As I was talking to a high-level electric vehicle (EV) engineer recently, I was surprised to hear him say that driving range shouldn't be an issue for EVs, and that the term "range anxiety" was unfairly harming sales.
"We've taught people to be very concerned about range," he told me. "But do you know what the range of your gasoline vehicle is? Most people don't, but they certainly know what the range of an electric vehicle is."
That engineer isn't alone in his beliefs. An auto industry analyst recently told me, "Range anxiety isn't a real issue for most consumers, but automakers still have to consider it." Similarly, a BMW study involving 1,000 consumers this year revealed that the "average daily distance covered was around 30 miles (45 km)." The movie Who Killed the Electric Car? hammered home the same message by saying 90 percent of driving is done within the range of a short-range EV.
Should range not be a buying issue? There are certainly many consumers who simply don't need a longer driving range. Urban commuters come to mind -- a short drive to work, a daily recharge at a parking garage, and then a brief ride home in the evening. As long as the car isn't needed for long night or weekend trips, the EV is a good choice.
But the implication here seems to be that those who don't share that vision are myopic or are resisting EVs because they fear change. It's more likely, though, that those consumers are resisting EVs for a different reason. They don't buy cars to satisfy their average needs. They buy cars to satisfy their exceptional needs.
"We think that a very, very small number of people will buy a car for their average use, rather than their exceptional use," Bill Reinert of Toyota told us in 2011. "Even if you're covered in 90 percent of the cases, you're unlikely to buy a car that leaves you uncovered 10 percent of the time." He was explaining why Toyota supports the idea of a plug-in hybrid with a backup gasoline engine to extend the range.
Designing for exception, of course, isn't a new idea. Engineers do it every day. Automotive seating is a prime example. Though the average number of people in a car for any given trip is about 1.4, most consumers prefer to buy vehicles with four or more seats. That doesn't mean they're suffering from some kind of phobia that causes them to crave extra chairs. It simply means they're buying for the exception, not the average.
So, no, I don't think it's quite fair to point a finger at range-anxious consumers and imply they're afraid of change. In truth, the problem is much simpler than that. Most of the people concerned about range just need to drive their kids to college, visit the in-laws, or take the family on vacation. After they've spent $30,000 on a new car, they don't want to have to get a rental car to fulfill those needs.
Besides, it's the job of engineers to figure out what consumers want and then design to it. It's not the job of engineers to say, "Here's what you should want."
Of course range anxiety is real, particularly if you are limited to a single vehicle to cover as many of your particular needs as possible. Same for towing needs, carrying 9 passengers, off-roading, etc. Life is choices.
EVs are new technology, with restrictions of capability and available infrastructure. I'm sure the early drivers of gasoline vehicles has the same anxieties.
The tone of the discussion is that an engineer, unable to provide the ideal solution, tries to convince you that it really is not a limitation. Better to evaluate the current state of the technology, identify the market that it serves, and make a product appropriate to that market. The people who find your limitations unacceptable are not part of your market.
1. By what definition does anyone consider "average" adequate? A car designed to meet my average needs for range will, by definition, strand me on the road exactly 50% of the time. Not sure about you, but to me that's not acceptable performance.
2. I do know pretty well the range of all of my gasoline cars, and I don't worry about it because (a) none have a range of less than 300 miles; (b) there are gas stations all over the place; and (c) if I do run out of gas, I can carry a 10 pound can of gas back to the car and get it going again.
I do expect electric vehicle technology and infrastructure to improve and become more and more competitive, but I have little patience for engineers who whine about consumers wanting something more than average.
I agree with Nancy in that the engineers should consider the needs of the consumers. Most consumers who have the range anxiety in electrical vehicles usually are people who desire to use the vehicle for out of town purposes. While electrical vehicles are de3signed for short range distances, it is important to note that there are consumers who require vehicles for weekend trips and buying an electrical vehicle may not be a good decision.
It seems the engineer is trying to convert the language of range anxiety to include all vehicles. This is the "nudge" effect to take away the negative preception of EV's. However, my first answer is, "Yes, I know the approximate range of my vehicle and it is 4-5 times that of the best EV." A suburban with a 42 gallon tank getting approximately 17-19 mpg, translates into over 700 miles! BOOM!
As many have stated over and over. Daily commutes are the perfect fit for the EV. But it is the idea of extra commuting that dictates the buyer. I do not go into a car dealer and say, "I need a vehicle that I can drive 50 miles to work each day." I go into the dealer looking for a car that fits most all my needs. If it happens to be a SUV because I haul around a bunch of kids, supplies, and drive long distances, then that is the vehicle that I look for. Sure, my 9-5 job is only 50 miles, but that is not my immediate thinking. Perhaps we should be thinking more in terms of specialized vehicles for specialized needs. But who can afford 2, 3, or 4 different cars?
Bunter, you also brought out the most practical thought of most buyers. "How do I re-fuel it?" No one worries about a gas station (except maybe in West Texas). But where do you plug in your EV. Also, can I plug it in at home? Special recepticals or wiring required? How long to recharge? These factors are the "range anxiety". Re-fueling has to be considered at the time of purchase!
Thanks Nancy. Your point on rural Texas is good also. Gas/diesel cars work everywhere. All the time. No anxiety. And even inner city dwellers often leave (drive into Chicago on a Friday afternoon sometime).
Rental on top of a car payment! Very good point. Bet that would be satifying.
The reaction of this engineer makes me suspect that he probably does not believe the range issue will be solved anytime soon. Hence he tries to make it go away. The EV fans keep insisting this will soon be a dead issue-but this guy , who is working on "the front lines", sees a need for consumers to adapt. He doesn't see a near term solution. Just a thought.
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