The 50,000 electric car owners in the United States are discovering more range from their electric vehicles. Range anxiety is real, but over played.
For the past 18 months, my wife and I have been driving the all-electric Nissan LEAF. The official EPA range rating is 73 miles, but at times we have driven over 100 miles roundtrip before returning home to charge in our garage. The secret is that we averaged 40 miles per hour (mph). When driving at freeway speeds with more demand from the electric motor and more wind resistance, we try to avoid traveling over 60 miles.
In 18 months, we have never reached empty. The big reason is that like most owners of all-electric cars, we have two cars. The person who plans to drive the most miles, but less than 60, takes the LEAF. Most all-electric car owners have two cars in their household.
Range is also extended because I live in California where there are over 2,000 public charge points. A few times monthly, I take the LEAF beyond its 60 mile freeway range and use Google Maps, the LEAF navigation, or smart apps to find a nearby place to charge. Typically 60 to 90 minutes is the Level 2 charge time I need to get home. When lucky the charge points are at my meeting site, or close to a nearby café. When very lucky, the charge station provides DC fast charge where I can charge to 80 percent in a matter of minutes.
New Electric Cars Offer Better Range than the Nissan LEAF
Smaller, lighter, electric cars with battery chemistry and power management allow electric car drivers to go further. Dr. Andrew Burke easily gets 100 mile range around Davis with his new Honda Fit Electric. Dr. Burke is recognized as one of the world’s experts in energy storage. In 1976, he actually built one of the world’s first plug-in hybrid vehicles.
In city driving, taking advantage of the “Econ” mode and regen, Dr. Burke only uses a fraction of the Fit EV’s 20 kW Toshiba lithium battery to reach 100 electric miles. His driving efficiency of up to 6 kW per mile, exceeds the EPA rated at 29 kWh/100 mile, better than the Nissan LEAF which is rated at 34 kWh/100 miles.
The Fit EV weighs only 3,252 pounds which helps it achieve great range than my larger Nissan LEAF with 3,401 pounds. The new BMW i3 and i8 will extend range by using super-strong, yet lightweight materials including aluminum frame and carbon fiber reinforced plastic, or CFRP for short. The i3 body consists of two independent modules: the Drive Module consists of an aluminum chassis and the powertrain with the lithium-ion battery, the performance electronics and a compact but powerful electric motor.
The Tesla Model S Sedan with optional 85kW battery pack has a stunning 265-mile range. This beautiful all-electric 5-seat sedan shows us what is possible for $79,000. Lithium battery packs cost car manufacturers half what they did four years ago. Electric cars become far more popular as improved design, chemistry, and volume manufacturing lowers price. The Mitsubishi I starts at $29,145 before incentives and saves many $1,500 per year in fuel and maintenance.
This year, 600,000 hybrid and electric cars will use advanced batteries. In 2013, Clean Fleet Report forecasts global sales of one million hybrid and electric cars that use advanced batteries, electric motors, and electric drive system components. Volume is driving better cars and lower costs.
Most hybrids are from Toyota using NiMH batteries. By 2015, Toyota will be selling 21 new hybrids; some models may use the lithium batteries technology now used in Toyota’s four electric cars, all of which I have driven. Honda, Ford, Hyundai and others have already switched to lithium for their hybrids.
Plug-in Hybrid Sales are Triple All-Electric in USA
All-electric car drivers need to pay attention to range; plug-in hybrid drivers find their range extended hundreds of miles with a fill-up at the nearest gas station. Hybridcars.com reports the following U.S. sales for the first nine months of 2012:
- Chevrolet Volt 16,348
- Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid 7,734
- Nissan LEAF 5,212
Drivers of the Chevrolet Volt travel in all-electric mode for 35 to 40 miles, then an efficient gasoline engine extends range to 380 miles. Volt drivers that regularly charge at home, work, and public charge points rarely add gasoline. But for the long trips, their car will get them there with the efficiency of a hybrid car with good MPG.
In the near future, we will see more exciting plug-in hybrids from Ford, GM, BMW, Honda, and probably from Toyota.
Battery Innovation Continues to Extend Range and Lower Cost
Lithium batteries are rapidly improving on a number of dimensions including power, energy, cost, size, and weight. Cell chemistry is improving. Perhaps of equal importance power electronics and control software is improving to improve energy and battery life. Major research is being conducted in these forms of energy storage:
- Solid State Batteries
- Lithium Air
- Zinc Air
- New Chemistries
- Hybrid Ultracapacitor-Batteries
All-electric cars in Israel, Denmark, and taxi fleets in several countries extend their range with Better Place robotic switching stations. A taxi running on empty pulls into the station where the empty battery is robotically replaced with a full battery. Five minutes later, the driver is back on the road.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are being used in transit buses, big forklifts, and fleet operations that can afford to install their own hydrogen station. The hydrogen fuel cell generates enough electricity for the electric vehicle to go over 300 miles. The 20 hydrogen fuel cell buses used in the Vancouver Winter Olympics now have one million passenger miles. Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, GM and others plan on 2015 vehicles for commercial sales and leases to fleets and test geographies. The Hyundai Tucson FCV has 3 forms of energy storage: lithium batteries, hydrogen PEM fuel cell, and ultracapacitors.
Electric vehicles are now bought and leased at the same rate as the early years of the Prius. About 20,000 electric cars were sold in 2011, 60,000 in 2012. In 2013, sales are likely to again triple to about 180,000. By 2014, Clean Fleet Report forecasts that one million vehicles will be sold with lithium battery packs.
Range is not the “show stopper” that critics have claimed. All-electric cars fit in fine in two car households and with solo city drivers that have access to transit, car sharing, and car rental. Battery innovation continues to make hybrid and electric cars go farther at lower cost. Plug-in hybrids are now leading because of the convenience of electric charging at home and gasoline fill-ups when needed.
By John Addison (9/10/12)
My wife and I are typical of the average U.S. household by owning two cars. We’re different in making one of them an electric car. For the past 18 months, our Nissan LEAF has been our primary car. The person driving the most miles for the day, yet stay under 60 miles, takes the car. The other is typically using transit, working at home, or using our hybrid car. Because we have two cars, electric range is rarely an issue. Only for long distance trips does our hybrid become the primary car.
Some electric car owners only have one car. They are owned by a single person, or in households, often urban, where one car meets the needs of two or more people. In cities and university towns, these EV drivers also have a range of other vehicles in nearby car sharing parking spaces.
Most early adopters of electric cars are in California, just as they were in first adopting hybrid cars. Data on the driving behavior of some 1,400 Nissan LEAF drivers, and 60 other EV drivers, is now available from the Center of Sustainable Energy of California (CCSE). Here are the results of their extensive survey:
- 89% of owners use their plug-in vehicle (PEV) as their primary car
- They drive an average of 800 electric-fueled miles per month.
- Many LEAF owners pay the equivalent of $0.90 to $1.90 per gallon of gasoline to power their electric vehicles.
- 12,000 electric cars in California save 350,000 gallons of petroleum every month.
- About 67% of vehicle charging takes place in off-peak hours (8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.).
- 39% of the state’s PEV owners have home solar energy systems, another 17 % plan to add solar, helping charge their electric cars.
- 71% of PEV owners report having access to either public or workplace charging or both.
California utilities own large natural gas and nuclear power plants that are most cost effective to run 24/7. There are no coal power plants in California. The nighttime charging of electric cars actually helps utilities balance their load. Utilities have had to add some $8,000 transformers in neighborhoods with electric cars. So far, plug-in vehicles have been helped utilities be more efficient.
These 1,419 drivers represent a significant sampling of California’s current 12,000 electric car drivers and of the nation’s almost 40,000 electric car drivers. The survey targeted those who had owned their EVs for at least six months. I was one who completed the survey. The results are quite useful, but skewed by the sampling. 96 percent of the survey is Nissan LEAF owners, 95 percent owned a second vehicle, and 71 percent are male.
They vast majority charged their car in their owned garage, with 97% living in homes with garages. My wife and I are in the small minority of electric car owners who live in multi-tenant buildings, where utility and city inspector approvals can be challenging, and expensive utility commercial rates can apply. Since most city dwellers live in multi-tenant buildings, this will be a major challenge in electric car adoption.
As advertised by Nissan, our LEAF, in real world driving, has delivered a range of 100 miles when driving below 40 miles per hour, but only 60 miles range on freeways. I have taken it up to 80 miles on freeways by charging at the destination, or charging while spending an hour or two at lunch, dinner, or working at Starbucks.
Range Anxiety is Real but Overrated
Most of these California early adopters were dissatisfied with the public charging infrastructure. As a member of both the ChargePoint and Blink Networks, I have found it easy to find charging stations using Google Maps, the apps from my two networks, and with my LEAF’s navigation system. With one exception, the public ChargePoint stations have worked great in a dozen locations. Generally, the Blink stations were “on the blink” when I arrived.
In the five largest California utilities, PEV owners pay about $0.09 – $0.15 per kWh to charge their PEVs at home during off peak hours (at night) and about $0.17 – $0.34 to charge their PEVs on peak (during the day). In California, 90 percent of public charging has been free. The majority surveyed would pay 2.5 to 3 times their home charging rate for “critical need” public charging.
To accelerate electric car adoption and charging infrastructure adoption, the California State Assembly and Senate have passed three bills currently pending Governor Brown’s signature. AB 2405 allows single-occupant, clean and zero emission vehicles with a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker free access to carpool lanes that are converted to toll roads. AB 2502 allows car dealers to include the cost of accelerated electric vehicle charging stations and installation within electric vehicle purchase financing. AB 2853 requires the state to develop a plan for equipping state owned parking lots and park and ride lots with electric vehicle chargers and alternative fuel infrastructure. On September 13, CALSTART will be hosting an event to promote these bills.
Electric-car range is a big concern for most electric car shoppers. After 18 months, I learned that may range anxiety was considerably overblown. Several factors make range less of an issue:
- Owning a second car.
- Driving a plug-in hybrid.
- Electric car chargers at work.
- Network of public charging (over 2,000 public chargers in California).
- Living near transit or car sharing.
Californians are now buying and leasing over 1,000 electric cars monthly from Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota, Ford, Tesla, and a number of automakers. Now that electric cars are available nationally, about 3,000 electric cars are added monthly in the United States. The CCSE survey shows the potential of electric cars to lower monthly cost of operating a car, range being a small issue in two-car households, benefits to electric utilities, oil dependency and energy security.
By Tom Bartley (3/8/12)
I drove the Coda battery-electric car and talked to the Coda representatives extensively during the San Diego auto show. The Coda headquarters are in Los Angeles, the body and many components are Chinese, and their assembly is done in Benicia, California, less than an hour from Tesla’s new manufacturing site. I suspect that Coda is under capitalized, but they seem to be attracting enough money to keep going. Coda is offering the cars through existing dealers, having recently signed up Marvin K. Brown in San Diego’s Mission Valley. With the size of the battery pack at 31kWh, I guessed that the cost of the car was probably in the $40k and up range. I was surprised to learn that the price is in the $39,995 before tax credits and state grants. At the LA Auto Show, Coda stated that the sedan had a 36kWh battery.
Coda had two test-drive cars at the auto show. The car I drove had great acceleration from the UQM 100kW motor even with a driver and 3 passengers. It didn’t feel like there was any control system governing it to hold back. The 333 VDC LiFeP Chinese battery, with 4 parallel module strings and 30 to 40 amp hours per cell, should provide 100 comfortable miles down to 10% SOC (State Of Charge). The 150-mile range in the brochure will rarely be achieved, but it’s there to compare with the range quoted by other EV manufacturers. The car had a nice navigation display and an adequate instrumentation dash board. There is a 2.2kW DC-DC converter for the standard 12 VDC hotel loads. I didn’t find out anything about the motor control inverter or battery cooling and management, but they have an active 2kW HVAC for passenger comfort.
The car had one unique feature in their braking regeneration operation. The regen kicked in about 1.5 seconds after releasing the accelerator and it seemed like a little more was added upon applying the brake pedal. Unlike Toyota’s hard, medium, and soft regen settings per driver choice, the Coda has only the one setting with the time delay activation.
The Coda people transported the car with an enclosed trailer that included a gasoline powered genset to recharge the cars. It seems that they couldn’t rely on an available public charging station. (They were probably all taken by Car2go battery electric Smart Car rentals. Car2go now gives EV owners a way to move the Smart Cars away from a charging station.)
Coda uses a J 1772 standard plug-in vehicle interface and two parallel 3.3kW chargers to provide a 6.6kW level two charge that refuels at better than 10 miles of range per 30 minutes of charge time. Coda has partnered with GE to offer a J 1772 interface that plugs into a standard 220VAC, 30Amp power outlet for $1000. No special wiring is required.
Coda has chosen to ride the EV wave rather than concentrate on any niche market. In spite of the very positive reactions of the drivers from the test drive, the Coda sedan may have a tough time competing with all the other plugins coming out in the same relative price range. I suggested that they look into selling CARB EV credits; it is likely that they have had internal discussions on the subject. For the big automotive manufacturers with over 100,000 cars sold per year in California, the penalty is over $5,000 per missing credit.