Will ‘range anxiety’ limit the electric car?

April 26, 2010

Will consumers be buying hybrid-electric cars like today’s Toyota Prius and Ford Escape for the next few decades or are the hybrids just a milestone on the road to all-electric vehicles?

The answer to that question may come down to two words: Range anxiety — the fear that when an all-electric car’s battery runs out, the driver will find him or herself stranded on a roadside with no way of charging up.

Auto and battery executives at a green-tech conference held in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Lux Research were divided on whether hybrids will be a long-term fixture of the automotive landscape or would quickly give way to all-electric cars like the forthcoming Nissan Leaf.

“Hybrid vehicles now are a transition vehicle,” argued Michael Austin, vice president of BYD America, a unit of China’s No. 3 car battery maker.

While he allowed that “range anxiety is a key point,” he suggested that allowing drivers to manually control whether hybrid electric vehicles use their electric motor or gasoline-fueled combustion engine would convince drivers over time that a limited all-electric range is practical for most driving conditions.

Bill Reinert, national manager of advanced technology at Toyota’s U.S. arm, disagreed, arguing that hybrids — like his company’s Prius — are here to stay.

“The range anxiety will limit the ability of the all electric car to be used in certain specific applications, even if the battery costs come down,” Reinert said.

The question of how to charge all-electric vehicles quickly — so that the experience can be similar to that of filling a gas tank at a service station — is one that’s attracted the interest of the auto and energy industries. General Electric and Nissan on Monday said they were teaming up for three years to work on charging station technologies.

They may have time. Interest in hybrids and electric vehicles spiked when gasoline hit record highs above $4 in the summer of 2008. Gas prices stood at $2.85 per gallon across the United States as of Sunday, according to the latest Lundberg survey, and the surge of consumer enthusiasm for hybrids has also eased.

“We don’t see a huge behavioral shift right now at $3 a gallon,” Reinert said. “When gasoline went up to $4 people quite driving the SUVs but when it came back down they quit buying the Priuses  at a much faster rate. And we see a long, stable gasoline price for quite a long time.”


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While I’m a big champion of pure EV’s, there’s a related factor besides the range, I think, one I believe is a legitimate one: time.

If you’re on the highway in a regular gasoline-powered car and run out of gas, even if you’re in the countryside, you likely can get to a station, and when you get there, you can get someone to take you to your car with a can of gas, fuel up, and be on your way. But with a purely electric car — what? There will be a service vehicle with a fast charger on it? How long will that take? And if you have to stop as soon as possible to recharge, you’ll have to wait. Of course, the recharge time is an issue anyway, but I would imagine it magnifies — well, increases some, let’s say — range anxiety.

I’m not in the market for a vehicle I don’t own so much as a bicycle, in fact), but if I were, pure EV’s would be my first choice, with hybrids running second. I suppose both will be around awhile, as I don’t see the hybrid disappearing in the near term Not that I have any expertise to say that, mind you!

Posted by MekhongKurt | Report as abusive

Millions upon millions of potential customers live in apartments..
sooo where do they plug in?
maybe this has something to do with the drop in sales.
You thimk? do thes masterminds that live in multi-million dolar homes Even think?
give me a break.
Scrach that, no chance.

Posted by charlesy | Report as abusive

The trouble with the ‘filling’ problem isn’t time, it’s efficiency. It’s a simple result of thermodynamics that the faster you charge a battery, the more energy you waste doing it. GE and Nissan can work for 3 years or 300, but physics is a hard thing to get around.

There is, however, a very easy way to avoid the refiling inefficiency and the range anxiety: spare batteries that are easy to change.

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive

I currently have a hybrid, but love the thought of an EV. Unfortunately, I live in a rural area and the nearest city of any size is 50 miles away(100 mile round trip). If the Costco there had a charging station it would make the trip feasible.

Posted by tba26 | Report as abusive

A consumer society sounds bad enough. A consumer society driven by anxiety is awful, but that’s the way those on the supply side make the biggest killing, selling any old junk.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

the easy solution is to make the batteries replaceable at a station and you pay what it would cost to recharge, just like replacing a battery now in a regular car. nissan has been looking at this approach. all gas stations will carry these batteries where they add a markup to cost of recharging.

Posted by philly888us | Report as abusive

With replacement batteries come other problems. For example: what is a lifetime of a battery? How many times you can recharge a battery before you have to throw it away or recycle? Is it going to be recyclable or you would have to dispose it? If you have to dispose it, then where and how and what to do with this waste? Are the batteries going to be interchangeable for all vehicles – there should be a standard. And list is going on and on….

Posted by Bob1962 | Report as abusive

back in the day (1970) i was made aware of a hybrid set up where the car would be powered by an electric motor which received it’s electrons from a collective of batteries which were charged by a generator that was powered by a very small internal combustion engine. thereby the gas if powered by gas that is was about 1100 miles per gallon. this configuration is basically the same as the Chevy Volt setup. wow 40 years and only one car company has finally built one that does away with ‘range anxiety’. I have always been for variety in power sources. Grandma always warned me about putting all my eggs in one basket. I want a solar powered car with a battery back up for night time.

Posted by VegasJack | Report as abusive

The Volt and other PHEVs are the future of the automobile. They also represent in incremental change over today’s hybrids, something less radical and ultimately more practical. The problem? Who wants to pay close to $40K for a Volt with gas hovering around $3/gal? We need a <$30K car that has the same capabilities, or we need to hike taxes on gasoline (political suicide for whoever dares).

Posted by Fishrl | Report as abusive

so you would rather pay $10 a gallon for gas and keep things the way they are. china and india will be buying cars and using gasoline if nothing changes, a few more million gasoline cars will push gas prices up more. that’s ok because I will be raking it in buying oil companies that are now cheap because of the gulf oil spill.

Posted by philly888us | Report as abusive

Honda makes a portable electric generator. If I had an electric it would stay in my trunk. For long trips it would be desirable to include a trailer hitch on all electric cars. Just attach your trailer. Connect the Plug and pull the chord. You have 20 hp worth of extra charge along the road. The range extender engine need not be built into the vehicle. Hertz can rent you a power trailer whenever you plan to take a long trip.

Posted by wgbrand | Report as abusive

The president needs to give the order to install charging plugs in all hotel, apartment houses and public parking lots. Use the army to make the installations. Setting up the infrastructure will do more to damage the Arabs than a hundred tanks! Build a power meter into every car to pay for electricity drawn from public plugs.

Posted by wgbrand | Report as abusive

[…] operation, and lack of fossil fuel emissions, many people are still apprehensive about “range anxiety” when the batteries start running low. Thankfully, we have a number of options on the table […]

Posted by Ford Product Development VP Says Diesels Won&#8217;t Win Over American Buyers | Oo! News | Report as abusive