By on February 20, 2013

The drama circling around the New York Times test of the Tesla Model S doesn’t surprise me one bit. Why? Because I understand, perhaps at a deeper level than most of the motoring press, how batteries work. Perhaps that has to do with growing up in a family of engineers and scientists, but battery technology has always interested me. So when people from Phoenix came to me crying in their soup about their LEAFs in the heat and friends started wagging fingers at Tesla and the New York Times, I figured it was time for a battery reality check.

What’s the problem (this time)?

Consumer Reports says their Tesla’s power gauge dropped to “zero” at the 173-mile mark on a 176-mile trip. At the beginning of the trip the range indicator said 240 miles while the “projected range” indicator which takes driving style into account said 188 miles. On first glance this sounds like some horrific range issue. “OMG, the Model S missed its 240 mile range by 64 miles.” But did it?

 

What was the problem last time?

If you didn’t know about the Tesla / New York Times punch up, then click here for the article that started it all. (And a picture of a Tesla on a flatbed.) Basically John Broder took a Tesla out on the road for a long road trip and ran out of juice. Of course he also didn’t charge the battery fully at every opportunity he had, but that’s beside the point for the moment.

About those journalists

Our readers are no doubt familiar with Jack Baruth’s assertion that the vast majority of auto journalists are less than professional drivers. The same applies in this case, the majority of journalists know rather little about EVs, how they work, what’s going on in the battery pack and why it matters. Much like a novice on the track, a novice in an EV can result in unpredictable results.

How batteries work

Batteries are a means of storing electricity chemically. The fact that we’re talking about a chemical reaction is absolutely vital to keep in mind when anyone starts talking about range, battery degradation, heat, cold, charging, etc.

All batteries have three basic components: a cathode, an anode and an electrolyte between the two. Depending on what materials are used for each of these three components battery life, cost and power density will vary. At the low-end of the scale we have the zinc-potato-copper battery from school and at the high-end of consumer electronics we have the lithium iron phosphate-dimethyl carbonate-graphite battery known as the Lithium-ion battery, or the battery that powers modern cell phones, laptops, electric cars and is even used in the new Boeing 787. (Yea, the one getting the bad press.)

Every battery chemistry has its advantages and disadvantages. Lead-acid batteries (the one that starts your car) are heavy, cheap and can handle the high current draw of starter motors. Ni-Cad batteries that were popular in my child hood were relatively easy to manufacture and lower cost than other alternatives. Nickel-metal hydride batteries have been around for some time and thanks to their stability and energy density have been used in hybrid vehicles since the Prius and Insight. Lithium based batteries are the current star in the consumer electronics world because their power density and ability to charge rapidly are excellent for smartphones, tablets and laptops. The problem is Lithium batteries can be more “temperamental” than some of the older chemistries. If you want to know all there is to know about Lithium-ion batteries, click on over to Batteryuniversity.com.

What does this have to do with the cold?

Because batteries store energy chemically, a chemical reaction has to occur when charging and when discharging. When batteries get cold, the internal resistance of the battery increases which decreases the amount of energy that you can get out of the pack. You can test this at home yourself if you have a camera flash at home. Drop the batteries into the freezer, put them in the flash and see how long it takes to recharge the flash. What does this mean in a car? Well, you are charging outside and it’s near freezing, then (A) you won’t be able to completely charge a battery and (B) after charging if the battery cools off to ambient you won’t be able to use a portion of those electrons you just stuffed in the battery. Think about your 12V car battery, remember that cranking amps vs cold cranking amps rating? Same thing.

To fix these problems many EVs (like the Model S) heat the battery to try to keep it at an optimum temperature. Doing so ensures that you can use the entire capacity for charging and discharging, but it of course consumes power, and the colder it is, the more power it takes to heat the battery. In hot weather the system cools the battery to preserve the lifetime of the battery chemistry.

What are the factors that decrease battery life?

There are many factors involved, but put simply, having your battery at a very low state of charge or a very high state of charge has a negative impact on battery life. The rate at which you take the battery from charged to discharged or discharged to charged also has an impact. While cold temperatures may keep you from getting the most out of your battery, it usually doesn’t impact longevity. Heat on the other hand has a severe impact on battery life and it gets worse the higher the state of charge.

Back to Consumer Reports

Without access to Elon’s creepy data logs of the CR test vehicle, I have two suggestions to what was going on. First off, the car was fairly close to reality with the projected range of 188 miles, but this needs explanation and education. The car was saying that if you drive gently the maximum range is 240.  Drive it like you’ve been driving it,  expect 188. Now we insert the cold weather into the mix. I assume he was heating the cabin on a chilly day and driving like normal. What wasn’t obvious is that the Model S may very well have also had the battery heater turned on, if so, there’s your 12 miles. Even if that wasn’t the case, any gasoline car that gets the range estimate within 7% scores in my book.

What about those LEAFs in Phoenix?

A while back I got a frantic call from a friend in the Phoenix area. “My LEAF’s batteries are dead!” So for the next 15 minutes he poured his heart out about the problem. Towards the end the usual comments from a person dealing with “automotive loss” came out “Nissan needs to give me a new battery.” After all his woes had been aired he asked me what I thought. I paused for a moment and said (as nicely as possible) “I’m not sure what your problem is. What you are describing to me is normal battery wear and tear.”

You see, unlike the Model S, the LEAF does not have an active cooling system for the battery pack. (This was done to save money and with the LEAF now dropping to $28,800 (less than half the Model S), you get what you pay for.) The lack of active cooling means that in the hot Arizona desert, parked in the sun at work or at the mall your battery is slowly dying. Why? It’s all back to the chemistry again. The optimum service life of Lithium-ion batteries is achieved when the cell is a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Baking in the sun for 8 hours a day while you’re at the office the inside of the car can easily go over 170 degrees when it’s 115 outside. Since he had to charge his car at the office in order to get back home, he was compounding the problem since batteries get hot as they charge. As the battery aged because of the long commute he started to drop by the local DC quick charge station. This made the battery age even faster because now the battery is hot and you are rapidly going from one state of charge to the other. Net result: 20% loss in capacity over 2 years and 33,000 miles. Case closed.

What about my Prius? (or other hybrids)

Right now the Prius, and most older hybrids like the Escape Hybrid and the first generation Fusion Hybrid use Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. This chemistry is more stable but less power dense than lithium based batteries. In addition remember what I said about battery life? State of charge and charge/discharge rates are large factors. Hybrids extend their battery life deliberately by never fully charging nor fully discharging their batteries. In fact most non-plug-in hybrids use 60-70% of the rated capacity in the battery. Since they don’t depend on the battery for 100% of the propulsion like an EV does, charge and discharge rates are lower which also extends battery life. And lastly, it’s less obvious when your hybrid’s battery does age because it’s not your only source of propulsion. As hybrids move to lithium batteries they are retaining these life extending measures, but even still they may or may not have the same life span as the NiMH batteries, only time will tell. In the plug-in world, only GM seems to be operating in a cautious fashion by only using about 80% of the Volt and ELR’s battery pack vs nearly 95% of the capacity in Ford and Toyota models.

Who’s right and who’s wrong here? Who is to blame?

Everyone. The EV buyer who didn’t bother to do his homework, the dealer who didn’t help set expectations, and the manufacturer who promised all would be well. My inclination however is to place the burden on the EV buyer. If you’re going to buy a car of any description, you need to do your homework. You don’t buy a Mazda Miata and then get upset when you bend the frame trying to tow your 5th wheel. Likewise, don’t expect any EV to have some magical battery that runs on butterfly-farts and lasts 250,000 miles, it just won’t happen. Yet.

 

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132 Comments on “The Truth About Battery Life...”


  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Outstanding tutorial, but where does that leave Broder? I assume that he’s not an engineer, nor will most buyer’s of EVs be. But Tesla has them and they have access to the temperatures along a drive route. Isn’t it incumbent upon them to manage the battery rather than Broder? To impute some malevolent intent on anyone’s part is a stretch, but it seems to me that Tesla was in the best position to instruct Broder properly, which I don’t think they did.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      In the auto industry nobody instructs anyone on their cars. I’m sure Tesla went above the norm when delivering the car but usually the car you order arrives, you sign on the X and that’s it. You’re lucky if you get a window sticker copy or any detail on the car. The difference is we’re used to how most cars operate.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Waingrow

        Alex, isn’t that the critical difference? That is, that hardly anyone is used to operating a Tesla, being that its demands are so much different from those of the typical car tested. Not meaning to belabor this, but the knowldge about the Tesla was inordinately on the side of Tesla, not Broder. Anyway, thanks to you, I’m now a bit more expert about batteries. Might this then be a template for discussing other technical subjects many of us are less than expert on?

      • 0 avatar
        galloping_gael

        @Alex Thanks for a great, informative piece!

    • 0 avatar
      285exp

      If you give him the benefit of the doubt and don’t think Broder was intentionally trying to create the problem he eventually did, you’re left with him just being a fool. You don’t have to have a degree in electrical engineering or memorize the Tesla owners manual to know what cold weather does to battery life, and his failure to plug up the car at every opportunity was just dumb. With an ICE powered vehicle you don’t have to make sure that you have enough stored energy to get where you’re going before you set off, since you can quickly and easily get some more. His story does tell us how practical current BEV’s are for typical motorists though, since the vast majority of them would end up doing the same thing.

      • 0 avatar
        Manic

        I got the picture that the whole point of NYT’s road trip was to use freshly built Tesla’s east coast charging network only and Tesla was sure it should have been enough so they gave the car. That’s why Broder didn’t use every chance to charge the car at other places. But temp. was low outside. He drove slower than traffic flow to save power and called how many calls to Tesla to get help with the range? And got shafted by Musk’s PR machine in the end.

      • 0 avatar

        No he wasn’t a fool.He was constantly calling Tesla to get their advice. And the whole point of the article was to see how practical it would be to drive the BEV Tesla from DC to Boston. Not very. And as someone who drives roundtrip Boston-DC-Boston typically three times a year, I can tell you I’m damned if I would buy a Tesla, even if I had $100 million. Just the need to charge up twice would lengthen the trip, which is ~7.5 hrs of driving, by two hours. Moreover, I’d probably have to spend those two hours sitting in a Sbarro, or some other fast food joint, when, if I wanted to spend two hours not driving between the Hub and the Nation’s Capitol, I can visit my cousin in Manhattan, go to a really good cafe in Manhattan, or be somewhere I want to be instead of in some fast food jernt.

        Furthermore, the Tesla wouild tether me to I-95. I never take 95 through Connecticut (I usually take the Merritt), and I often detour to Quakertown, PA, and I just do’nt want to have to worry about whether I’m going to make it, or whether the damn Tesla is going to run out of juice.

        Broder showed that you really do have to worry about whether the Tesla will run out of juice, and in so doing, he may have had a bad time, but he performed a valuable service. And read what Manic says (directly above me).

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        I think the point of the article is using the Tesla as if it was a ‘normal’ ICE vehicle. And at that the Tesla fails, if just. I think people’s just used to drive serenely with their gas gauge nearly empty in their ICE vehicles, you usually can drive quite a few miles in that state, then fill up at the next gas station. You can’t do that in EV. As with your laptop, smartphone, etc. when the battery gauge is less than half, it’s time to look for a charging station, as it will take far shorter time from full charge to half than from half to completely empty.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      The point is… if your car conks out within shouting distance of where it says it will conk out, that’s normal. The difference between EVs and regular ICE cars is that you have such a huge reserve of range with ICE cars, you don’t really give a damn. If all cars had three gallon tanks, things would be very different.

      • 0 avatar
        galloping_gael

        +1 David. Niky, you are spot on as well. Bottom line: Tesla will never be a GT in the true sense of the initials, though the car in question certainly looks the part…

  • avatar
    gslippy

    It’s important to note that while the Dreamliner battery is generically ‘lithium ion’, it is not the same as the typical EV battery chemistry:

    http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/24558

  • avatar
    285exp

    If they told people the truth they’d never sell the %^!@& things.

    But to be honest, anyone who has had experience with rechargable battery operated devices should know what’s going to happen. Battery life degrades, recharging comes at earlier and earlier intervals, in a few years a significant portion of its capacity is gone. There’s no reason to think that the batteries they use in cars should be exempt. When it’s cell phones and laptops the consequences aren’t so bad and you can always plug them in in your car or at work and keep right on using them. Cars, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      My Leaf came with many disclaimers, which I had to sign to accept. Degradation was part of the story.

      Most people abuse consumer batteries, mostly by overcharging them. It costs money to produce a ‘smart’ charger, and most consumers don’t want to pay more for it. Moreover, most consumers think it’s best to keep a battery fully charged, which it isn’t. Batteries need some exercise, just like people.

      But to your underlying point, if EV buyers expect to be able to abuse their car batteries the same way, EVs are doomed.

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        By “abuse”, you’re describing what would happen every day for most people. Take the car off the charger and go to work, charge at work (cause you never know where you might go after) to keep the range up, go home and put it back on the charger. Nobody is going to see “15 miles remaining” and choose to not charge their EV.

        EV’s are doomed unless: There is some sort of infrastructure embedded in the road to keep them charged (LOL, that’ll happen!), they are paired with a generator, or somebody makes a miracle battery with crazy capacity or can be quickly exchanged.

        • 0 avatar
          mfennell

          There is nothing wrong with that approach. A Model S is NOT a laptop or a cell phone, designed for maximum battery life when the magazines review it. “Normal” charge goes to 90% or 4.1V per cell. Consumer electronics routinely charge to 100%. There is a dramatic difference in life using that approach.

          Additionally, partial recharges as in your example are better for longevity than full charge/discharge cycles. Can be 2 or 3X better.

          Finally, as noted in the article, the Model S battery is thermally managed.

          The Panasonic cells in a Model S, when completely abused – charged to 100% and discharged to zero continuously – would be down 30% from new at 125k miles back-of-the-envelope. Mix in the *actual* charge strategy of the car, coupled with time effects, and you’re more like 15% down at 125k miles.

          There are some margins to be worked for the true OCD types who really want to maximize battery life but the basic Model S approach will do pretty well.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        If the battery is lithium-ion, the charger is either a “smart charger” or a bomb detonator.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      …unless it’s a Volt.

      On the subject, I have heard nothing in term’s of Volts crapping out batteries. I think the batteries in these will last a lot longer than straight EV’s thanks to the gen-set preventing damage from deep-cycling. I would also be interested in if the car can still drive with a totally shot battery. Most people with these things don’t plan on changing the cells in a hair under 10 years.

      • 0 avatar
        campocaceres

        The Prius in its various forms, too, right? I admit I haven’t kept up with it, but the only criticism I can remember hearing about the Prius has been speculation about its battery life in the long term. I can’t recall any actual stories or stats about batteries crapping out prematurely.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Yup.

        For as much Volt hatred here on TTaC and simply wrong information posted by the B&B (like the Volt was an Obama demanded creation – amazing “factoid” considering the Volt was born in 2006 and design started in 2007) it has the highest owner satisfaction rating of all cars, two years in a row, and you just don’t read any stories about range not living up to expectations, serious failures, or reviewers being left for dead on the side of the road – even if they took an unplanned side trip.

        I looked at a Volt and the cabin is WAY too cramped for my needs. To the point in this story, “you get what you pay for,” for all the criticism that the Volt is over-engineered and the battery overly-complex (gee, why not use generic cells like Tesla) it appears that over over over investment is paying off.

        Nope – not measuring up to sales expectations but the top selling series hybrid/electric none the less, and coming in at the middle of the pack for car sales in general. As a benchmark, even when based on annualized sales numbers and taking out fleet sales, the Volt slayed the FR-S in total sale volume in 2012. No they aren’t the same cars – not even close – but it is hype for hype – coverage for coverage – fanboi for fanboi – and niche for niche.*

        *This is why I picked the FR-S for a comparison. The car is a niche product serving a niche group of buyers. It was hyped up for years and followed in the automotive and mainstream press. It has a rabid van following. It’s launch was filled with a lot of fanfare. They both got TV ad coverage, have very active user group communities, etc. etc. They both also came in on what many thought was over-priced at launch and neither met their engineering targets (for the FR-S it did not meet MPG or HP for the Volt it did not meet battery range or MPG when on gas). Two different cars – but very parallel efforts/events with similar sales results.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Well put APaGttH.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Declaring equivalence on absolute sales volume for different products sold by different dealers for different prices to different buyers doesn’t mean anything. Niche for niche only works in the same niche, there is zero overlap between a Volt and a FRS. May as well talk about the Arby’s Fish Sandwich’s success in outselling the Toyota Camry.

        The Volt’s target sales numbers have been lowered, and lowered, and lowered again, and then missed, and lowered, and missed again ever since it was announced. Toyota expected to move 10K FRSs in 2012 and sold 11,400.

        As far as customer satisfaction, green vehicles are always at the top of those lists. The Volt is the most satisfying car by a margin of error hair this year. 10 years ago CR’s most satisfying car – again, by a hair – was the 1st gen Prius. That shows it has nothing to do with inherent qualities of the car and quite a lot to do with greenbeans’ propensity for smelling their own farts.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        The FR-S doesn’t come with the Volt’s $7500 tax credit (more in CA, PA and other locales). Nor does the rest of the middle of the pack. In spite of this, the Volt couldn’t manage 1200 units last month. Oh, it will rebound in February, but it’s clear that sales are extremely sensitive to that cashback bonus.

        The Volt satisfaction survey is basking in confirmation bias. The people that paid $33K to buy one were bound and determined to have one, had probably panted after an EV for years and, as a consequence, they are also determined to love it, no matter how good or bad it may be.

        I am not saying it IS a bad car but GM priced it way beyond what one would normally expect to pay for a compact car. In addition, it’s heavy, seats only 4, and gets very mediocre range-extended fuel economy – on premium! Aside from its EV capability, there’s not a lot to love, so that’s what people love it for.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        Confirmation bias? That’s just flat out wishful thinking. Every car owner will have some confirmation bias. And that only lasts until the damn thing breaks.

        Hybrids get high consumer satisfaction for the same reason a Corolla gets high consumer satisfaction. They’re ridiculously easy to own and take care of, you don’t have to go to the pumps as often, and they mostly don’t break. If those aren’t valid reasons to be satisfied with a driving appliance, then I’d like to know what is.

        If you want confirmation bias, look at the scores for MINIs… ridiculously expensive little cars which have ridiculously expensive gearbox issues, rattles, fuel pump issues and so forth… yet consumer satisfaction is through the roof. Because they make owners “happy”.

        If hybrids give owners less headache for the same money, and make them “happy” in another way, who are we to say they’re wrong?

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        niky,

        There’s confirmation bias and then there’s Confirmation Bias. I bought a Prius; it’s maybe $2K more than a car with comparable room. I’ve probably got a little confirmatino bias but the Prius has also been, consistently, a reliability leader for a decade.

        The Volt is maybe $12K more than a comparable size car (a compact but let’s think about a Cruze LTZ, which you could probably score for $21K. That’s a whale of a lot of Confirmation Bias.

        The Volt does do something interesting and different for the money, but it’s pretty expensive. You have to be really motivated to buy one.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @campocaceres

        The Prius uses INCREDIBLY conservative battery management. The battery is just not stressed much in them, to the likely detriment of ultimate MPG performance. The batteries really do seem to last pretty much forever in them, and even when they are old and decrepit the I believe the only thing you HAVE to have main battery for is reverse. And how far do you ever go in reverse? I don’t think they can go backwards with the motor turning the generator, but maybe they can.

        What will be interesting to see is the battery life of the C-Max – Ford is using the battery VERY aggressively, IMHO, to get those mileage numbers. Previous Ford Hybrids were much the same as the Prius.

    • 0 avatar
      Stumpaster

      Let’s not mix apples and oranges here – volt is not an electric vehicle, it,s a hybrid.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Wrong. It’s an extended-range EV.

        If the vehicle’s electric motor is more powerful than its engine, and uses the electric motor at all times and speeds, it’s an EREV. If the vehicle’s electric motor is less powerful than its engine and/or requires the gas motor at certain speeds, it’s a hybrid.

      • 0 avatar
        Alex L. Dykes

        The Volt is an enigma in some ways. It is functionally very similar to the Toyota Prius and Ford HEVs and I would categorize the Volt as a plug-in hybrid, not an EV. That’s a tricky one. What separated the Volt from the Ford plug-in for example is the fact that the Volt has a bigger battery. The motor in the Ford and Toyota Hybrids are about as powerful as the total system output, the system wouldn’t function if they weren’t. The limitation is the battery, the Ford plugin can’t supply enough power to run the motor at full tilt. Although Ford/Toyota and GM use the same power splitting planetary gearset design in essence, in the Volt the output to the wheels is the planetary carrier while the Toyota/Ford setup put the wheel output at the ring gear. The system are far, far more similar than they are different. I’d call the Volt a hybrid precisely because of this setup and the fact that like a Prius/Ford the system can use the engine for forward power under all speeds. The new Accord is more EREV than the Volt because it absolutely cannot mechanically power the wheels with the engine under 40MPH.

        • 0 avatar
          Herm

          The difference is that the Volt has a 150hp electric motor and the engine is only 75hp and that is using premium… pkus the huge battery. With the exception of the Karma no other hybrid has that. Think of the Volt as a electric dominant hybrid or a range extended EV, not just a mere hybrid with a tiny battery and a weak motor.

        • 0 avatar
          mfennell

          I supposed the Volt *could* clutch in the ICE below 40mph but it never does.

          Near as I can tell, the plug in Accord has a tall direct drive for the ICE (?) so I can see your point but it’s ultimately an engineering compromise. The planetary arrangement gives more opportunity to keep the ICE in a nice part of the BSFC map. The Honda sounds like it’s simpler.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Last time I saw the SAE proposed terminolgy, they had EREV defined as a subset of PHEV – or plug-in electric hybrid vehicle. So, calling the Volt a hybrid or plug-in hybrid would be correct.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        Doctor,

        I found a presentation from the EPA or some such a while back and they had labeled the Volt a PHEV, “no matter what GM thinks.”

        However, your definition, relying on the relative sizes of the motors, actually looks like a useful distinction.

      • 0 avatar
        would-be gearhead

        Although the early returns suggest the Volt is making believers of the public, I really don’t like the way Chevrolet advertises the car. The sugegstion, to the casual observer, is that it’s an electric car, period. The voice-over even says so. Reinforcing that opinion is shots of teh Volt flying past gas stations, as if you never need to deal with them. Early adopters of new technologies tend to be more knowledgeable than the average motorist, so the sales so far are probably to such buyers. The problems may arise when potential buyers, who haven’t followed the development of hybrids and other new technologies, show up in the Chev showrooms expecting to see another American technological miracle, but finding only another interim design which, as well put together as it may be, isn’t a quantum leap ahead of the competition. Plus, the buyer will still have to get his hands smelly with petroleum hydrocarbons (which many drivers, especially women, would love to eliminate).

    • 0 avatar

      @285exp

      Don’t underestimate the H. sapiens’ capability for magical thinking.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Outstanding article. For the overwhelming majority of drivers, EVs are not practical. When the subsidies go away, the market will shrink even further.

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      Considering the money the mobile electronic industry has been pumpin money into the battery industry over the past decade or so, I wouldn’t be convinced that this will be true for long. I’m still waiting for a gas engine that will have a decent BSFC in normal usage conditions. I mean, it has only been important since about 1973, no need to rush.

    • 0 avatar
      mfennell

      I would argue that, expense aside, a big battery Model S IS practical for the overwhelming majority of drivers. DOT says vehicle trips over 50 miles are THREE percent of all trips. Being conservative, the Model S can go 4X that.

      Dave H makes 3 15hr round trip drives per year. He apparently hates himself. I make zero. Trips of that length are best taken in a plane or train IMHO. With the Northeast Superchargers now in place, I’ve exceeded the range of a Model S precisely one time in the past 3 years (to pick up my 360!).

      There are probably more places to charge than you realize even though a 200+ mile range may mean a Model S buyer never actually needs one. I just discovered there is an L2 charging station 2 miles from my office.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Putting expense aside, a Winnebago chauffeur-driven by the Swedish Bikini Team is practical, mfennell.

        • 0 avatar
          mfennell

          No. It isn’t. But if your actual point was that long range EV’s are too *expensive*, you might have said that instead. I would even agree with you.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            A luxurious house on wheels staffed with beautiful young Swedish women in bikinis vs. a plug-in electric sports car? We are just going to have to agree to disagree on this one mfennell.

  • avatar
    fiatjim

    Alex just got in the way of a good story.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I generally agree with the ‘buyer beware’ conclusion.

    Critics who say EVs aren’t “ready for prime time” also define “prime time” as “carefree”. This is not the case. But with modest care and consideration, an EV is a perfectly suitable vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      RogueInLA

      No, I don’t think people expect EVs to be “carefree”, however, until EVs can be operated with the same lack of ‘care and consideration’ that most people give their ICEVs, they’ll never fly. Most people view cars as appliances, they want to get in, turn the key, and drive, with minimal thought to other than routine maintenance (and I’ve seen plenty of people who ignore even that). When your EV can be driven without worrying about range, recharging, battery life, whatever, THEN they’e be ‘prime time’, until then, most people won’t want the hassles. You may be able to get up to 5% of the population willing to deal with the shortcomings, but to say “It’s not the cars fault, it’s the expectations of the people!”, is like saying “if everyone drove carefully and maintained their cars, we’d have less pollution and no accidents”… ain’t gonna happen. I’m glad you like your car, but most people really don’t give their cars ‘modest care and consideration’, ask any mechanic.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    Good write-up, Alex.

    Has any progress been made on a zinc-potato-copper automotive battery?

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    A friend of mine bought a Leaf – here in the cold and dark of a Maine winter he gets less than 50 miles range even with pre-heating the cabin off A/C before he sets out. Still works for him, but just barely. He has had to get on the fast charger at the Nissan dealer in Portand a couple times to make sure he had enough juice to make it home. This is with the car brand new – will be interesting to see what happens over the course of the 3yr lease.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Nissan has attempted to address battery longevity concerns:

      http://green.autoblog.com/2012/12/27/nissan-leaf-battery-warranty-upgraded-first-capacity-loss/

      But with a lease – like mine – it won’t matter since their policy is for 5 years.

    • 0 avatar
      1998redwagon

      agreed. here in northern minnesota all electric cars are rare. i saw a volt for the first and last time last summer driving like a crazy head down the highway (trying to get there b4 the juice ran out?). most of our distances are ~25 miles and unless you have access to a plug-in it does not make sense to drive an all electric car.

      acquaintances that have hybrids note a definite decrease associated with the cold winter temps which we see on a regular basis from nov through march.

      makes me think that the manufacturers would have an optimum temp setting or warning associated with the technology. perhaps buried deeply in the statistics page of the powertrain info sheet but i have never spent the time to look.

  • avatar
    daviel

    Nice tutorial. In my view these EV cars should just work. If they do not work, I’m not buying one. The Tesla just did not get Mr. Broder where he needed to go. The company should have given a heads up on what is different about the vehicle to make it work like a car. Frankly, Tesla should make the cars fool-proof and stop blaming the driver. These cars are unreliable. Fuel is iffy – both in the chemical batteries, and in charging stations. Broder would have been better off in a golf cart, it seems. At least they’ll go 18 holes. I agree with 285, above. If Tesla can’t lie no better than that, they might as well tell the truth.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      I ran out of gas once – guess the car just didn’t work. Ford lied to me, since the car wasn’t foolproof.

      Gimme a break.

      • 0 avatar
        285exp

        If Ford had put a 2 gallon tank in the car and a gas gauge that consistently overstated the amount of fuel in the tank, you might feel differently.

      • 0 avatar
        mrcool1122

        I’ve never run out of charge on my EV… maybe I’m using it wrong?

      • 0 avatar

        I ran out of gas once, too–in the ~400,000 miles I’ve driven in my life. Now I don’t let the fuel dip below enough to go as far as a LEAF will go on a full charge.

        If you want to drive a BEV, more power to you. You’re doing the civilized world a favor, and I thank you for that. Forgive me if I don’t want to deal with the limitations of BEVs. I do my part for the USA and the planet in other ways.

    • 0 avatar
      would-be gearhead

      Elon Musk is a real throw-back to the early days of the capitalist entrepreneur. He has the deep pockets and the right kind of mind-set to solve most of Tesla’s problems, and the sense and vision to find people who can help him to those goals. Remember that Edison put a string of electric street lights up, at his own expense, to prove their practicality. The gas-light industry didn’t like it, with good reason. Tom put a whole industry (lamplighters) out of work. Same thing could happen to refinery workers.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I agree that everyone deserves a bit of the blame, but Broder wasn’t an EV buyer, he’s and EV tester, and he tested the Model S in a very specific way. Rather than charge it to maximum at every opportunity he had, it seem she decided to trust the range as it was displayed.

    This was an effort to replicate a normal road trip in a conventional gas-powered car, where you don’t fill up until you need to. Unless there’s a gas run due to skyrocketing prices, Americans aren’t constantly topping off their tanks. They wait until the tank is almost over.

    This is admittedly a very foolish strategy with an EV in cold weather, but maybe Broder wasn’t trying to run the smartest, most by-the-book EV test. Maybe he was trying to drive the Tesla just like he’d drive a regular car. He made the mistake that many many other people might make when making the transition to EV.

    There’s a reason fuel gauges read “E” long before they’re empty That’s a hard habit for the driving public to break.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Thanks for explaining a complex topic in simple and straightforward language.

    “some magical battery that runs on butterfly-farts”

    Perhaps we can extract additional energy from photocells attached to fireflies.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Outstanding read! This should be required reading by one and all. You did a tremendous job of taking some difficult engineering concepts and breaking it down quite simply.

    …The EV buyer who didn’t bother to do his homework, the dealer who didn’t help set expectations, and the manufacturer who promised all would be well…

    EXACTLY. Specific to the Model S. Tesla said 300 miles, the EPA said 265 miles, it seems that the “car” is saying 240ish miles. But even then, to achieve the 240ish mile range that in your $89,000 luxury car (remember, that’s the entry price for the largest battery pack on a Tesla) says you can get, you have to drive it like you have a Claymore mine under the throttle, a trigger happy state trooper behind quota on your rear bumper, and you can forget about running the heat or air conditioner.

    I had also posted over the Arizona Nissan Leaf issues that given there was no battery conditioning system – duh – what a shock. The batteries are cooking in the Arizona sun?!? Who’d a thought!!!

    The marketing department can think it all they want (and I say it as a marketer) but no amount of marketing speak, press releases, or videos can change the laws of physics.

    One of the best posts on TTaC

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Thanks for the write up and keeping it simple for us. This explains a lot about the Prius I had as a rental last week. Out of interest, my colleague and I drove it through a drive through wildlife refuge that was about 4 miles long. We started with about a 75% charge on the battery and selected EV mode. Temperature was about 50 degrees F and the road was had a slight elevation change throughout the 4 miles.

    We managed to make it to 2 miles solely on EV before the engine kicked back on because the charge had fallen to about 25%. We were using the heat, but few other items. The car was so quiet that we were able to sneak up on a large blue heron. We rolled to about a doors length away and before the bird really noticed. Thinking it was a fluke, we drove away amused. The S type Jag a bit behind us never even got to a cars length before the bird took flight! It was about the only source of amusement the Prius provided during our use of it.

    If more people drove like they should (anticipating other drivers and road conditions, coasting to traffic signals,etc.) gas mileage would improve as would the range of most EV. Most folks do not drive like this though.

    I have a short commute (15 miles R/T) and generally leave my car for a few days. But I have lots of hills and experience all four seasons. Range wouldn’t bother me too much on most days, but those days of extended errand running in snow and cold or the heat of summer would. It’ll be a while before I’m in the market for a commuter car again and I doubt there will be a hybrid minivan in two years.

    As for the Prius, no thanks. I’m sure other hybrids out there offer more driving pleasure with not much loss of mpg. If I truly had to buy another car tomorrow, it would probably be a TDI Golf or Jetta wagon.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    Alex, the comparison of ICE to EV concerning driving conditions is false equivalence. When I drive my ICE, I can control the mileage it gets – I can driver slower, accelerate slower. I can pretty much get the mileage I want, within he car’s capability range.

    With an EV, I can’t control if it’s hot out, or cold – I can’t control that it’s dark out when I go to work, and now I have to use my headlights. There are too many things that drastically affect EV range that don’t have a damn thing to do with how I drive it, and are not within my ability to control.

  • avatar
    Dan

    I don’t agree with the caveat emptor, period, mentality that a buyer who fell for a lie shares fault with the salesman who lied to him. You have a moral obligation to accurately describe the main features what you’re selling. Tesla calling this a 240 mile – or any other number of miles – car isn’t accurate for every reason Alex gave. Shame on them.

    On the other hand nearly all of these buyers are taking advantage of state and federal tax scams to do it so I have trouble working up any give a s–t when they get burned, either.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      At this week’s Pittsburgh Auto Show, I ended up talking with a man considering a Leaf for his mail delivery job, which is 50 miles a day.

      Right in front of the booth babe, I advised him that – given my experience with the Leaf – it probably wouldn’t work for him. She didn’t seem to appreciate my honesty.

      The EPA has developed a protocol which results in a range number that is usually lower than the mfr’s number. Consumers should be taking issue with the EPA as well as the mfrs. “Range” is a complex answer that most consumers don’t have the patience to listen to.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        It took the EPA 30 years and 400 million window stickers to tweak gasoline range estimates from laughably inaccurate to merely mediocre, you think they’re going to fix it for EVs in our lifetime?

        Taking issue with the federal Leviathan is fruitless. The difference is that Tesla (or Nissan, or the dealer) have the option to be less dishonest.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    Excellent article, Alex, even for someone as disinterested in battery-powered cars as I am.

    I wonder how long it would take to drive across the US continent from let’s say LAX to JFK in a Leaf?

    Your article serves to underscore the range anxiety other readers have expressed in the past about battery powered cars.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      2824 miles via Rt 40…

      If the Leaf gets 50 miles range at 55 mph, and it needs an overnight charge, it would take 56 days.

      If you can charge it in 3 hours at a Level 2 charger, then maybe you could do it in 18 days if it’s going 150 miles a day.

      Either way, you’ll spend most of your time sitting around.

      Obviously, one should use the correct tool for the task. The Leaf isn’t sold as a cross-country tripper.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        gslippy, my brother in CA told me that many roadside assistance trucks now have a 220V AC inverter generator mounted in the bed of the truck, in order to better service EV drivers who ran out of go- juice, whether that be battery or gasoline, or both.

        I don’t know what the charges are but my guess is that someone would pay dearly since they take credit cards as forms of payment for services rendered.

        Another time he told me that he saw a Leaf with a tiny motorcycle trailer behind it on which was mounted an AC generator. I kid you not. The fad has added some spin-offs to the act.

        Of course that is CA where anything goes. My brother in Manhattan ended up selling his Leaf last year to someone who owns a Golf course in the Huntsville, AL, area, because my brother couldn’t achieve a full charge overnight on his 110v outlet in his parking space inside the parking garage of the highrise where he lives.

        Charging station parking spots were few and far between in Manhattan and are often occupied by non PEV vehicles. Maybe the cities can make PEV parking spaces like Invalid or Handicapped parking spaces and assess a fine if someone other than a PEV parks in them. How do they work it in your area?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @highdesertcat

        The generator on a trailer thing makes a ton of sense to me. Why drag the weight of the ICE and generator around when you don’t need it? The added drag of a small trailer is miniscule – I used to tow a 4×8 utility trailer with my Golf TDI, it took about 3mpg (47mpg vs. 50mpg) at highway speeds with a 500lb load on it – and that was a trailer that was in no way designed for aerodynamic efficiency. And you have isolation from the NVH of the ICE droning away at it’s most efficient speed.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        @HDC:

        Pittsburgh has virtually no public chargers. The local Giant Eagle grocery chain seems keen on them, and allegedly there are a few scattered among hospital parking garages and the convention center.

        I just saw a story today that says NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg wants to install 10,000 public chargers in parking spaces throughout the city. I’m not so sure about that.

        The notion of dragging a generator behind an EV is embarrassing and technically counterproductive. I could never do that. You’d either have to run it while driving, or run it when parked. Either way, the generator fuel consumption would drop your effective mpg.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          gslippy, it shouldn’t be embarrassing because it is a tiny motorcycle trailer designed to be towed by a motorcycle.

          I would be surprised if you’ve never seen a Hog, Honda or BMW roadrider towing a tiny trailer.

          I owned one for my Goldwing. It was very small (2′X 3′deck) but could safely support any weight, including a 500 pound AC generator which we took camping with us, as long as it did not exceed the total weight of the motorcycle with passengers.

          They come in all sizes and can be custom made for most motorcycle dealerships.

          The downside is that it extends the total length of your motorcycle or EV so you would need a pull-through parking space. Since motorcycles don’t have a reverse gear, you have to think ahead to park it right.

          Another downside is that you void the warranty on your EV when you start rewiring the battery charging circuit.

          But it can be done. There was an article about it some time ago. And some people are doing it anyway, in spite of voiding their warranty.

          And if you don’t need the generator on short trips within battery range, you just unhitch the trailer and unplug the umbilical.

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        There is a company in Indianapolis that sells a Level 3 charger on a flatbed as a turn-key product. They claim that with “Level 3″ charging you can get a full EV charge in about 30 minutes with less than a gallon of diesel (which comes straight from the fuel tank of the flatbed).

        They surely did a lot of engineering to integrate all the pieces together, but if you look at the photos of the truck you’ll see that it’s all off-the-shelf components from well-known companies.

        Frankly, fleets of these type of trucks dispatched via phone/smartphone are a far better method for building up a network of chargers that enable long-distance EV travel. If you collected the data about each recharge request, it wouldn’t take very long to figure out the best places to install permanent charging stations.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I’m in the camp favoring a trailer with generator & umbilical. It is technologically identical to the Volt’s system, but has the advantage of being removable and interchangeable. (Thus, it is actually technologically superior to the Volt.)

        I do not see it as inelegant, nor do I even consider inelegance to be an issue. Being embarrassed by such a solution is like being embarrassed for renting a moving truck because your sofa doesn’t fit in your car. Trailers are incredibly common and useful for efficiently expanding capacity for long and/or dedicated trips. Why think cargo is any different than range?

        So it runs when you’re driving? If the EV is capable of such operation, big whoop-de-do. If not and it runs when parked? That’s a bit less convenient, but still no big deal. So it drops your effective mpg? That’s a suicide bomb argument: Driving an EV on the hwy reduces mpge, so you can’t do that, either. And driving the EV at any speed has lower mpge than riding a bike. And even that has lower mpge than simply not taking the trip.

      • 0 avatar
        BrianL

        @redav
        Is it really technically superior to the Volt? It creates more drag than an internal generator. Doubtful that you can use it when the car is in motion. So, you get to stop for hours to let your car charge, but you have the convenience to let it charge in the middle of nowhere. It is great that it is removable, but actually using it is incredibly painful.

      • 0 avatar
        BrianL

        @ krhodes1

        You are talking highway mileage, when ICE cars get their best efficiency. Hybrids often to better with CITY mileage. EV’s, even more so on city mileage. Remember the article that showed that the range of the leaf at 45 mph was great. But going to 70 mph really hurt it. Add a 500 lb trailer at 70 mph in an EV… not going to be good.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @BrianL

        Why would you not be able to run the generator while you are moving? A Volt can run it’s engine while it is moving. The whole point is you leave it at home when you are not going far enough to need it. Sure, a Leaf gets decent range at 45mph – but that still means you are limited to ~2hrs of driving. And unless you live in some kind of suburban sprawling madness, you are going to have to get on highways and go at highway speed. A detachable range-extender means not having to have a second car for those trips to Grandma’s house. A big part of the reason why the Volt has relatively lousy range is it takes a lot of energy to drag that ICE around when it is not needed. And an ICE optimized for running a generator should be VERY efficient, it only has to be big enough to provide just enough power for highway cruising plus a bit extra, that big battery provides the buffer for acceleration and climbing hills. An aerodynamic car only needs something like 20hp to maintain 75mph.

        Personally, I don’t believe in compromise when it comes to cars, which is why I own FIVE of them. Different vehicles for different purposes. Most people are not in a position to buy, maintain, and park that many, particularly in the urban environments that are otherwise perfect for an EV. If Leaf leases get a bit cheaper I might just get one for knocking around town.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        @BrianL: Don’t assume that a trailer has to look like a big, boxy, aerodynamics-of-a-barn contraption. There’s no reason that a trailer can’t be tucked right up to the back of a vehicle and work with its shape. Also, as krhodes1 notes, EVs can be run off of a generator–that’s exactly how the Volt works, and it is also used on the Rav4 EV:
        http://www.evnut.com/rav_longranger.htm

        Weight only negatively affects efficiency when there are changes in speed (F = m*a and all). Weight dominates city efficiency, but aerodynamics dominates hwy driving. A trailer would not be used in city, so that’s moot, and a well-designed trailer that nestles with the back of the car should not be too much of a drag on the hwy–not more than the advantage it gives of increased range & versatility.

        The Volt requires you to lug around that ~300+ lbs whether you need it or not. It displaces cargo space. That, while currently a prettier package, is inferior in fucntion.

        • 0 avatar
          KixStart

          I also like the trailer idea. There are several advantages:

          - Rent vs own – Rent them on the occasions you need them from U-Haul. Keeps your vehicle cost down.
          - No worries about charging in remote locations.
          - Fast refuelling.
          - Rent diesel or gas as appropriate for your trip. Eventually, alcohol motors or H2 fuel cells could be offered.

          They’d need a standard plug, preferably located out of the airstream, and a standard way of having the vehicle command the generator. These things aren’t difficult to achieve.

          U-Haul could offer rental trailers that included the generator AND cargo capacity.

          It would also be a good idea to equip EVs with a coolant-fed heater core ahead of their electric heating element. Add a pair of quick-connect coolant lines from the trailer into the EV (leave the pump in the trailer). In a Minnesota Winter, there is no ‘waste’ heat. The EV maker could charge extra for the “Winter” kit.

      • 0 avatar
        Herm

        the Leaf gets 100 miles of range at 55, about 85 miles at 65mph (new batteries, batteries last from 5 years to 18 years depending on local weather, 30% range degradation is considered the end of life).. much less if you are dragging a boat anchor or its winter in the mountains.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d rather make that trip on a bicycle. To be sure, I did that 37 years ago. I’d rather do it again than do it in a LEAF.

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    This debate interests me only insofar as it may impact future vehicle regulations.

    Environmentalists and certain sympathetic governments could care less how crappy your next car is.

    If you want to buy an EV and live with its limitations, that’s fine. I just don’t want to see ICE cars legislated out of existence, either directly or via back door methods like draconian CAFE standards.

    If we stop buying the Arab’s cheap energy, China will happily do so, and bury the West economically as a result. It’s already happening. We’re shutting down coal plants here in name of climate change, only to export the coal to China for them to burn, putting the emissions in the same global atmosphere. If anyone sees the sense in this, please enlighten me.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    “I just don’t want to see ICE cars legislated out of existence, either directly or via back door methods like draconian CAFE standards.”

    Neither do I, and I expect it will never happen. Despite the fears of people like me on the Right, there are still some market forces remaining in the US. [Yes, I\'m a Righty driving a Leaf.]

  • avatar
    Autobraz

    Clear and direct to the point. Excellent article!

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    “You don’t buy a Mazda Miata and then get upset when you bend the frame trying to tow your 5th wheel. Likewise, expect any EV to have some magical battery that runs on butterfly-farts and lasts 250,000 miles, it just won’t happen. Yet.”

    But the ‘average consumer’ doesn’t understand that. Remember that the ‘average driver’ is perplexed when the gas door is on the opposite side of the car, so, yeah, I think the onus is on Nissan to provide their car with an adequate thermal management system that other other players like GM and Tesla seemed to manage. Especially when Nissan is trying to propagate THEIR brand of electric as the next-generation alt fuel cornerstone to the MASSES. And if they don’t, they deserve the bad press they get. Period. This is similar to GM using that garbage Fiat CVT on the VUE, knowing that an SUV driver is far more likely to overload their vehicle than an ION owner.

  • avatar
    redav

    Great article. I’m glad there’s at least one author out there who understands the difference in battery requirements of a hybrid versus a full EV.

    Personally, I expect super capacitors to be incorporated into EVs to handle high-frequency, high-cycle quick charging, regenerative braking, & hard acceleration, leaving the battery to handle low-frequency, low cycle steady-state hwy driving. Such a design would improve on batteries’ performance deficiencies while increasing their longevity.

    • 0 avatar
      fiatjim

      I love the idea, but I fear it would be over the first time someone killed himself while poking around the “engine bay.”

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      Correct – supercapacitors will become the “buffer” for fast energy transfer in EV’s. The addition of a flameless catalytic heater (fueled by ethanol/methanol) could extend the cold-weather range even further. That said, the batteries have to be immunized against temperature extremes so that the stated range will still be within the reasonable expectations of the average consumer.

  • avatar
    George B

    Good article Alex. Consumers already face situations where the range and performance of ICE cars react differently as test conditions differ from the EPA test. Turbocharged engines perform relatively well at high altitude, but lose power more rapidly at high temperature. An aerodynamic Corvette loses less fuel efficiency at a steady 80 mph than a tall pickup truck. All cars use more energy in stop-and-go traffic, but hybrids perform relatively well.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      The difference between sales pitch and reality in normal cars is, at worst, a few percent increase in total cost of ownership. The usability difference is effectively zero.

      The difference between sales pitch and reality in electric cars is trips you can’t take, hours long charging detours, stranded waiting for a tow.

      Comparing a single apple to the entire orchard.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Alex you make a good point about doing your home work. I wold apply that to Mr. Broder though. I, as a reader, expect a journalist to be fair and knowledgeable on the subject written about. To me Mr. Broder has failed in either one or both of those areas. If he is not knowledgeable then we as readers cannot trust his judgment. If he is knowledgeable then he set the test up to fail, why, because he was given clear instruction that he failed to follow.
    This whole story reminds me of that old saying, “a bad workman blames his tools.” A car… EV or not, is just tool.
    The only conclusive thing we know from Broder’s test is that a Tesla can run out of power… Well done Mr. Broder, how insightful :-P

  • avatar
    sbunny8

    When people ask me how far my Mitusishi i Miev goes on a charge, I tell them it depends on how fast you go and whether it’s up and down hills. The EPA estimate is 62 miles but I’ve gone as far as 91 miles or as short as 33 miles on a charge.

    I’ve owned more than one motorcycle which had no gas gauge at all. You had to remember how many miles you rode since the last fillup and hope you could find a gas station before you used up the measly 1.5 gallon tank. By comparison, my EV is a piece of cake. Not only does it have a fuel gauge, it even has an estimated-miles-remaining gauge, AND the fuel icon starts to flash when the fuel gauge gets below 1/8, AND when you hit empty a big yellow “turtle” icon lights up to tell you to drive slowly to the nearest charger because you are now using the 10% reserve.

    The only time I ever have range anxiety is when I push the envelope, trying to take the car on a long road trip where the charging stations are few and far between. 99% of the time I just glance at the fuel gauge when I pull into my driveway and if it’s below half I plug it in overnight. Easy.

    BTW, the dealership actually did tell me about battery life and the fact that it’s affected by cold. They tried to talk me into getting the “cold zone package” which includes a battery warmer. I decided against it because we have mild winters. The manufacturer sent me a letter in December reminding me that batteries are affected by cold and making suggestions about how to cope with the cold weather.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      The analogy between an EV and a tiny motorcycle with no gas gauge is a good one.

      • 0 avatar
        sbunny8

        No, that’s the exact opposite of what I said. Some motorcycles have no gas gauge at all, and EVs have LOTS of gauges. My EV has a fuel gauge PLUS a miles remaining gauge PLUS a flashing fuel icon which warns you when you are getting close to empty PLUS a yellow turtle icon which lights up to tell you when you using the reserve.

        What surprises me is that people complain about “range anxiety” with EVs and yet you rarely hear people complain about “range anxiety” with motorcycles. This seems backwards to me considering that EV have multiple gauges which warn you before you get yourself into a bad situation and many motorcycles don’t.

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          Yeah, I know sbunny. I was just being sarcastic. I have nothing against electric cars if that’s what someone wants to buy. If I lived and worked in San Francisco, I would certainly consider one. That’s why cars are awesome. Get what you want and enjoy it. You want a giant pickup, Ferrari supercar, econobox, electric, whatever, go for it.

          It is just ridiculous, in my opinion, for other people to be forced to subsidize EV buyers, who are generally not poor. The country is broke and borrows billions a day. A reckoning is coming, just like in Greece, Spain, Portugal, France etc…There are lots of things we can cut in an emergency, and this is just one of many.

          Anyway, I was just being bitter. Enjoy your EV, I can see why you would. They are just as cool as any other vehicle, in their own way.

          • 0 avatar
            KixStart

            theaine,

            Tapping in to that thought… I wish the EV fanatics would spend more time thanking me for the tax benefits and less time telling me how great EVs are and how the other choices suck in their own way.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            Amen kixstart. If the cars ran on smug self-righteousness, some EV drivers would never have to recharge. (This is not a shot at you, sbunny.) Others are just fascinated with the technology, which I can understand. None of them deserve taxpayer subsidies for their personal vehicle whims or ecological fantasy crusades.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            I’ve had some small motorcycles with small tanks and no gas gauges. All of them had a fuel petcock with a reserve position. Standard practice was to ride until the engine stumbled and then move the switch to the reserve position and get gas as soon as practical. In my experience, running out of gas was never a concern.

            I’m glad to see evidence that some people are paying attention to the absurdity of EV subsidies in a time when our government is wasting borrowed and printed money.

        • 0 avatar
          KixStart

          sbunny8,

          Motorcycling is a lifestyle and a form of recreation. Motorcyclists will accept compromise.

          Everybody else’s car is transportation. People want it to be… transportation.

          I know plenty of people who motorcycle. They all also own cars. If I suggested they buy a car with 150 mile range, I’m quite sure they’d laugh at me.

          Other random thoughts…

          It’s still the case that a motorcyle can be refuelled quickly, almost anywhere.

          Many people seem to trailer their motorcycles to events like Sturgis. I wonder why?

          I drove past Sturgis a couple of years ago, during the run-up to Sturgis week. The filling stations were jammed with motorcyclists. I’m now imagining a Sturgis for EVs… the charge points would have very long lines…

  • avatar
    poggi

    This entire brouhaha reminds me of a bunch of uber wealthy, pissed off Ferrari owners who are only getting 6.5 mpg instead of the promised 7. Their arguing is tolerable knowing they paid for their cars and taxpayers didn’t support their hobby.

    Does anyone else think its dumb to buy a car that can only make a short trip if the owner has a degree in battery science.

    Drop the subsidies. Let the rich guys play around with the concept as far as THEIR wallets will allow and it becomes a non issue.

  • avatar
    shaker

    By playing the part of the “average consumer”, Mr. Broder did the fledgeling EV community good service by turning off less knowledgeable potential buyers to the “care and feeding” that EV’s require. This could lead to FEWER stories like his being told by customers that would give a black eye to EV’s when they DON’T need it.
    At present, EV owners should be expected to respect the realistic capabilities of their cars under ALL conditions – the best mileage computer is the one between one’s ears.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    So the takeaway from this lucid explanation is that unless you live in coastal California, think twice about owning an EV. Your expectations will probably not be met. 40 years ago people who lived in cold climates had to be concerned about being able to start their cars in winter. With the advent of high-energy ignition systems, electronic fuel injection and engine management computers, gasoline powered cars reliably start at temperatures down to at least 0 degrees F. So, now we have the car of the future that may not take you as far as you expect when the temperature falls to the single digits.

    Back to the Future!

    I have no problem with rich people being able to buy their toys, like yachts, personal jets and the like. But I have a big problem when they’re directly subsidized by tax dollars.

    And, as long as we’re talking about deceptive marketing and EVs in the same breath, let’s throw in the fact that, in many parts of the U.S. (including Southern California) the so-called clean EVs run on coal — one of the nastiest power generating technologies out there. Only in the Pacific Northwest (of the U.S. at least) can EVs truly claim to be clean vehicles, because the electricity they use comes from hydro plants.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    It’s articles like this where TTAC shines far above all others. Knock off the useless and condescending “Troll Contests” and please fully vet contributed articles to make sure they’re accurate as in the case of the “Volare…” subject the other day and you’ll do well.

    Alex, thank you for a very informative article.

    Phil, I forgive you!

    TTAC, always go for the high road.

  • avatar
    modelt1918

    The mention of butterfly farts makes me laugh. Wouldn’t that be ten billion according to the Moody Blues?
    Great article by the way. Many reasons why I would never buy an electric car. It is very difficult to get an electric car to go the full distance here in Colorado.

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    Nice article, but the anode and cathode in the pic are flipped. To quote Wikipedia “cathode polarity depends on the device type, and can even vary according to the operating mode. In a device which consumes power, the cathode is negative, and in a device which provides power, the cathode is positive.”

  • avatar
    BrianL

    This article highlights why a lot of buyers don’t want an EV, at least not yet. Losing your battery over time is going to be problematic. If someone buys one thinking they are only 30 miles away, so 72, miles, no problem, then cold, heat, and battery degradation hit, it becomes a huge problem. Hybrids are a much better step, or something like a Volt which can fall back to gasoline when it needs to.

    I think Nissan made a terrible mistake not including active cooling. Time so far has proven that Nissan’s approach is a problem.

  • avatar
    timlange

    I am a Volt owner since 10/2012. It does a very good job of range estimation. In October, it would say 38 miles, I would get that or slightly better. The last two months, I’m down to 29-30, and I actually get that. Considering the cabin heat demands, this is still good.

    As several have said, research and buy appropriately, as you should for any car. I did, I still do my daily commute with occasional shopping side trips all on electric. My long trips out of town work as expected using gasoline. With the tax credit I can actually use (research), the incentives, and work discount, and 0% financing I got the car at a reasonable price point for what it does and what I need. And I am saving $150/month of gasoline over my previous car.

    Yes, there are some that just had to have it as a symbol. And there are some it makes no sense to have. For me, the research of my driving habits and cost show that the car is a good deal for me. And the last five months bear that out.

    It is still a learning experience for dealers, owners, and the public on how this car works. It is not simple, even figuring out what all the criteria are for when the gas engine will run (out of battery, hold mode, mountain mode, really cold outside, hood open, need to burn off old gas, need to run to keep parts lubricated).

    Want to see real world numbers? Visit http://www.voltstats.net to see what people are getting out of their cars. Have a question? Visit gm-volt.com to hear from experienced (and not so experienced owners).

    And by all means, as with any car you are curious about, take a test drive!

    The biggest surprise I had with my Volt was being able to fit my 36″ CRT high def TV in the hatchback to take it to the recycling center.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Y’know, I think GM has something very special with the Volt, and it’s just going to take some time – or maybe lots of time for the realization that this car is a winner in ways people have never thought of.

      I wanted one but couldn’t afford – or didn’t want to afford it, and wonder how practical it would have been for my 100 mile R/T daily commute, mostly highway at an average highway speed of 63 mph.

      I’ll have to check out that Volt website you gave. My 2012 Impala LTZ with the 3.6L averages 27 mpg, and that spells $$$. Our monthly gas bill combined with wifey’s CR-V averages $400/month. Ouch!

  • avatar
    phargophil

    Thank you for this article, Alex.

    I still have a question about lithium-ion charging cycles and short commutes. If a Tesla were used daily for a 15-20 mile round trip commute, would the battery have greater longevity if it were plugged in and recharged every evening or if it were allowed to discharge to low percentage of remaining charge before plugging it in?

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    THANK YOU!

    I have been a fanatic about keeping my lithium bicycle batteries fully charged and I think I have done some damage to one set. I will start using a timer and try to stop charging before the listed maximums.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    This is a good article on just how unsuited batteries are to powering cars. It’s everyone involved’s fault, but the EV car buyers are certainly the part of the fraud chain that can opt out at any time, saving taxpayers a fortune and encouraging better use of resources.

  • avatar
    would-be gearhead

    This story, as well as much of the reports involving EV development, sounds more than a little bit like the early days of automobiles. I wasn’t there, of course, and neither is anyone else reading this, but history tells us that ICE vehicles were very unreliable in the early days, and, of course, there was little infrastructure to support anything more than short jaunts around one’s neighbourhood. Many people thought that cars were the devil’s design, and fought tooth and nail to keep them off the roads, and, failing that, to make using them as inconvenient and costly as possible. “Get a horse” was one of the printable comments shouted to those on the side of roads with a broken-down horseless carriage.
    Present development of EVs has several working makes on our roads, infrastructure or not. I have seen a Tesla Model S on the street in Calgary, Alberta, a considerable distance from any dedicated charging stations! Alberta, of course, is in oil country (see: Keystone XL pipeline), making any EV even more unusual.
    I think of those who buy and drive any eV, anywhere, as pioneers of the new technology, and once the bugs can be worked out of the vehicles’ technology and sufficient development of charging/swapping stations or whatever may come along to support the new cars occurs, we will see the decline and eventual disappearance of ICE as the primary power source of automotive propulsion.

  • avatar
    brid1970

    Thanks Alex for a great article.
    Dittos on your assessment, would-be gearhead. I think Wireless/Inductive charging is the only way to a viable infrastructure and subsequent EV success. I have total faith and trust in my Braun toothbrush to get my teeth up and running in the morning.
    In the present, when the conversation turns to gas mileage, as a Camry Hybrid owner, I am ready. In winter, running without the heater blower turning, I freeze. In summer, running without the compressor turning, I sweat. But I keep that battery pack up, and perking, so it can push me along in EV mode, keeping the ICE at bay, and maximizing my bragging rights to range/economy (28-38). Anything less and I’d be embarassed for buying the damned thing.
    But at the same time, I find it all fun.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    Thank you for the interesting article.
    I did a lot of research before deciding to lease a Chevy Volt. For what I needed the car to do it was a extremely wise decision. Leased in Dec.2012. In the two months that we have owned it, we have driven ~ 1700 miles and used just six gallons of gas (Yes, I know the electricity I used to charge the is not free). This car works perfectly for us because we are optimizing its intended use. My wife and both work locally (She has the long commute of 9 miles one way). The gas motor rarely runs.
    Is the Volt the perfect car for everyone? Absolutely not, but it works for our needs.
    Why lease instead of buy?
    1st, Payments are much more affordable.
    2nd, What is electric car technology going to be like in three years? The battery tech is constantly evolving. I surmise that the next-gen Volt will be able to access the high voltage (Level III) charging stations that Tesla is installing.
    After reading your article I’m glad that I chose the Volt over a Leaf, Fusion or Prius. The Volt seems much more thought out: It has a cooling system for the battery; doesn’t use the battery as aggressively as a Fusion/C-Max plug-in hybrid will; and goes farther on electric only charge than any other current hybrid on the market.
    No car is all thing to all people.
    However, the more of these choices and technologies appear on the road, the stronger the infrastructure will become and the faster the technology will advance.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Thanks for a great read.

    There have been a lot of comments comparing EV adoption with the original expansion of the motor car. That’s instructive, but only to a point.

    Yes, there were preconceived notions about cars being unreliable and I’m sure someone did some kind of “test” where their ICE vehicle ran out of gas or otherwise broke down in the middle of nowhere and wrote a newspaper article to say “See? If you had real horses that wouldn’t have happened.”

    Here’s where I think the comparison breaks down. In 1915 you didn’t walk into a dealership to compare a Ford Mustang and an actual mustang, both with Ford badging/branding on them. So while the customer really should know what they’re buying, when a battery-powered car is sitting in a showroom next to a gas-powered car which looks almost like it, the casual consumer is being invited to carry their preconceived notions from the old tech to the new. This, I think, does put some additional onus on the seller to educate the customer.


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