Addressing factors that cause range anxiety
by, 2013-03-22 at 06:53 PM (72015 Views)
My wife and I are extremely happy EV owners. We regularly take road trips in our EVs, and we don’t have range anxiety. We did when we first got the cars - at the time, we didn’t know anybody else that owned one. It didn’t take long for us to get over it, so we are confident that new owners will be fine with practice. But we are afraid that many potential owners are missing out on all of the advantages of driving electric because of this fear. Fortunately, there are many ways around it.
What is range anxiety?
Range anxiety is the fear of not having enough fuel to make your next fueling stop. It can happen in any car; here are some personal examples from gas cars:
· driving across South Dakota many years ago with a strong head wind, my car’s mpg was greatly reduced. By the time I realized it I did not have enough gas to make it to the next gas station; so I ended up stranded on the side of the highway
· while driving to work a few years ago, I discovered that my daughter had not used the money we gave her to purchase gas AND she had driven farther than she was supposed to; the needle was far below ‘E’. I made it, but was very nervous as I had an important meeting to get to
· while driving a rental car in New Zealand a couple of years ago, we drove through a very long string of towns that looked big on the map but did not have gas stations. The car’s range meter stopped guessing at remaining range before we found a station
Regardless of fuel type, this is only an issue on trips where the next fuel stop isn’t until somewhere near the range of the car.
The simple and obvious solution is: always refuel any vehicle well before it runs out of fuel. All you need to know is when the vehicle will run out of fuel, and where to refuel it. The bad news is that most gas drivers don’t know the true range of an electric car OR where charging stations are. The good news is that both of these issues can be easily addressed with information. Changes to the cars and more charging stations can definitely make things easier, but are not required for consumers to overcome their anxiety and enjoy electric driving.
Related issue – charging time
Charging time is a separate issue, but it nevertheless impacts how gas drivers view range anxiety.
Charging an EV takes longer than filling a car with gas. Unlike range anxiety, this can’t be addressed with education - even with Superchargers, driving on a long trip really takes longer because charging is slower. Of the many oft-repeated “downsides” to EVs (they are slow, ugly, pollute just as much as gas cars, cost twice as much to own, are the only type of subsidized car, etc), this is the only one that is real.
Of course, no downside matters unless you experience it. For day-to-day driving you charge at night; and if time matters on a long trip, you can fly or take another car (if you don’t have one, buy a PHEV instead of a BEV). It’s that simple - anybody can electrify most of their driving without EVER having to wait for a charge.
Yet charging time is a double whammy on range anxiety. First, it causes new BEV drivers to be more likely to take a close-to-the-limit trip rather than wait for sufficient charge. (Solution: always have a plan for where you will stop if things looks too close). Second, while driving on a trip near the edge of a BEV’s range, fear of having to wait for a charge causes them to worry more than if they were driving a gas car with the same fuel margin. (Solution: with experience will come comfort).
Factors that contribute to electric-specific range anxiety
Aside from the issue of charging time, there are many interdependent psychological factors that make gas drivers, justified or not, more fearful of running out of fuel in electric cars than they are in gas cars. All of them contribute in some way to uncertainty in the two things they need to know, but don’t - how far the car can go, and where to charge:
· Novelty. New technology always inspires worry. When gas cars were new range anxiety was a big problem; many people favored horses, bicycles and steam-powered cars because they already knew when and where to fuel them
· Functional fixedness. Gas drivers are used to driving to empty and then stopping at a gas station to fill their tank all the way up, so many assume they will operate a BEV the same way. This is why the first two questions are usually “how far does it go” and “how long does it take to charge”. Many people really think they will regularly be waiting for a full charge
· Lesser analogues. Many battery-powered appliances don’t have energy gauges; they just “run out” of power without warning. Consumers unfamiliar with EVs are afraid they may do the same thing
· Optimistic marketing. Range has long been touted as the primary EV disadvantage. To show how useful their car is, marketing departments like to trumpet the biggest range number they can get away with. That works great until a consumer takes a drive and doesn’t get anywhere near that range. (The same thing happens with gas cars and mpg, but that is not surprising to consumers simply because it is more familiar). Then word gets out that EVs don’t meet their claims – expected for existing technology, but killer for new technology
· Optimistic and/or unreliable instrumentation. Once consumers get in an EV, they note the range meter and are initially comforted – until they note that it varies when underway. Or even if it stays steady, it doesn’t accurately reflect their mile usage. They later report their concerns to other gas drivers, creating a nasty feedback loop
· Sparse infrastructure. Charging stations are usually less numerous (or at least less familiar, as electricity is widespread and outlets work too) than gas stations
· Charging standards wars. It is hard enough for a consumer to try to figure out where to find charging stations. Imagine their dismay when they find out they can’t use all of them, so they have to learn about all of the different types before they can buy a car or take a trip
· Oversharing owners. When a gas driver expresses range anxiety, many helpful electric drivers leap in to describe range calculations, EVSE finder apps, outlet types and power ratings, and hypermiling techniques in great detail. The overwhelmed gas driver ironically becomes more anxious as they think they have to learn all of this stuff before they can drive a BEV
· Media meme. How often do you see an article about electric vehicles that doesn’t mention range anxiety? Of course gas drivers are worried about it; it’s all they hear.
· FUD. Some people want the electric vehicle industry to fail. So they spread stories – some missing the point, some exaggerated, some blatantly false - about all the problems you will have when you buy one. This won’t work once everybody knows somebody that has one; but while they are still rare, this is effective
That is a lot of stuff to address. Nobody is going to sit around while you cover each of these issues one at a time. We need simple messages that they can grasp quickly. We need to focus on making it easy for them to know how far the car will go, and where they can charge up.
Experience helps…but comes too late
Through experience one becomes very familiar with the car’s capabilities and learns how to find charging stations. I am never afraid of making my destination, and I never have to slow down or turn off the heat. That’s great for those of us that have owned an EV for a long time, but how do we make new owners comfortable? Even more important, how can we make potential buyers comfortable enough that they are willing to become new owners?
There is no silver bullet that will take care of every situation. But there are several simple suggestions that can help a great deal in some cases. Different things work best depending on the situation, so I have created this flowchart to help us to decide how best to help. After the chart, I’ll talk about the different points in it.
Range Anxiety flow chart
Expanding on points in the chart
Too many people are falling all the way through the chart, and ending up in a BEV with an optimistic range meter on a long trip and no knowledge or experience. We want to try to catch them at one of the earlier phases where range anxiety is less of a problem.
1. Would you consider a PHEV?
For people just starting to consider how to fit a plug-in in to their life, start here. A PHEV will automatically electrify most of their driving, but they don’t have to do ANY thinking, because it is still a gas car. They can go anywhere at any time, and don’t have to ever charge it anywhere other than in their own garage. This instantly takes care of range anxiety AND charging time.
This may seem an obvious point, but it is almost always be overlooked by gas drivers that are eager to find a reason to dismiss electricity as a fuel. Throw the idea out there to get them thinking, hey, I can do this. Note that many people don’t understand that a PHEV has a gas engine and operates exactly like a gas car on long trips; you may have to spell this out.
Once they understand this point (make sure they have absorbed it! It can take a while) then you can point out that BEVs have a few advantages over PHEVs – and they can still allow you to take gas trips too; you just have to switch vehicles. I personally prefer BEVs; but PHEVs serve some great purposes (BEVs really don’t work for everybody), and one is that they are an easy stepping stone to get anxious people to consider BEVs!
2. For long trips, can you fly/train/bus/rent/swap?
For the last seven years, I have driven a small two-seat car. Not once has somebody asked me, “What if you suddenly need to take 3 people somewhere” or “How do you make Costco trips?” There is no such thing as cargo anxiety, because everybody understands that you can use another vehicle on the rare occasion that the need arises.
Yet when it comes to long trips, it seems difficult to understand that you don’t have to take the EV if it’s not the best-suited car for the trip. You have to spell this point out; often more than once. If they can take another vehicle on a trip, then they never have to figure out their exact range, or look for charging stations, or wait for a charge. They can just drive their wonderful electric car around town, charge at home in the garage – and take a gas car on long trips. This is very nearly the same as the “PHEV” answer, just using a hybrid garage rather than a hybrid car.
My wife drove a short-range BEV for years and never once looked for a charging station or waited for a charge – she only charged it in our garage at night, and on the few days she needed to go farther, she took my car. She would laugh when people asked her about the “inconvenience” of electric cars, because it was the most convenient car she had ever driven. Believe me, if she can do it, anybody can.
3. Are you willing to learn range factors and calculate your own range?
If you are at this point with a person that is not yet an owner, you should make clear that this is optional. If they find this too confusing, they can always refer to the two points above, or skip to the next one.
A fair number of new owners – though far from all of them - are excited about their car and willing to learn how it operates. The more they know, the more use they can get out of their car and the less likely they are to get in trouble.
They will need to learn about the effects to speed, acceleration, elevation, wind, water and debris on the road, and temperature. There are many details in this post: Putting some numbers on the factors that affect range
4. Can you follow tips on BEV road trips?
Some owners (I hesitate to use my wife again) really don’t want to learn anything new when they buy a car. They just want to get in and drive. They don’t want to do any math; they just want to know how far the car will go. This also applies to most potential customers that haven’t purchased a car yet; they are less eager to spend a lot of time on this. They would rather just know some simple limits.
A simple answer is: you can “count” on a BEV to go 2/3 of the EPA range. On a good day, when driven right, they can exceed the EPA range; but that’s a trick to save until after they have experience. For now, only take the BEV on trips shorter than 2/3 of the EPA range. Take another car for longer trips, or buy a PHEV if you only have one car. If 2/3 of EPA range is not enough for common trips, this BEV is not for you (just like a Miata is not the right choice if you have to drive the kids' carpool 3 days each week). Try another BEV or a PHEV.
If you ever do take a BEV on a road trip and stop to charge, keep charging until the car’s EPA range indicator says that you have at least 150% of the miles necessary to make it to the next stop.
5. Does your car have an always spot-on (or slightly pessimistic) range meter?
Some people (like, say, certain auto journalists) really don’t want to learn anything new – not even quick tips. They just want to get in and drive. They want the car to tell them how far it will go (in fact, some seem to be testing the range meter more than the car). Fortunately for them, most EVs have a range meter designed to tell them exactly that.
Unfortunately for them, most of those range meters are deliberately optimistic. It’s easy to understand how this can happen; marketing departments that are used to selling well-understood near-commodity gas-powered products want to tout the best possible numbers to ensure their product gets purchased instead of the competition’s nearly identical vehicle; gas buyers don’t really expect the numbers and are understanding when they are not met. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do in an emerging, poorly-understood, highly differentiated market. It is less important to win a buyer from the competition than it is to gain a buyer (in the early days, even of the competition’s products!) that is happy after the purchase and influences other buyers. Running out of electricity because you didn’t achieve the range estimate is worse than having to spend more on gas because you didn’t achieve an mpg estimate. BEV manufacturers are really messing up here.
Many vehicles have a “projected” option that helps – at least, when conditions are constant. If you are driving across Kansas, this could be an extremely useful too. If you are driving across Washington over a couple of mountain ranges, it can make things even worse as the estimates fluctuate wildly up and down.
Tesla already offers more than one range estimation mode, including EPA range. I wish they would add a “conservative” or “solid” option based on 2/3 of the EPA range. Or better yet, a number settable by the driver. Best of all, they could integrate range estimation in to the navigation system, and have it take in to account elevation, traffic and weather conditions and tell the user how much range will be left if they travel at various speeds.
6. Does your car display kWh or SOC instead of miles of range?
Until the auto manufacturers have either truly accurate or at least consistently pessimistic range meters, I honestly think the best thing is to not display range at all – display a measure of remaining battery capacity instead. Sure, that will scare somebody getting in to the car for the first time. But that is a good thing - they will definitely be cautious until they learn how it works! No more running out on your first road trip because the car told you it would make it. No more journalists with tow trucks blaming the car rather than themselves. And it’s certainly something drivers can easily learn; it’s exactly how most gas cars have worked for decades.
For a Tesla Model S 85kWh cars, they could guide new owners by saying that they should generally expect 2-3 miles of range per kWh of capacity depending on speed and weather. Owners just starting out (or journalists just trying it out) should not count on more than 2.
There are many ways to resolve range anxiety. The best solution depends on each individual’s situation.
Most people that already own a plug-in will be willing to talk to other owners and/or do some research, so they will generally be fine – we can help them, but they will seek us out, so we don’t have to reach out to them. Some people HATE plug-ins and aren’t going to buy one until everybody else has one, so there is no need to worry about reaching out to them either. The important people to reach out to are ones that have some interest in plug-ins, but need more information before they will feel comfortable buying one.
I think the best first answer for this type of person is: “PHEV”. It will automatically electrify most of their driving, but they don’t have to do ANY thinking, because it is still a gas car! They can go anywhere anytime, but don’t have to ever charge it anywhere other than in their own garage. Throw the idea out there to get them thinking, hey, I can do this. Note that many people don’t understand that a PHEV has a gas engine and operates exactly like a gas car on long trips; you will have to spell this out.
Once they are comfortable with the idea of a PHEV, if they have multiple cars in their household you can throw out the idea of a BEV. You can point out that a hybrid garage works just as well as a hybrid car - and then they get more electric range, have less maintenance, a better-packaged car, etc.
It helps to keep in mind that some gas drivers that obsess about range anxiety do so because they understand the social benefits of the cars and feel they should get one, but they don’t want to get one because they don’t realize that there are personal benefits too – they assume that driving electric is an inferior experience. They are looking for an excuse to avoid a car that they don’t want. Take them for a ride first; the conversation is much easier once they are trying to figure out how to make it work, rather than arguing about why it can’t work.
What can we owners do to help potential buyers get past range anxiety and buy a car?
· Take them for a ride. It is easier to convince them when they want one
· Point out that anybody can electrify most of their driving, but still use gas for long trips by buying a PHEV or having a hybrid garage. They never have to look for a charging station or wait for a charge
What can BEV owners do to avoid range anxiety and communicate confidence to others?
· Always have a charging point planned within 2/3 of EPA range
· Always charge to 150% of your next destination
· Learn factors that affect range
What can automakers do to reduce range anxiety in their customers?
· Offer a range gauge that takes external factors in to account and gives real range
· Failing that, don’t display range! Sure newbies will be scared – but they will be cautious
· If you insist on displaying a non-predictive range – offer a “safe range” mode
What can the press do?
· Stop focusing on electric road trips, which is the least-likely use for a BEV. Focus on how fun, convenient and inexpensive they are for the majority of driving; and how it is not necessary to make EVERY future trip on electricity
· Stop mentioning range anxiety in every article about plug-ins. People have heard it already; it’s not news
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