The Long and Short of EV Range

ron-cogan-capitol-hillI drive an electric vehicle every day as part of my job testing cars. It’s not a new thing. In fact, this has been part of the drill here at Green Car Journal since the publication’s launch in 1992…way ahead of the electric car curve.

Back then I was testing electrics like the Honda EV Plus, Nissan Altra EV, Toyota RAV4 EV, Ford Ranger EV, and many more electrics from automakers and wanna-be specialty companies with their eye on a developing electric car market. I was also driving electric prototypes, some that never came to fruition and others, like the GM Impact, that did.

At the time I had the memorable experience of driving GM’s EV1 electric sports car for a year. I’ll never forget it. It was sleek, bright red, and fast. It seemed to coast forever when you lifted off the accelerator. Being a Gen 1 car equipped with advanced lead-acid batteries rather than the nickel-metal-hydride batteries that came in Gen 2, mine was also pretty range limited. In fact, it delivered about 50 real-world miles of driving between charges, less than the 60 to 95-mile range capability projected at the time. I didn’t care. The EV1 was amazing to drive and served my needs commuting to work and running errands around town. If I needed to travel farther than its range capability, well…I took another car.

And that’s the thing about electric cars some 20 years later. While the latest crop of battery electric vehicles here or coming soon offer 200-plus miles of all-electric driving – which many consider the number needed for EVs to effectively compete in the mass market – most offer far less. At the low range of sub-200 mile electric cars you have the Smart EV at 58 miles and at the upper end the new Nissan LEAF at 150 miles, with all the rest falling somewhere in between. Does offering less than 200 miles of driving range mean some electrics are no longer relevant in an evolving world where range is the next Big Thing?

gm-ev1-side-1Not at all. In fact, the decision making for buying/leasing an electric car is no different than when buying any new car. The bottom line is: Does it fit your needs? There are the usual considerations like cost, performance, safety, quality, and passenger capacity. Once those cuts are made, in the electric world it comes down to driving range. If your daily commute and around-town driving is about the average at 30 miles or so and you charge daily, then any electric model is suitable for the job. Charging at home overnight and getting an additional charge at work or from a public charger while shopping works all the better for extending your overall range. Occasional longer distance drives aren’t an issue if there are multiple cars in your household, which is the norm.

If your daily needs are closer to the limits of an electric model’s range, then opting for a range extended electric car might make sense, rather than one operating exclusively on batteries. The Chevrolet Volt and BMW i3 REx are two such examples that lend range flexibility.

Don’t get me wrong. Longer-range electric cars are wondrous things, and they’re coming. But EVs with more modest range can also be a good fit depending on need and circumstance.

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