It might sound a bit counter-intuitive to your interests and needs, but a recent study by researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee, has found that when it comes to electric cars, buying one that offers under or around 100 miles of range might just be your best bet.
We’ve all grown accustomed and used to the freedom and range offered by gasoline; 300 or 400 miles per tank is fairly average for many, and some diesel vehicles can brush 800 miles on a single tank of fuel. This has made the limited range of EVs — largely under 120 miles, with a couple of exceptions — an especially bitter pill to swallow, but from the study revealed, the pill is largely a mental fixture.
The problem with shortened range is exacerbated by the fact that an electric car cannot simply “refuel.” It must charge, and remain stationary while doing so, potentially putting a crimp on plans or schedules. While companies like Tesla have managed to bring recharge times down to about 30 minutes via its supercharging network (pictured), that’s considerably more than the 10-minute max that people are used to for refueling.
But what the study found is that the majority of the average drivers – four-fifths of U.S. vehicles, to be more specific — travel less than 40 miles each day. But despite being afforded the convenience of home charging, owning a car that can’t travel further than 100 miles in one go just doesn’t seem to be of interest for consumers, even if less than half that is traveled per day and the car can top itself off overnight.
Zhenhong Lin, the author of the study that surveyed 36,500 drivers and their individual driving patterns, said that until the cost of the expensive lithium ion batteries falls to about $100 per kilowatt-hour, most U.S. consumers are better off choosing a battery-electric vehicle with a range of less than 100 miles, Green Car Reports said. The reason why is pretty straight forward — battery cells are pretty expensive, and it requires more of them to boast a larger range. Cars with fewer cells are therefore less to make and can be sold at more affordable levels. Ever wonder why we haven’t seen a 200 mile Mitsubishi MiEV or Nissan Leaf yet?
In fact, eight out of ten electric cars available to the public now fall at or below 100 miles. Tesla’s 60 and 85 kWh Model S variants are the lone standouts, with 208 and 265 mile ratings respectively. The remaining EVs span a range from a low of 62 miles (for the Mitsubishi i-MiEV) to 104 miles for the Toyota RAV4 EV compliance car, Green Car Reports noted. The most popular electric car, the Leaf, has an 84 mile range; that’s about where BMW’s i3 sits, and where Volkswagen’s forthcoming e-Golf is expected to land.
The study also recommended that research and development efforts by automakers should be more focussed on reducing battery costs to make short-range electric vehicles far more cost-competitive, rather than using the reductions for longer range. So while the Leaf is among the most affordable electric vehicles on the road (it can be had for $29,010 or so before incentives), it’s the same size as gasoline cars that can be bought for $15,000-$20,000.
Obviously, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work. There will always be drivers who need more — like, actually need to drive 100 or 200 miles per day. But wider adoption of electric vehicles, especially with the average consumer, is going to take a shift in paradigms of how we think about cars and transportation. The dream of the open road is romantic and profoundly American, but doesn’t seem to translate between our collective psyche and the real world.