Allow me please, gentle readers, to clarify one issue: I have nothing against electric vehicles, nor anyone who likes or owns them. I do, however, object to government picking winners in the marketplace, particularly using taxpayer money to do it. I also object to mandates for reasons that should be obvious to all by now. Government does it badly when health is involved; they’ll do worse when it’s not. If one wants to buy an EV and can afford it, buy seven: one for each day of the week and change them like underwear. That way, at least one should be charged up.
A recent event—the massive I95 traffic jam in Virginia due to winter weather– reminded me of just how inappropriate EVs are in colder climates. Imagine if even half the vehicles stuck in those conditions were EVs. Running heaters rapidly drains batteries, even if the vehicle isn’t moving.
They’d run out of juice very quickly, and with the traffic bumper to bumper for mile upon mile, there would be no way other than tow trucks to get EVs off the road, and tow trucks couldn’t get to them. Even EVs with a little charge remaining couldn’t get to an off ramp, and there was no way to get chargers to vehicles stuck on the roadway. Not a pretty picture.
It’s been my experience most of the coverage of EVs in the vehicle press is little short of cheerleading, with a tiny bit of reality snuck in here and there. This article by Torque News.com wasn’t quite so bad, and actually provides a healthy dose of reality:
Battery-electric vehicles are about to become the default family vehicle in America. It may happen in a year or two, or maybe five or ten, but every major automaker and the entirety of the party controlling Congress and the Executive branch have sworn to make it so. Who are we to stand in front of a train? All aboard!
As I’ve often explained, no, they won’t become “the default family vehicle in America.” Not only are there not enough resources in the ground to make all the batteries required, even Elon Musk of Tesla recently admitted we do not have, and will not have, sufficient grid capacity to charge all those EVs. And no, this will not stop Climate Change and save the planet. EV and Climate Change true believers seem to have no idea how electricity is generated. It’s not clean—they refuse to allow nuclear plants which are (mostly)—and enough plants to charge vehicles would surely produce more pollution than internal combustion engines do today. But let’s ignore the cheerleading and plunge ahead:
Let’s examine one aspect of vehicle ownership where BEVs may not lead the pack – Long road trips.
The article makes an important point: EPA range estimates are just that—estimates, and they’re not very good estimates.
Charging From 10% to 80% Means 30% of Your EV’s Max. Range Is Useless
The first and perhaps largest deduction of one’s EV range on a road trip is due to how owners charge EVs at public charging stations. You need some buffer to ensure that if you arrive at a station that is damaged, full, or ICED-out you can move on to another station. Shall we call that 10% of the total range? Would you be comfortable on a road trip arriving at a charging station with less than 25 miles remaining? Maybe you would. In any case, most folks are not comfortable arriving with near-zero range.
Particularly since on board range estimators are hardly accurate.
You arrive at the charger and you plug it in. One might expect that the charger would be from the starting point to the 100% state of charge level, but normally this is not the case. Ask any savvy EV owner and they will tell you that the proper public EV charging etiquette is to stop charging at 80% of the maximum state of charge (SOC) ie, range. So your ID.4’s [VW model] range is really from 25 miles to 199 miles. That is a distance of roughly 174 miles total range between road trip charges. As you will see, it may be less than that.
There are two additional reasons besides being a good citizen that EV owners stop charging at 80% and they are all related. EVs charge relatively rapidly in the middle of their state of charge, but once past 80% most slow their rate of charging dramatically. This slows down your road trip and the cost can also go up at chargers that have a per-minute charge plan.
And this, gentle readers, is with a super duper fast charger. Anything less means more time for charging, much more time. The idea of EV charging etiquette is interesting. Human nature always has to be acknowledged, but where EVs are concerned, it’s often ignored. Imagine people on a long winter trip and every charging station at a given spot is full. People are waiting for hour after hour; they’re running out of charge. There’s no place to go to wait or stay warm… What’s that you say? Gas stations will have to be converted to those services? Right, but it’s not going to be as easy as replacing fuel pumps with charging stations, and putting them every hundred miles—or less—or so isn’t going to be economically feasible, so if government wants it, they’ll have to build and man them, with the efficiency and service for which government is famous.
Long Highway Runs – Lower Efficiency For Two Reasons
If your road trip is mostly high-speed highway miles, your total range will be reduced. This is not theoretical. Owners of EVs are keenly aware of the lower efficiency of their vehicles on the highway. EVs are meaningfully less efficient at speeds of say, 75 than they are at speeds of say, 55 MPH. This makes sense. Wind resistance is one big contributor to energy consumption and it rises significantly as speeds increase.
This is the first manufacturer friendly EV article that mentions this reality: Traveling at actual highway speeds, causes range to drop dramatically. Not only does an EV driver have to spend 4-10 times longer “filling up” their vehicle, it takes them much longer just to reach a destination because they have to drive slower.
Long uninterrupted highway trips also have far fewer opportunities for electric vehicles to perform their very best party trick – brake regeneration. Although EVs do regain energy from regenerative braking on downhill sections of highways in certain circumstances, and all of us brake a bit from time to time due to merges and slow motorists ahead (like those EVs in the merge lane going 55 MPH), the regeneration of energy is far lower on highway trips than it is in mixed driving.
The article suggests a 5 to 15% drop in range on the highway. That means probably 20-25%, but let’s play along:
Now your EV with a “range” of 249 miles is down to about 161 to 149 miles. That’s unless it’s cold.
The EPA’s EV range estimate gets a bad rap from most of the media. Because heat is a major contributor to range depletion, the range estimates your vehicle displays may be downright scary when you enter it in the winter. We’ve observed drops of 40% in various test vehicles from major brands.
The authors spoke to the EPA, who essentially admitted their range estimates are based on ideal EV driving conditions, such as southern California.
However, the EPA also reminded us that the drastic range reductions your in-dash estimator displays may be too conservative. Most cars predict you will make many stops and require many warmup cycles. ‘It’s not as bad as you think’ is the general theme. Let’s say it’s about 10% lower than temperate conditions. So deduct another 25 miles. Now your ID.4’s road trip range is 136 to 124 miles between public charging stops.
Again, it probably is worse than you think, particularly in winter if you’re using any electrical accessories, like lights, heater, etc., but again, they’re rolling. To their credit, the authors also point out putting any weight in an EV, such as anything other than a small driver, also dramatically decreases range, as do things like bike racks, roof racks, and they shudder to mention what pulling a trailer of any kind does to EV range.
Easy Proof That Using EVs on Long Road Trips Is Questionable
In reality, EVs are not able to drive their maximum range between EV chargers on road trips. They have a meaningfully lower range between charges than the maximum. This casts the use of EVs on long road trips into doubt. Can they be used for long road trips?
We can prove that EV road trip use is questionable in one simple way. Google “EV road trip.” You will find a slew of well-written EV road trip stories. “We made it!” is the general theme “No problem!” is popular. There is even a Facebook group specifically dedicated to dispelling the myth that EV road trip range is an issue. EV owners share their success stories about using EVs on road trips. The proof that using EVs for long road trips is questionable is proven in each of these stories. If it wasn’t questionable, then why write a story about it telling everyone you made it?
Indeed. Prepare yourself for blatant cheerleading:
Summary – BEVs Are Awesome, But…
Battery-electric vehicles like the Volkswagen ID.4 and Ford Mustang Mach-E are rapidly expanding in the marketplace. Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, and others will bring their models to market this calendar year, and each one has new and innovative features that make driving not just possible, but joyous. EVs are a blast to drive. They are going to save us all a lot of money on fuel and hopefully reduce our maintenance and repair hassles as well. But they are not the best vehicles for all tasks. And they are not the best electrified vehicle options for long road trips. Plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles and hybrids are.
“Joyous”? Note also EV cheerleading articles are full of qualifiers like “hopefully.” However, the article is pretty honest, among the most honest I’ve ever seen. I had a passing thought that if EVs ever become more popular, I’d buy a diesel truck with a big cab, load it up with a diesel super duper generator/charger and go into business charging EVs stuck between charging stations in the wide open spaces of Wyoming. Except I realized I’d have to charge as much as a tow truck to make any profit at all, so what’s the point? Sorry all you future, joyous, out of juice EV customers!
Car And Driver, which is among the most shameless EV cheerleaders, demonstrates why long trips in EVs—EV RVs(?!)—is a really bad idea:
Recreational vehicles rounded the corner into the electric era today with the unveiling of the Winnebago e-RV concept at the Florida RV SuperShow. Using a Ford Transit van as the basis of the concept, Winnebago and its powertrain partner, Lightning eMotors, swapped in an electric motor and an 86.0-kWh battery pack.
While Winnebago did not release an estimated horsepower rating for the e-RV camper van concept, it did say that estimated driving range would be 125 miles per charge, which is significantly shorter than today’s EV passenger vehicles. But the Winnebago has a bed, a kitchenette, and wet bath with a shower, all home-style amenities you won’t find in a Tesla.
Yow. “Estimated driving range would be 125 miles per charge.” And in winter, with four people and their luggage onboard, what? Perhaps 50 miles? But I need to pull a trailer with my motorcycles! Uh huh. Perhaps 30 miles? What about headwinds? What about climbing mountain roads? We have those in America you know, and for some reason, people like to vacation in the mountains or other out of the way places where there are no charging stations and where there aren’t going to be any. That’s one of the charms of RVs. They can go places like that, but with more creature comforts. What a brilliant idea! These are going to be snapped up like hotcakes for long vacation trips.
Why such a low range? RVs, even smaller RVs like this, are heavy and not at all aerodynamic. They have a lot of rolling resistance, all of which means much greater fuel consumption and shorter range. Fuel powered EVs generally have much larger tanks to compensate, and they also have fuel powered generators to make—wait for it—electric power(!) in out of the way places where there is no electricity. I don’t suppose EV RVs will have those; it would be apostasy! And what if one miscalculates and runs out of juice in one of those out of the way places? Uh-oh. But perhaps I’m being too realistic:
For right now, the e-RV is merely a concept and Winnebago says that as battery technology evolves there’s a potential for additional range. The e-RV concept has an onboard charger that is capable of juicing the battery at an owner’s home, at public high-speed charging ports, or while plugged into shore power at a campground. According to Winnebago, the e-RV can charge up in about 45 minutes using a high-speed public charging station.
There are those qualifiers—“concept” and “potential” again. There’s also the potential science might extend my life span to 205 years, but I’m not betting on that one either. And what’s that about “juicing the battery at an owner’s home,” etc.? There’s an onboard charger that will require electricity to charge the vehicle’s battery? You plug in a charger to charge the charger to charge the battery? And 45 minutes? That’s only with a super duper charger, and again, only to about 80% of capacity, which does not, by the way, guarantee a given range. As this article points out, that’s dependent on a great many other factors. A full charge would take several hours, at least, and that’s only with the fastest possible chargers. Here’s the best part:
Pricing for the e-RV hasn’t been announced but we expect the all-electric powertrain will increase the price beyond that of a traditional gas-powered Winnebago camper van when it eventually reaches dealerships.
Oh, the cheerleaders at Car and Driver “expect” that, do they? As regular readers know, EVs, to this point, have been purchased by the top 7% of the population in income. They’re not buying EVs as their sole vehicles, but as expensive toys they don’t need to depend on. They have all the conventional, reliable, easy and fast to fuel, vehicles they need. So how pricey are RVs?
This is the Winnebago Solis, which “starts”—the least expensive model—at $115,500. I know what you’re thinking: cheap at twice the price. Add all the goodies necessary to turn one of these into an EV, and I suspect you’d be looking at $150,000 dollars and more. Most RV owners don’t put huge numbers if miles on their vehicles, so it would likely take a lifetime and more to make up any savings—if any—in fuel.
And then there’s winter…