ORNL: Consumers Better Off With Sub 100-Mile EV Until Battery Costs Drop

SEP 2 2014 BY MARK KANE 72

Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF

Chevy Spark EV

Chevy Spark EV

According to the study Optimizing and Diversifying Electric Vehicle Driving Range for U.S. Drivers conducted by Zhenhong Lin, a senior R&D staff member at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee, until battery cost is cut down to $100 per kWh, the majority of U.S. consumers for battery electric vehicles (BEV) will be better off by choosing an electric vehicle with a range below 100 miles.

“The research suggests reconsideration of the R&D goal that battery electric vehicles should have a driving range similar to that of conventional vehicles. It also implies that the focus of policy and R&D should be on continued reduction of battery costs to make short-range BEVs more price-competitive. The focus should remain on deployment of charging infrastructure to improve usability of short-range BEVs that attract more potential buyers, as well.”

“The electric driving range of a BEV is optimized separately for each of the 36,664 sample drivers who represent U.S. new car drivers. It is based on their individual driving pattern and household vehicle flexibility. Key results are the distribution of optimized BEV range among US consumers and the change of such a distribution in response to battery cost reduction and charging infrastructure improvement.”

Well, we must agree with this thesis because without a doubt lowering the price of batteries (at the same battery pack size) would have far stronger impact in terms of sales of EVs then introducing models with double the range (and twice the battery pack capacity) at the same price per kWh. For the mass market, lowering costs is just more important.

At the same time, low range EVs also need more quick charging stations to attract customers.

INFORMS stated that results of the study explain the dominance in the BEV market of products with an electric range below 100 miles.

“Before the introduction of the Nissan Leaf (certified with a 73 mile electric range) in December 2010, BEV ranges were often assumed to be between 150 and 200 miles. Now, eight out of the ten BEV products on the US market are equipped with an electric range below 100 miles.”

“The paper extensively discusses the policy and R&D implications of the found distributions of optimal BEV range, providing insights for BEV-related policies and market strategies. The paper also includes sensitivity analysis and quantifies the significance of the optimization approach.”

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72 Comments on "ORNL: Consumers Better Off With Sub 100-Mile EV Until Battery Costs Drop"

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Those cars are largely with “100 mile range” for regulatory compliance, as very few of the companies making them fully support EV’s.

Yes, and if pigs could fly we would all be using umbrellas. Apparently Tesla did not agree with their assessment, and the results have been the most in demand car available today in the market, and a soaring stock price up over 800% in the last couple years.
Well I guess when you live in a bunker you have a bit of skewed view of reality.
People want range first, and prices per kwh are coming down continually. These guys ornl, are behind the curve.

Apparently, you don’t know how to read news and statistics. Just click the’monthly sales stats’ on this site.

Apparently you are oblivious to the notion of context.

Tesla is taking over 10% of the ~$100k car market.

Short range EVs combined are getting 1% of their target market.

What ORNL doesn’t understand is that new cars are not purchased only on the basis of need. They are purchased on desire, and the ability to conveniently drive far – no matter how rarely you actually do it – is fundamental in the desire of an automobile.

Tesla is selling a lot of cars. Nissan, however has been selling more. Consistently. The total nr of sub 100 mile EVs is much higher than the nr of models with more than 100 miles, regardless of manufacturer.

I still think there is a mental hurdle (range anxiety) to sub-100 mile range EVs, regardless of the analysis of people’s actual driving patters and vehicle availability. I think when people see the three-digit EV range rating, they’ll start to ease up on that.

I do agree that the focus of battery makers should be on cost, not capability (in fact I wrote an op-ed here at InsideEVs about that last year). Drive down costs to $150/kWh or below and be able to sell lots of 125 mile range EVs profitably.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

Until a robust, production-ready chemistry comes along that decouples battery capacity from charge rate, bigger will continue to be better, and 60kWh will be the minimum battery size for a practical, comfortable intercity vehicle that normal people will accept, with 100kW+ charge rates.

When you can get a 20kWh battery that can reliably, repeatably, and warrantably handle 5-6C charges on a regular basis, _then_ they’ll make more sense for normal people. Even then, on a road trip, you’ll be stopping every hour and charging for 10 minutes, and that’s assuming there’s 100kW chargers that are compatible with your vehicle located no more than 50mi apart on your entire journey, and that they’re all unused and uncontested when you get to them.

While I agree that most consumers could get by sub-100 mile EVs… You can’t tell the consumer what they want unless you are Steve Jobs. So it is the job of the car companies to build what the consumer thinks they want or need.

Of course.. My opinion is that the PHEV is the most cost effective solution right now.

Exactly! That’s why I love the Volt. It is the most electrified PHEV out there, with full electric driving for 40 miles and after that, a gas engine to take you as far as you need to go.

Of course, everyone here knows that, but it’s still surprising to me how many “mainstream Americans” do not understand it.

The Volt continues to be the highest EV mileage PHEV on the market by quite a margin, that also has full performance characteristics before and after battery depletion, and not needing the engine until depletion. Sure wish more PHEV’s were like this… There’s a reason why the Volt is called an “Extended Range Electric Vehicle” 😉

I don’t think ORNL got the memo about the TESLA Model III because everyone I tell about this upcoming car says it will sell like crazy. Hello 200mile range w/L2 charging at home, Goodbye Gasoline!

Or Tesla already understood what ORNL is saying and is thus pushing hard to drive down the costs of batteries with the Gigafactory.

I’ve owned a LEAF since the early days. As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t make a 75 mile car work for me. So, I’ve sold my LEAF and bought a Tesla… I can’t wait for all the bean counters and car companies to come out with a 150+ mile EV anymore…. Tesla is way ahead of the game….

I’m sure any of the auto makers could produce a 200 mile EV at the price you paid for the Tesla.

For $70k I’m sure they could but they aren’t and even if they did I’ld bet it would be a much lesser car. I don’t see a lot of people buying a $60k Leaf with 200 mikes of range.

Same here. I was happy with my 90 mile Leaf for about a year. When the battery got down to 65 miles and Nissan refused to fix it, it was of little use to me. I got a Tesla. The Tesla is the best car I’ve owned. And, I will never buy another Nissan.

I think that different solutions are best for different customers. A sub 100 mile EV can work great for a two car family. A 200+ mile EV can work great for someone that was going to buy a luxury car. A PHEV can work great for someone with a short commute but frequently takes long trips.

It all depends on your specific needs.

My 100 mile Spark EV is working great. When I go on long trips, still use the other gas car.

Fast charging is more important than more range. For the price of a Model S, I can but a 100-mile EV and rent a car for long trips. Or even buy two other cars for the $60K difference. The long trips will still be more enjoyable than standing and waiting at super chargers.

100 mile Spark? Puulease. Who is selling that?

I routinely average 149 mpge with Spark EV. 5.1 miles/kwh in mixed (33% city, 66% hwy) driving for commute. Of course, I only drive at speed limit (62-65 mph) on freeways. On a full recharge, I see 107 miles range.

In winter, it can get worse though.

I am glad the Spark EV is working for you. Sadly it isn’t really an available vehicle. Just for a few lucky people in compliance markets.

I will never see or drive one here in Texas.

damn! I wish I could have a hope of believing this, my daughter has friends in LA and likes the look of the Spark..
Are there any Other Spark owners that want to chime in?

I’m sick and tired of EV’s with a 60 to 80 mile range in that I want something with a 150 mile range to make it more useful. In that some of us people who would like to own a EV can’t own one in that we are kind of rural.

Along with that if they say we should stay in sub 100 mile range happy world land then where are all these wonderful fast chargers I have been hearing about?

What I’m starting to notice is that the pace of DC fast charger construction in general has really slowed down to where you only see a new one pop up on the map once every few months.

Well . . . that could be related to the stupid standards war. What to install? Chademo? CCS? Both? Neither?

Larger range is useless crap.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater


Range, performance and charge rate all scale together. You can’t be too rich, too thin, or have too much battery.

I’m pretty sure it’s possible to be too thin.

“Larger range is useless crap.”

My weekend errands and outings vehemently disagrees.

well Said! I sure wish I lived in your (microscopic blinders-on and luvin’ it) world!

damn, meant to put @ CounterStrike Cat, apologies for clear as mud

I’ve always said it, I’ll say it again. Volt style EV’s make the most sense. Batteries wil get better over time and the ICE will get smaller and smaller until it is no longer necessary.

From a cost analysis, that’s what is happening, anyway.

The Volt is a terrific bridge solution. Taking the majority of drivers to 80% EV driving would be a massive reduction in gasoline consumption and CO2 emissions. And it puts to shame the 50-60 MPG best of PHEVs. However, it is a bridge that is going to become less and less relevant with longer range BEVs.

I believe it is to soon to call this a bridge technology. Information that has come out about the next-generation Volt point to longer all electric range with a smaller more fuel efficient ICE. If the technology keeps progressing in that direction you will soon have a 100 mile EV range car that can recharge with an on board lawnmower engine.

The Volt first needs to get 5 places for families and remain available in Europe, otherwise it is vaporware.

Europe doesn’t want it because it is too big — fail.

The analysis might be perfectly reasonable. However, consumers are not reasonable, nor are the companies that make the products.

Sub-100-mile EVs are being bought because that’s all that most automakers are making. It’s not like the consumer has much choice, here. It’s what’s available and what people can, or are willing, to pay.

Anybody who can afford it either buys a Tesla or waits because they don’t trust a new car company.

No, it’s the other way around. That’s what consumer want – not to spend too much for something they rarely need. Most people use these as commuter cars. You have to look at the demographics of people who adopt EVs.

If the 200 or 500 or 100 mile EV comes at the same price as 1000 mile EV, with no added negatives, sure I will get one. But paying in excess of $60K to use the extra range once in a blue moon, seems not so relevant for most consumers. And the market is speaking loud and clear.

No. the market has no choice other than tesla. when nissan introduces the 150 mile leaf, no one will buy the 84 mile version. And no one will buy the i3, Golf, eDrive, etc…

Oh, I think there will buy buyers for 83 mile, 100 mile, 150 mile, 200 mile, etc range EVs. People will pick that battery size for their needs and their budget. I’d like something with 40 to 55KWH or so. No range anxiety but not lugging expensive extra battery around.


The economics issue should not be underestimated.

The reason most BEV ranges hover around 100 miles is because that’s all you can get without going much over $30-35k, which is about all the average person would or could spend on a car. Given those constraints the electric choices are:
A) Live with the range, or use as a second commuter car
B) Get one that trades some battery range for an engine to give you more range when needed (Volt/Rex)
C) Get a better job so you can join the smaller demographic group that can afford a Tesla

Affordability constraints means the range for average BEVs goes up only as the battery cost goes down. The manufacturers understand this.

Unfortunately there is also a fourth choice: Spend $15k on a high mileage ICE and use the savings to buy lots of gas. There is a large demographic group for which even that is unaffordable.

The economics are important…

+2. Yes, Tesla fans seem to ignore the economics and realities all the time.

Besides, it is not just upsizing the battery pack. Just look at Denza EV in China. They added range, but without upsizing motors and other pieces, the car is really sluggish in picking up speed. So, you have to add more costs for the more powerful drive unit. And possibly have higher failure rates, like in Model S.

But regarding this: “Unfortunately there is also a fourth choice: Spend $15k on a high mileage ICE and use the savings to buy lots of gas. There is a large demographic group for which even that is unaffordable.”

This part is not always true. New CVL and Ford’s eco boost engines are very efficient. A $21K Prius has ~50 mpg. The 1.0 L Ford Ecoboost easily goes 37 mpg highway. The eco-boost is being deployed in almost all of Ford’s cars and trucks, including F150, at various sizes.

Fully agree with your point…

A $14k Fiesta 1.0l gets well over 40 mpg. You can buy a lot of gas by not spending twice as much on an electric.

The unfortunate part is that it’s an ICE and not electric. But even $14k is a hurdle for someone who works at Walmart, regardless of the life cycle cost.

So economics does matter, and the affordability constraints limit the viability of longer range electrics… for now.

Most people have a ridiculously inaccurate understanding of their own driving habits. For some reason, they believe they drive well beyond the 50-60 miles which most actually drive in a day. That contributes as much to their decision because it doesn’t allow them to understand the economics.

Very true….

Some people can go through the rational logic you describe and live with the range limitations (A).

For others, worries about that one day with an unexpected long trip suggest they’re better off trading some range for gas powered back up, like Volt/Rex (B).

I agree with this. Besides from Tesla (and Tesla based compliance vehicles) there are no 100+ mile choices. If automakers actually offered different battery sizes, then we can know what the market really wants. Right now the automakers have already decided for the market.

This feeds into a running joke I have about Tesla. A group of people pull into the Crystal Empire after driving 2000 miles in a Tesla Model S. Another guy pulls up in a Corvette after 2000 miles over ten days. Six weeks later another guy drives into the Crystal Empire in a Mitsubishi i-miev. The Corvette owner says wow your the first arrival in this new land in a electric car. The guy a Tesla Model S says no it was me I was first one to drive here in a electric car. The Guy in the Corvette says No that is a Tesla not a electric car. The royal officials of the Crystal Empire step in to settle the debate between the two electric car owners who was first to drive here in a electric car. The officials rule on the side of the Mitsubishi i-miev electric car owner saying that the Tesla is not a electric car but a regular car. The Corvette owner asked why they ruled on the side of I-miev owner. The Princess went on to say that three days after this place was discovered by the outside world the joker in the Tesla… Read more »

my 2013 coda 110 miles with full charge
for $11,000 net after tax credit is awesome
and roomy and practical. with no warranty
yet bachelor of auto science techs just itching
to deal with issues. 4,800 miles 2 months old

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

See if you can fit its drivetrain into a more handsome vehicle!

Nice deal on the car. Enjoy it.

And what, pray tell, does Mr Zhenhong Lin drive? I bet it isn’t and EV.

They left one crucial element out of the calculation–battery capacity loss. Worse on the Leaf (pre-2015 anyway), but an issue for all BEV. My Leaf was fine when I got it, but after losing almost 20% capacity in 3.25 years it is a little marginal for some uses.

So now National Lab reports are hidden behind pay walls?

You tax dollars at work indeed.

and it is also good to remember that this conclusion in this report is against Tesla and it supports the business model of established car manufacturers. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but puts one thinking who payd the research?

How about “let the market decide”? Just offer BEVs with battery options and we will see what people are buying.

Yes that’s right they should all put the same on the market a car where you can have 100, 150, 200, 250, 300, 350 or 400 miles ev battery and no rex, a 15 KW rex, a 30 KW rex or a 60 KW rex. You choose, just like color, seats and i-things.

the problem is that consumers do not want to buy sub 100 mile electric cars.

Tesla has already falsified this so called “research”, because Tesla has shown that today electric cars make fully sense among the most expensive 4% of cars sold.

Therefore EV incentives should be directed for the rich 2%, because they are buying about 4 % of all cars. This is already markets that is millions of electric cars.

Short ranged EVs cannot have even 4% market share even if we assume that batteries were free.

Raising taxes on the most heavily armed and the most heavily caffeinated society in the world to fund toys for rich people is not a good idea.

The Professional class (people with incomes between 250K and 500K) pay the highest tax rates in the country. This is Tesla’s target market. Somehow they can easily afford these cars.

I own a Leaf and get about 90 miles per charge out of it. Even though we love the car — Frankly I really wish the range was more around 125 miles as it would make many trips less stressful.

Surprised this got 50 comments, it is so counter-factual. What was the price of the second car?

Probably got a lot of comments because everyone is dancing around the same fundamental issue:

Most people would like to see more electric range, but the affordability constraints limit the practicality for most (but not all) car buyers at this time.

Most manufacturers are reluctant to build a mainstream car beyond the magic $30-35k point, hence the range limits.

Tesla is betting they can leverage enough cost reductions to get much longer range at the magic $35k point with Gen III. Hope they do….we’re all waiting with anticipation!

In the meantime, if you cannot afford to buy the range (Model S) you have to make do with your Leaf, or Volt if you have range anxiety.

It’s frustrating that do many articles use sub 100 and then 200+ ranges. I refuse to spend $70-110k on a car. My goal is to support a company who will make a people’s EV.

I can easily make do with 80-100 miles but I think 125 would be a major improvement. At an 80% charge it gives you 100 miles of real world range. Enough to overcome a major psychological barrier

And 125 miles would cost what? Another $3-5k produce price?

I would have a great use of an 82 miles ev range car, but it must still have that in 10 years and it must be able to do that in the worst case scenario of winter and it indeed must be rechargeable in a reasonable time so it must be that range at 80% charge. In the end, if you lose 20% on ten years, consume 30% more in worst case scenario and consider 80% charge, that all add up to give a sticker range of 160 miles.

The Tesla strategy is to build an expensive, highly desirable car and use the revenues from that to build a less expensive car. It’s called bootstrapping into a competitive market. They have done this twice. Roadster at around $140K, then the S at around $90K and soon the Model 3 at probably $45K (I don’t believe 35K at the ASP). They are being smart and building a sustainable business. If they had shot for the “everyman” car first, they would have failed.

exactly, and particularly in the U.S.

My 75 mile Leaf handles all my commuting and errands during the week. Having a workplace charger really helps that. We are a two car family, one EV and one pure gas, and of late I have been using the Leaf to do weekend trips based on the idea that at worst, I might have to stop and have dinner somewhere while an L2 charger gives me enough power to get home. In fact, what I found was that I typically am able to find a charger at or near whatever event I was going to see or do, such that we got charged while out and about. While it is certainly true that more chargers would help that, I think the reality is that a 150-200 mile car would basically tip the scales into being a complete gas car replacement. It would allow me to reach many reasonable daytime trips and return on a single charge, and yes, eliminate the need to even wait for a charge while on the road. It would also cover the current situation of having no fast chargers available in many areas. For example here in Silicon Valley there are virtually no fast chargers… Read more »

We are a single car family with a sub-100 mile range EV, ford focus electric, and just rent gas vehicles for long family trips.

The 76ish mile range was awesome for the first year, but is getting old quick. We want 150-200.

I think that sub-100 mile EVs are really a bridge to 150-200 range ones. These studies should track 1st EV vs subsequent EVs.

That being said I can’t really see getting rid of our sub-100 miler. Its a great commuter.

yep, ~150mi 50kW car can go an hour to destination, no matter weather, no matter charger at parking or what kind, just no BEV worries. Trips over an hour are arguably different trips, i.e., hindered by travel time in the first place. Ability to take an hour trip in cold weather (Real cold weather, Not oh damn it’s below freezing) to a site or food is not That unusual, and that ability appeals to me as being the balance between efficient commuter car and “honey, we didn’t need to rent a car this year, after all!” Extra battery weight? (25kW to 50 kW) yawn..
Please California et al, get a nice dose of DQ-brain-freeze reality, remember MOST do not live in your climate and remember Why you/your ancestors moved there, ok? (j/k, but avoiding completely uninformed statements like Counterstrike Cat’s above “Larger range is useless crap.” is appreciated).

Tesla is losing money every single quarter. Bmw, VW/AUDI, Toyota etc got shareholders that would no tolerate that