Global environmental challenges
How I overcame range anxiety in Mitsubishi’s new electric car
By Kwok W. Wan
I’m perhaps not the best person to test drive a car around London, as I consider these metal boxes only as machines to take me from place A to place B, and not vehicles of pleasure.
I did once have a very enjoyable road trip from New York to Los Angles, but someone else was driving, and I just looked out the window. I’ve never even owned my own car, so approached Mitsubishi’s new electric car with trepidation.
“Here’s the car charger,” the Mitsubishi man who handed over the i-MiEV car said, pointing to a yellow springy cord with an ordinary three-pin plug at one end and round black socket to attach to the car at the other. He also told me not to use the heating too much, as it drained more power than any other dashboard function, and to call him if I encountered any flat battery problems.
Flat battery. I have since found out that electric car makers have coined a phrase to describe a driver’s paranoia that the battery is about to run out of power. “Range anxiety”. And I was about to experience range anxiety in full force.
Before the 16 kilometre (10 mile) drive from my house on the border of Kent to central London, I did a few hours research to find the shortest distance to the charging bay near Victoria train station, calculating to the mile how long it would take me to get there. As I started driving on that grey cloudy day, I kept constant monitor of the battery gauge, doing the range calculations in my head, and tried to avoid wrong turns and detours as to conserve charge. My range anxiety was a relaxed medium.
Unfortunately, with all this focus on trying to save on power, I forgot the charger around a third of a way into my trip and had to drive all the way back to get it. So after 40 minutes of driving, I was back at my house, and the battery had dropped two bars to 14 from 16 (over 10 percent!). My calculations flew out the window and my range anxiety climbed up to high.
On my way to London, I remembered why I don’t like driving. Soul crushing traffic jams, road works that repeat themselves every few kilometres, mad white van drivers who think half a metre is a reasonable gap to drive in to, and one way systems that sap your sanity and also the precious power in your car.
But these were the types of conditions where the i-MiEV excelled. Accelerating from zero to 40 miles per hour, ducking around tight corners, quick lane changes and stop starts over short distances, the car was responsive and precise.
And the little i-MiEV has some kick too. I thought it would accelerate like an overloaded golf buggy. Instead, it felt like a muscular go-kart, with the grace and control of a barrel-chested butler.
I found the charging bay near Victoria, with my battery gauge down to nine bars (just over 50 percent), only to discover that my electronic key to open the flap to plug my car in didn’t work. After a few phone calls, it transpired that I didn’t have the right key and there was no way to open the bay without it.
I decided to try another charging bay in Holborn, north of Victoria, but a road network which forbid left and/or right turns arbitrarily transformed a 15-minute journey into a 45-minute maze of one-way traffic systems and roundabouts. When I finally turned into the road where the charging bays were supposed to be (according the Google Maps), I saw regular parking spaces. No charging bays in sight. My battery gauge was now less than half at seven bars. My range anxiety was now very high.
So I ditched my plans to drive around major landmarks and headed straight home. Now was a race against time. Would I get home before the battery went dead? I thought about my mobile phone battery, where the first three bars last for days, then the last few bars last for only hours.
Every traffic jam was now a crisis. I turned into a white van man, squeezing into every half inch I could. I flipped to the i-MiEV’s eco-drive mode as often as possible, saving as many watts per mile as I could. The heavy clouds which were threatening all day started to spit down on me.
I imagined running out of power on one of the main roads from London to Kent. How embarrassing. Causing a massive jam because the electric car had a flat battery. With mums on the school run tutting as they crawled past with little Jimmy and Sandy crying in the back seat. With French truck drivers cursing my name in flowery metaphors as they missed their ferry from Dover to Calais. With boy racers laughing as they sped past in turbo-charged, oil-guzzling sports cars.
But I kept going. Past churches and petrol stations. Over bridges and under railway tracks, overtaking buses, taxis and bicycles alike.
I finally reached the end of my road and could see my house. I looked down the battery gauge. And there it was. Five bars.
I don’t know if it was the euphoria of making it home with so much charge, or the fact that it stopped raining as suddenly as it began, but I drove my little i-MiEV a little bit more, all the way to a shopping park out of town near Croydon (5 miles; 8 km). And still the car ran. And still it got me home after another two hours on the road.
I parked up at last with two bars left. I had driven for around seven hours, and felt comfortable enough for another trip to the supermarket if I’d needed it. I plugged in the i-MiEV (which, by the way, I parked in next door’s driveway with the springy cable going through my kitchen window to the wall socket) to give it the charge it deserved. Range anxiety very low.
Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV will be for sale in Britain from January 2011 and is expected to cost 38,699 pounds ($58,310).