Electric vehicles: Anxious About Range Anxiety

Many observers believe that EVs’ range of 100 miles or less will keep some consumers on the sidelines, but real-world EV driving results can tell a different story, depending on how the data is interpreted and depending on one’s viewpoint.

For example, take this recent article from NEBusiness in the UK:

The trial found that so-called ‘range anxiety’ meant drivers were over-cautious when planning journeys. The maximum journey length was 17.8km, just 25% of the average range of the vehicles, which was 72.4km. This range anxiety also meant that 93% of journeys were begun with the battery charged above 50%, and people also begin to modify their driving style when the battery’s state of charge approached 50%.”

So was it that people were afraid to let the battery power indicator fall below 75 percent, or was it that the trips they needed to take were that short? Many gas car drivers are conservative about not letting the tank go below half full, so a similar conservatism shouldn’t be unexpected. If the EVs that are being lent out during these trials are driven in urban areas, then driving trips of 12 miles or less are likely to be the norm.

Drivers are likely being overly cautious because it is unfamiliar technology, and since their driving patterns are being monitored, they don’t want to be known as the driver who got stranded with the dead battery. And since most of these vehicles are probably second cars, drivers are likely to use the gas vehicle on longer trips.

Data from Pike Research’s Electric Vehicle Consumer Survey showed that 73 percent of drivers of gas vehicles use their cars for 30 miles or less per day, which likely includes a work commute plus and errand or two. This reinforces that many trips would only drain a minority of an EV’s batteries.

Other surveys have concluded that a reduced range of 70 miles would be sufficient for most drivers.

The industry is of two different minds when it comes to how much charging will be done at home. While many folks in the EV world believe that about 80 percent of charging will occur overnight at home, a vocal minority including IBM believe that just as much charging will be done away from home, and that a robust public infrastructure is necessary to allay range anxiety fears.

The range provided by EVs is likely insufficient as a primary vehicle for many consumers. However those who commit to EVs will learn how to maximize their electric miles while avoiding being stranded sans battery power. But the more that the “threat” of range anxiety is repeated, the more that perception will become reality.

John Gartner is a senior analyst at Pike Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides analysis of global clean technology markets. John can be reached at john.gartner@pikeresearch.com.