not even close to being ready for prime time. Costs are way too high and range is way too low. Sure, there were a few dozen people who wanted to keep their GM EV1s … and over a hundred million drivers who never even considered getting one.

    T. Boone Pickens’ natural gas daydreams are more grounded in reality than the EV boosters’ are.
     
     

  • avatar
    savuporo

    Range needs to be given in two numbers, like MPG is given for ICE cars.
    City/Highway ( prehaps combined )

    It needs to take heating, inclines, and lighting conditions into account too.

  • avatar
    davey49

    Hence the Chevy Volt, It’s like an EV that runs on gasoline!

  • avatar
    AccAzda

    Mr Niedermeyer:
    I drive 138.6 mi a day, round trip commute..
    Since when can you go 50-60mi when that low fuel light comes on? That would be most of my trip in..?!

    When the low fuel light DOES come on.. the needle is at E and dropping.
    I’m within 5 mi on city roads.. and I know every gas station.

    And who would leave the house with a empty gas tank… on a eletric car?
    Not me.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I drove 30 miles after my low fuel light came on last night. I might have been able to stretch another 20 miles out of the tank (that’s less than one gallon), but didn’t try to push it.  I don’t think Paul’s out of line with 50 miles.
      If you commute 138 miles a day, obviously an EV is not for you.  But you’re not the target market, nor is that an average commute.
       

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I am not sure how well this would work for me anytime in the next 10 years (while I live in suburbia).  Local roads are 45mph and people hit 55mph.  My commute to work is on the highway (55 officially, most people do 75).  The windchill last week hit -25F with the real temperature around -10F.  My garage is not heated, and my 80% highway commute is 35 miles each way.
    so…$40k on an EV which in most cases can’t do local traffic OR my commute to work or $4k on a brand new 250cc motorcycle that I can use 8 months out of the year & get 65mpg, and use my econobox @ 35mpg highway the rest of the time.
    Tough choice…
     

  • avatar
    midelectric

    Would you set out for a drive with your low fuel light on, knowing there was no place to buy gas? That’s the painful reality many EV drivers are going to be faced with every morning after unplugging and heading out on the road.
    If you’re unplugging to drive off in the morning chances are close to 100% that you’re starting with a fully charged pack.  This also assumes that there are no charging stations anywhere but your garage which is not the case as any EV you can buy today can be plugged into a regular household socket if needed.  The described scenario is too doomsday to properly reflect reality.
    And yes, mileage does drop in winter in an EV just like in a gas car, my morning fillup in the Mazda showed 2ompg instead of the 25-27 I usually get

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      You’re misunderstanding the post. I’m saying leaving the house with a fully charged battery pack will give you some 50-60 miles under typical driving, about the same as leaving with a couple of gallons in your tank.

    • 0 avatar
      midelectric

      OK, I see your point though it only applies to the Mitsubishi.  No other EV, including the RAV4-EV sold years ago, has as limited real-world range.  Good condition RAVs get from 70-120 or so.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      No; all EVs are subject to the exact same deterioration of range under common driving circumstances. It’s simply a factor of how EVs work. The ranges you read about as in the RAV-EV was under ideal conditions.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    Being stuck with an expensive clown car with no range is a small price to pay for ensuring that Al Gore and company can keep flying around the world in their Gulfstreams.

  • avatar
    carguy

    What’s wrong with using hydrogen as a “liquid battery”? You can generate it directly at the gas station (as long as its hooked up to the electricity grid and water supply) and the whole range issue would be done. We also wouldn’t need special outlets to charge them or waste vast amounts of money on rare elements such as Lithium, Nickle and Cadmium.

  • avatar
    kurkosdr

    “Pure” EVs are a lost cause. Even if some technological miracle allows them to get 500miles of range, there ‘ll be people who ‘ll wish for something that can do 600miles or 700miles in a single day. And even if some other technological miracle allows EVs to do 700miles, there will be people who will wish for 800miles. Etcetera…

    Whatever the range, if I can’t quickly fill my car up when the low fuel light is on, I am not buying it. If I have to stop every 500miles, park it in a garage with a plug, and then wait for 10 hours for it to charge before I can keep going, it’s a lost cause.

    Sure, such a car would cover most of my automotive needs and the daily commute, but not all of them.  And since I can’t afford two cars, I will go for the one that can do it all, which for now is the ICE.

    And that’s why the world needs something we can fill up in a gas station, not wait for it to charge. And that’s why Plug-ins and hydrogen cars are the future.

  • avatar
    Tosh

    It’s disappointing (but predictable) that the EV makers’ PR Depts refuse to be totally honest, but it still doesn’t mean that an EV can’t work for SOME people. And if you’re NOT one of those people, stop your fearful ridiculing of EVs, and just don’t buy one until it suits you.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      Electric vehicles can indeed work for some people. But most of us don’t want one. The smugness of those who ridicule us for not wanting one brings ridicule in return.

  • avatar
    Old Guy Ben

    This post and comment thread made me think about something.
    If I run out of gas (it has happened, and I see it happen to others), I can walk or hitch a ride to a gas station and borrow (usually) a can with a gallon or two of gas in it, get back to my vehicle, and get on my way.
    If you have an EV, what do you do if the ‘tank’ is dry?  Bring a portable generator to the car on the side of the road?  Get a jump start from, well, who?
    yeah, if you’re in town you may be able to coast to a stop near an outlet that you could use, but where I live there are still lots of nice long farm roads with nothing but some cattle for scenery.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Paul is making an unimpeachable point: that EVs are likely to have a shorter range than advertised under many driving conditions.
    For sure, a short-range car is no good for those 10-20% of drivers who commute more than 50 miles per day.
    However, even 50 miles range is OK for about 80% of commutes. Not to forget, there will be incentives to provide workplace parking charge stations in many states and in many countries, which effectively doubles a commuter’s range.
    Roll out of EVs will begin in California, because people there could traditionally afford a second or third car. Also, people in Cali have garages, meaning you pre-heat or pre-cool your car while attached to the grid.
    I don’t see EVs replacing F-150s in Montana or Regina any time soon, though. Not that anybody does.

  • avatar
    savuporo

    <i>If you have an EV, what do you do if the ‘tank’ is dry? </i>

    Run to the store and buy a twelve-pack of AAA Duracells !

  • avatar
    jmo

    Do people get as upset about two seat cars?  OMG!  How can anyone buy a boxter or corvette or SL it only has two seats?  What if you need to take more than one passengers?  Huh, what are you going to do then?

    Well, you know what, for many people a two seat car works.  The kids are out of the house or they don’t have kids or the wife drives an minivan, etc.  Same with EVs it might not work for someone who lives in Calgary and commutes 80 miles each way to work and has to drop off his 5 kids at school everyday.  But, for  an empty nest IT director in Palo Alto who works 7 miles from home – it would be perfect.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    jmo> I think the difference is people who have 2 seat cars don’t look down on those who have 4 seat cars & tell them they should use something smaller.
    This is not the case for “Enviormental” people in quite a few cases (note, I didn’t say “most”).

    The government & local municipalities are not giving tax breaks & providing infrastructure for 2 seat cars, where they will have to for EVs.

    The goverment doesn’t try to preach that 2 seat cars are the future and artificially adjust the marketplace like they will with EV’s….

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      <i> I think the difference is people who have 2 seat cars don’t look down on those who have 4 seat cars & tell them they should use something smaller.</i>

      Guys in corvettes/boxters/SLs don’t look down on guys in Siennas and Camries?   They don’t think they should get a smaller sportier car?  Not in my experience. 

    • 0 avatar
      midelectric

      Trillion dollar wars and thousands of lives lost is kind of tilting the board a little bit though.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I don’t know where you live, but every government I’m familiar with provides infrastructure for 2-seat cars.  And 3-seat cars, 4-seat cars, 5-seat cars, etc.   We call them “roads”.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Meh. BEVs will never be bought by anyone other than Ed Begley.

    The rest of us live in places where we need lights, AC, and heat, where we have to go up and down hills, and dodge semis on the freeway. Places where it is under freezing for days on end during the winter, and above 90 for days on end during the summer. Places where your wife calls you at 4:45 to remind you to pick up Jenifer at the gym, because she has to take Ashley to the Dentist, and that is another 20 mi on your trip home. Places where there are no enclosed garages, and you’re lucky to find cheap parking within a mile from work, let alone parking with power outlets. In short the USA.

    BEVs cannot be an economical choice outside of retirement communities with 15 mph speed limits. Forget about BEVs. They will never, ever, be commercial.

    Using hydrocarbon fuels for transportation (other than fixed routes) is economically and technologically superior to BEVs, even if the HC fuels have to synthesized from water and atmospheric CO2. The competition between the two modalities was fought out free and fair in the early 20th century. Since then improvements in ICE efficiency and cost have far exceeded those for batteries, and there is no reason to believe that those trends will change. My great grandmother owned a BEV before WWI, I drive an HC powered vehicle and so will my great grandchildren.

    Hydrogen, even liquid hydrogen, is so light that any given volume of it carries very little energy. One liter of liquid hydrogen contains 71 grams of hydrogen. On liter of gasoline contains 118 grams of hydrogen, and one liter of diesel, 130 grams. Of course liquid hydrogen costs lots of energy to make, is difficult to store (it will leak out of any container in a matter of days), and is 423 degrees F below zero, so be careful when handling it. Compressed hydrogen is less dense than liquid, and kaboom.
     
     

  • avatar
    Bruce from DC

    EVs might make good cars in coastal California, coastal Oregon (maybe even Eugene) and similar places with mild climate.  As a person who has lived all of his life in a more typical US climate (Washington, DC), I’m quite familiar with the problems batteries have with temperatures below freezing and with how unpleasant an un airconditioned car can be in the summer.  Most people have an intuitive sense that running the a/c is an energy drain on the car, costing a few MPG.  But most people have no sense at all that heating a car is an energy drain, because in an ICE-powered car, cabin heat comes from engine heat that otherwise would be dumped into the outside air.   I assume that the by-product heat of an operating EV is not substantial enough to heat the cabin when it’s cold (let’s say freezing or below), so what are EV cars going to do — have watt-sucking electric resistance elements to heat the cabin, reverse-cycle the air conditioning system (we all know how well heat pumps work when the outside temperature is below freezing)?  I would imagine the swing in range between summer and winter for people living anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line would be quite substantial . . . and would be something else that folks would have to account for in their trip planning.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Using hydrocarbon fuels for transportation (other than fixed routes) is economically and technologically superior to BEVs

    Hydrocarbon fuels obtained from atmospheric CO2 are always going to cost more on a per mile basis than using that energy to charge a battery. 

    In the future the question could be - Do I buy a  BEV (with all its limitations) that costs $0.25 a mile to run or do I buy a ICE vehicle that costs $0.50 a mile.   For many people it ill be worth going for the ICE vehicle – but for those who can make it work a BEV might be a better option.

  • avatar
    Ion

    seems like small hurdles to me.

    a good EV should have a seperate regular battery and charging system, or a small diesel engine (like the Ford USPS EVs) for the accesories. Then if cities or even gas stations can build quick charge stations then people would be able to charge at their destinations.

    Either way though it’s not like the ICE is going anywhere anytime soon and Diesels and Hydrogen aren’t the way to go.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    The same people who want to shove EV’s down our throats are doing their best to make it impossible to charge them:  http://www.sierraclub.org/environmentallaw/coal/

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    I’m a firm believer (despite my often skepticism) that EV’s are the cars of the future.  However, they are nowhere near ready (or needed) now. I always hear the average commute is 40 miles stat bandied about, and I’ll accept that as fact. However, I would venture to guess that most people need to get groceries and pick up the kids from school a couple of times a week, nevermind regularly taking the kids to sports practice or going out to dinner, etc. A 70 mile range would not be feasible for such people. Will they exist as a niche vehicle for those rich enough to afford an impractical but likely not very fun second car? Sure. But we’ll need another breakthrough before they are adopted on a wide scale. 

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      I agree that electric vehicles are the way of the future. But also that they will have to be different from what we have now, or what the current carmakers will put out in the next five years.

      I think a serial hybrid electric car can be made that gets 0 to 100 miles per hour in 10 seconds, that burns diesel to generate electricity and gets 100 miles to the gallon. That kind of car will work much better as a drop-in replacement for our current gasoline cars.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Well put, Robert.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • J & J Sutherland, Canada
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India