This article is part of what is turning out to be a series about EV range. You might want to read my previous two articles related to the topic if you haven’t already.
I want to thank everyone who read the earlier articles and I especially want to thank those who took the time to comment. I learn a lot from readers’ comments. As a person bent toward marketing, I value hearing people’s opinions.
Before zooming ahead I want to declare that I reserve the right to change my mind once presented with new information. I eschew being like a certain analyst who doggedly poo-poos Tesla even in light of plain truths that many of us can see (cough, uhgh, Gordon).
Comments on readers comments
In this article, I want to highlight some of the reader comments from the “Range Equilibrium” article and give some thoughts about the comments.
As often is the case, the opinions expressed were broadspread. Opinions about what is the right amount EV range varied widely. Some readers believe that only a limited amount of range is needed.
For example, ksnax said,
“… Owning a PEH, this jives with my experience. My EV range (60-80 miles) is adequate enough for me to never need charging away from my home except for the rare road trip. It only takes a combined 60 seconds to plug and unplug the car a few times a week. I rarely use more than 10 gallons of gas per year.”
Jon’s Thoughts said,
“… Also toward the end of this decade,... A BEV with a 200 mile range that can be charged in 5 minutes should be sufficient for the vast majority of long range travellers.”
arpinaint expressed the point of view that, “...hauling around more batteries will always be inefficient.”
At the other end of the spectrum, some readers gave their assertion that having more range is important.
“… With my tesla model 3 SR+ I recently took a 1400 mile road trip. I would have loved to go 300 mi between charge stops. But it was extremely manageable.”
Giampiero Guarnerio explained,
“I drive a Model S long range. Happy with it but I consider its range the minimum acceptable
I’d be more than satisfied if my MS could travel 400 miles at 81 mph….”
philip d expressed this opinion,
“At $50-60 kWh the benchmark will be around 400 miles of EPA range with a lower real-world range at interstate speeds. It's what people on average will want…”
And yyzmxs pointed out that,
“… the market shows always what people want not what they need…keep that in mind.”
EV range equilibrium tiers
In the “Range Equilibrium” article, I gave the observation that many IC vehicles have similar ranges. I proposed that the EV market may settle into a similar equilibrium. After reading the comments I felt somewhat justified in my view.
At least one reader felt that EVs will arrive at range equilibrium in parity with today’s IC cars. bjrosen said,
“EVs will settle in at the same range as ICEVs, just under 500 miles. … there will be no point in building a car [an EV] with more than 500 miles of range because it isn’t useful. … When batteries get cheap, which they will, then you’ll be able to build a reasonably priced car that has only middling efficiency but still gets 500 miles.”
And George Pelton points out that, “the market for long-range ICE vehicles [meaning over 500 miles] is extremely tiny.”
But a few readers presented the idea that perhaps EVs should have different tiers of range equilibrium.
“… Before batteries become really cheap I don't think we'll see the same range across EVs.”
lulu gave the opinion,
“… Since we all agree that range will always be more expensive for EVs than for ICE ... it leaves the opportunity for the manufacturer to offer options on range. … a car maker can benefit from offering a 200 mile option at a $2000 discount. Or, on the other end, some road-tripper, may be willing to spend an extra $2000 to get a range of 400 miles. …”
And Jon’s Thoughts said,
“Clearly, there seems to be a large appetite for low range, very low cost BEVs among certain folks, …”
George Pelton added,
“I do think we will end up with lower range for economy cars, and higher for premium and luxury cars. My guesses are 250-300 miles and 400-500 miles.”
Lil Sparky chimed in,
“… I think you are right. Some will opt for less range and lower purchase price putting up with more charging stops on an occasional long trip, others will want the range and be willing and able to pay for it.”
Here is one area where I have changed my mind. I can concede that some people may opt for lower-range vehicles with a lower sticker price. I can see from a marketing stance how that is a straightforward and attractive idea. A lower tier of around 240 miles rated range and an upper tier of around 360 miles of rated range could make sense, especially if the difference in the sticker price is substantial.
However, I do question how this will play out down the road once battery pack costs fall below $40 per kWh (which they eventually will). The cost difference to OEMs between a 60 kWh battery pack and a 100 kWh battery pack could fall below $1,800.
Will this cost difference still be enough to carry over into a meaningful cost savings for customers? Or, will competition and consumer preferences push auto manufacturers to mostly standardize the BEV battery pack size at around 90 kWh? Time will tell, but for the near term having at least two tiers of range makes sense for now.
I now concede that a lower-tier vehicle that can drive as little as 185 motorway miles between charges could be acceptable for many people. However, those must be real-world miles. Meaning that the 185-mile range can be reached even in cold weather and at higher speeds and while utilizing the battery at optimal levels. Some readers concurred with this idea.
As John McKay said,
“A realistic range of 200 miles is plenty for almost everyone (stated range of around 300 miles to allow for cold weather, not actually running out and that charging is slow past 80% to 90%) “
And dipthroat said,
“… Anyway, in my opinion the tipping point for EVs should be about 250 miles of range at real motorway speed …”
Several factors can influence the statement “your actual range may vary.” Often though, to reach 185 miles of real-world, dependable range, a vehicle with about 240 miles of rated range would be required.
Some EV enthusiasts preach the benefits of low-range vehicles. They tout the “advantages” of HAVING to make frequent stops.
“… how long do you want to drive WITHOUT STOPPING? … Generally speaking I like to stop after 150km max while on the road trip to stretch my legs, visit a restroom, have a smoke or snack or all above”
John McKay added,
“The British Highway Code recommends a 15 minutes break for every two hours of driving. If you don't do this, give it a try. However alert you think you are and however much better than the average driver you consider yourself, you'll be better if you follow that pattern.”
Perhaps it’s a character flaw in myself but I find this line of logic infuriating. To me, it’s rationalizing a lesser product. It’s akin to saying, “Oh, you don’t want a smartphone. People with smartphones spend entirely too much of their lives looking at them. A flip phone is all anyone ever needs.”
I ask, what about the times when you might want to push through and drive the 4 1/2 hours straight, say from San Jose to Burbank for example? (This applies whether traveling single or in a group with more than one driver.)
As EVevangalist explained,
“When I can drive at interstate speeds from my home in San Jose to my daughter's house in Burbank (330 Miles) on one charge and still have some extra, that will be my pure BEV tipping point.”
The trouble with having a low-range vehicle is that you do not have the choice. I’ll say it again, with a low-range vehicle, you - do - not - have - the - choice, period! Personally, I would rather be the one deciding when to stop rather than the car. That said, if I did opt to purchase a less expensive low-range vehicle, I’d be accepting the implications in advance, but it would still be my choice.
And what about riding in a fully autonomous vehicle (when that comes)? Will the need to take a break be as compelling when the car is doing the driving? For me, I look forward to no longer worrying about being afflicted with DDD (Drowsy Distance Driving). I can see myself sometimes happily riding along for three to four hours, no problem (perhaps napping or perhaps enjoying “LOTR: Return of the King”). The desire then for ample EV range will be certain.
Those preaching limited EV range also often argue that daily driving doesn’t require much range. The implication is that no one needs a distance-capable vehicle. However, as Lee Jay points out,
“… normal use case is largely irrelevant. What matters is the worst-case use case - the longest distance you'll have to travel between fueling or charging stops during the life of the vehicle.”
There are plenty of us who can only afford one vehicle. We take into account all the possible driving needs that might arise during our years of ownership. This includes some needs that fall into the hypothetical realm. Buyers must, of course, balance needs against affordability when making a choice. I for one, continue to hope for a budget or used EV with plenty of range.
The impact of ubiquitous charging infrastructure and ultra-fast charging speeds
In the past, I’ve taken the hard stance that EVs must achieve range parity with IC vehicles. Here is another area where I’ve changed my mind. I’m no longer certain that is required. I now concede that in the future, a 440-mile rated EV range may not be needed. Two considerations have changed my mind, ubiquitous charging, and ultra-fast charging. I can envision a future where both of these will eventually become realities. Those realities will clear the need for long-range EVs for most people.
When we talk about EV charging, there are two scenarios to consider, local charging and road-trip charging. For many people, local charging is (and will be) as simple as plugging in at home. Over 50% of the North American population has this availability.
As arpinaint points out,
“I think one of the differences is home charging.
If you had a gas pump at home ... would you be concerned with range?”
There are, however, a large number of people who live in multi-family dwellings (apartments). For them, charging “at home” is not practical (at least not for now). This difficulty hampers this group’s . I do foresee a future, however, where this chock-block could be cleared.
As Jon’s Thoughts said,
“… I also believe that towards the end of this decade, low power charging will be ubiquitous …”
As EV ownership expands and the demand comes online, what’s to stop every Rosa, Doug and Chris from installing for-profit charging at their retail outlets (likely time-of-use)? ChargePoint, InstaVolt, SemaConnect and others are already helping retailers set up charging stations at their locations. SemaConnect, for example, has a charging station at my local Walgreens.
While it takes some clearing of hurdles to install a charging station, it is “way simpler” for Walgreens (for example) to install a charging stall than a gasoline pump. Installing a charging station is comparatively a snap. This difference opens the flood gate for all types of retailers to add “filling stations” to their outlets. Something that is unthinkable in the petrol world.
I can foresee a day when there will be hundreds of thousands of EV charging points. When that day comes, and EV owners can buy 100 miles of range just while shopping or doing errands around town, then the charging barrier will be cleared for apartment dwellers. Indeed, all EV owners will benefit.
One more note
The recent passing of the 2021 infrastructure bill may be a good step forward to improving charging infrastructure. However, a more effective strategy would be to craft the electricity regulatory environment so that it encourages retailers to get involved. If retailers can very easily set up for-profit charging stations, then many thousands of participants may invest billions of combined capital into them. As an old joke says “many hands make light work” (or in this case make EV work).
The other charging scenario is road-trip charging. As I said, I used to firmly believe that EVs had to have 440 miles of rated range. In my mind, anything less would make the vehicle ineffective for road trips. I don’t believe that anymore. I now consider 360 miles of rated range ample for most people (perhaps excepting hardcore road-trippers).
Perhaps like yours, my news feed is often littered with battery tech breakthroughs and breakneck charging speed improvements. While we have to take these with a grain of salt (or more), I tend to believe that with so many people working on the problem, it is only a matter of time before we see legitimate improvements.
I can see where the combination of ubiquitous charging and the availability of ultra-fast charging along motorways can make 440 miles of range unnecessary. When I can stop almost anywhere (not just a “service station”) and add 50 to 200 miles of range in under 15 minutes, the need for a long battery range is eliminated. Road trips become as simple as just three or four relatively quick stops in a day, stops that might have very well been taken in an IC vehicle anyway.
I can understand why myself and others have held the belief that range parity with IC vehicles is essential. But I now see that the evolving personal transportation landscape will change what is considered acceptable and normal. Moving forward, we may see a variety of product offerings being adopted and we may see new ways of thinking about how we travel from place to place.
What do you think? What effects do you think low-cost battery packs will have on ranges offered by automakers? Do you agree that charging points could proliferate and surpass the number of gasoline pumps we have today?