Tips to Combat Electric Car Range Anxiety
Electric vehicles are greatly appreciated for providing an alternative to expensive gas and diesel cars, yet the technology is far from perfect. One thing that bothers many drivers is the range anxiety. Here are some tips to get better EV mileage.
A typical EV cannot go the same distance as a combustion-powered vehicle (on a single “fill up”) and, combined with a possible scarcity of charge points in your area, this is one of the leading factors preventing people from adopting the technology.
Yet, it is still possible to improve your mileage. Hypermiling has long been used in traditional cars and many of these factors work with EVs.
Under the hood, a simpler world
Overall, maintenance is easy for an EV, since there isn’t a combustion engine to worry about. That said, the rest of the areas are, for the most part, fundamentally the same.
For the best example, simply look at your tires. Their condition determines how much energy is converted into movement, or wasted due to inefficiencies. It doesn’t take much to keep the tire pressure optimal, but it ensures the battery isn’t wasting energy.
The same can also be said for ensuring you don’t overload your car or add external fixtures (like roof racks) that create air resistance. It’s easy to do, but greatly helps in the long run.
One of the biggest ways to save energy is to regain it via regenerative brakes (a common feature in EVs). Here, you can coast with the car, using gentle braking and accelerating to maintain your speed. It is regular but soft touches of the pedal that will make use of regenerative braking, saving a little power as you go.
This also works well when going down hills. Once you get an intuitive understanding of your braking system, you maintain your speed with gentle, but firm, use of the braking. This makes use of natural momentum, easing the requirements on the engine, and building up regenerative power along the way.
The Best Speed
Your speed may vary, but it’s important
With combustion engines, many people agree that a speed close to 55 mph is often the most ideal. Of course, this does not apply to wholly electric engines.
Right now, there is not enough data to determine what the best speed is and it will vary from car to car. Some online research, as well as your own observations, however, might highlight what speed range is the most efficient. While this might not always be practical, it’s a good fact to know when you don’t mind arriving at your destination a little late.
Many EVs come with sat nav and other features as standard but, as many drivers know, the most direct route is not necessarily the best one as far as energy preservation is concerned. Every time you have to bring your car to a halt, you waste energy. Of course, regenerative braking ensures this isn’t as bad in EVs as it is in combustion-based vehicles.
Likewise, you can also consider your speed, as mentioned above. You might find taking a route that is better for your desired speed is more efficient, even if a little longer, than the stop-and-start nature of driving straight through town.
As you can see, there are a few ways to help get better mileage from an EV. While the changes won’t be drastic, they can make a noticeable improvement and help put any concerns about range anxiety to rest.
Ghosn, CEO of Nissan & Renault, sees EVs in the future
Carlos Ghosn has a lot on his plate. He’s CEO of Nissan and Renault, two large car companies on their own and one of the top tier automakers when combined as the Nissan-Renault Alliance. That 13-year-old Alliance is proving, unlike other similar attempts, to be durable and appears to give the two partners the best of both worlds –shared car technology and back end expenses while still maintaining strong individual identities.
When speaking recently at a “Open Garage” talk at Stanford’s Automotive Innovation Center, Ghosn pointed with pride that his Alliance has put 70,000 EVs on the road around the world (of the roughly 100,000 pure battery electrics currently out there). He said that in spite of failing to hit his own targets for volume, he believes electric vehicle technology will be the winner as it approaches scale production – and he believes that is inevitable. The secret ingredient, he said, was emotion. “Car emotion is the key to the future,” he emphasized. At present he is “not happy” with sales as the cars have hit “a lot of headwinds,” but he optimistically noted that Nissan can ramp up quickly if demand rises.
But putting emotion into a car many still see as an expensive, not-too-practical mobility appliance will have more challenges because the automobile does not exist in a vacuum. The changes that our society faces will mean the cars of the near future will have to address several issues while trying to establish an emotional connection with car buyers.
The first is safety. As Ghosn explained it, industry expects to see 100 million new cars on the road annually by 2020 as the world economy grows. “Is the present system sustainable,” he asked rhetorically. “We know it’s not.”
He noted there are currently six million car crashes a year in the U.S. alone and auto accidents are the leading cause of death for individuals from age 4 to 34. Ghosn added that 96% of those crashes were due to human error. “We have the technology to avoid most crashes,” he asserted. The trick for automakers is to add safety equipment without adding too much weight or cost to the vehicle.
CEO of Nissan-Renault believes EV future is bright
Ghosn cited oil dependence as the second challenge for the coming decade. While EVs are a sliver of new car sales right now, he is adamant that the “only thing missing is scale.” To reach that scale, Ghosn believes government intervention is necessary. Given Japan, China, Europe and the U.S.’s reliance on imported oil, Ghosn said he thought it was in their best interest to incentivize EV consumers and invest in an infrastructure for all kinds of efficient electric vehicles – fuel cells, plug-in hybrids and EVs. He predicted more development would bring more non-gas vehicles to market soon.
Finally, Ghosn cited autonomous driving as a key near-future trend. Cars will need to function with less input from the driver, he said. Too much unproductive time is spent in a car and growth of life expectancy is extending the potential driving ages for people. Autonomous cars could provide personal transportation for people who can no longer drive. Ghosn summed up this challenge for the auto industry as one in which they must create safer, more connected, more efficient cars, which leads them to autonomous vehicles. The safety challenge and goal of reducing petroleum use can be enhanced with autonomous technology, he noted, much of which will be coming out of the Silicon Valley area where he was speaking (and where Nissan has recently expanded it presence). The major challenge for automakers, he said, is choosing what technology will go in a car. “We have to be selective,” he concluded.
In Q&A Ghosn talked about the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe EVs, the companies’ leading foray into the electric field. He cited making the technology credible, affordable and practical (because of range anxiety) as the challenges EVs face. The first two he felt the Nissan-Renault Alliance was addressing with its latest cars and price cuts for the Leaf in the U.S., which came about primarily through sourcing components for Leaf production in this country rather than Japan. The last hurdle, he said, would only be cleared when charging stations are as ubiquitous as gas stations are now.
Nissan Leaf is practical & affordable, according to Ghosn
As the auto industry moves to meet the challenges he outlined, Ghosn said he foresees the need for car companies to open up their advanced engineering operations as never before. Historically very insular and secretive, he said the demands of connectivity and other advanced technologies will trump those old concerns.
He closed with a passionate appeal for the car (which will increasingly be moving to become an EV) to become “a very special object. We must avoid the car appearing like a commodity,” he said. “We need to add emotion.” He then put out a challenge to what he called Generation Now, which included many of the students in the audience. “We’re counting on [you] to imagine the future” of the automobile.
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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.