Range anxiety: the thorn in the side of electric vehicles and their proponents. Since entering the lexicon, this frustrating phrase has stubbornly remained there.
Yes, EVs can meet the needs of many drivers, most of the time. But that’s a major obstacle to purchase if the ‘other times’ cause major inconvenience.
It’s long been reckoned that if EVs could travel further before needing to be charged, more people would likely consider them. GM, Ford, Nissan and VW – are reportedly planning to offer ‘affordable’ electric vehicles that will travel up to 200 miles (322 km) between charges (twice the range of a Nissan LEAF). However, we’ve heard all this before – many times.
And despite Elon Musk recently opining that “200 miles is the minimum threshold” for EV range, and that there is “a sweet spot around 250-350 miles that’s really ideal”, there’s a secondary problem. However far we’re able to travel in an EV before its batteries are empty, a good proportion of us won’t seriously contemplate an electric car until we know we can very quickly be on the move again.
One of the key reasons for the enduring success of the internal combustion engine is that it means we almost never need to be stationary for more than a few minutes.
Even Tesla’s Supercharger takes around 30 minutes to deliver an 80% charge. And while we’d all love to follow the suggestion that we take a walk or grab a snack or a coffee while our car’s being re-energised, that’s often not going to fit in with our schedule. Again, we could be waiting a long time to see charging times come down to match conventional refuelling times.
So, while we wait for the technological breakthrough to occur, we’re left with one other potential area of development – battery swapping. In theory, batteries can be swapped in around 90 seconds. And while Better Place – one of the first attempts to provide battery-swapping services – didn’t survive, its demise was in part due to unrealistic implementation ambitions.
Yet many questions remain. Would manufacturers work together to develop standardised or modular battery designs? Or will different designs emerge, requiring complex swapping equipment or forcing consumers to factor in swap station location when choosing their car? Could a ‘format war’ even occur? Who will own the batteries? And who will pay for the infrastructure – the exchange machinery, the reserve batteries, the charging stations for the batteries themselves?
That last question is particularly pertinent, because competition for investment is growing – not least from supporters and manufacturers of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles including Toyota and Hyundai. Among other hurdles, they face a similar challenge – delivering the promise of quick, convenient refuelling while having to build a refuelling network from scratch.