Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Obsession with Electric Vehicle Range and the Value of Range Extenders...

Too much, in my opinion, is made on electric vehicle range.  It is true that too little range can significantly hamstring an electric vehicle from its proper utility.  But what I also suggest is true is that too much electric range is overkill, and that the best option is to purchase a range extended vehicle.

Here is why:

Let's look at the upcoming Chevy Bolt.  It is being lauded as the first longer range BEV that will be available to the masses.  That is true, and I am sure many people are going to buy it.  But how much better, really, is a 200 mile electric vehicle than say a 50-100 mile electric vehicle with a range extender?  I opine that it really isn't better at all, for 'most' people (doesn't mean
all).  Somehow, over a period of 4 years, I managed to put 76,000 miles on my Chevy Volt, with only 4,000 of those miles being powered by gas.    In fact, I've actually gone back and looked at how a 200 mile electric Bolt, with no gas generator would have worked out for me.  I've concluded that many of the trips I took in my Volt which required me to burn gas, would have still required more range for me to comfortably drive with the Bolt.  That means that the Bolt would have stayed in the garage, and I would have driven my wife's CRV. 

So in reality I would have probably burned MORE gas with a 200 mile BEV and traveled fewer all electric miles than I would have with my 35 EPA estimated electric range Volt simply because 200 miles of range still isn't good enough to do away with a gas consuming vehicle.

I see this problem often with Leaf owners... 

Leaf owners are great folks, but many of them would tell me, quite condescendingly, that the Volt was  not a real electric car.  The problem with that statement is they'd say this at about the same time as they pull into work with their spouses gas burning car 'because they had to run extended errands and the range of the Leaf wasn't sufficient', or the 'charging infrastructure at their destination was unreliable or unavailable'. They would say this as they pile into the family mini van to drive to the beach.  For me, the Volt is every bit of an electric car as the Leaf as long as the owner of the Leaf has to rely on a second vehicle to travel places.  This was never an issue for me with the Volt.

I think the real issue is perception.  Many early adopters just can't stand the fact that they aren't decoupled from gasoline.  It just burns them up inside (excuse the pun).  And so they purchase an electric vehicle, which ends up not meeting all their needs, and then they think more range is going to solve  the problem.  It may for some, but not for many.

There will come a time where battery tech is so cheap and the energy density is so high that this argument no longer makes sense.  But we are a good bit away from that.  So I would appreciate even more effort in getting more electric vehicles in the market in the 50-100 mile range with COMPETANT gasoline powered range extenders rather than focusing on super large format BEV vehicles.  If this happens, electric vehicles will become more and more widely accepted as an option and gain a lot of market share.   That's what we want, right?


6 comments:

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  2. The irrationality is similar to that in which people become angry when overhearing a cellphone conversation on a plane or train but don't when you talk to the person beside you at the same volume. People who seem otherwise very "modern" are really just as emotional and image-driven as anyone hundreds of years ago. You are so right about the Volt. Some of us have exactly the right profile to make it far more efficient (and less gasoline dependent!) than an all-electric car.

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  3. I drive a Leaf, and I think the Volt is a vastly superior vehicle in terms of real world practicality. I also think it is an excellent stepping stone towards a battery only EV (BEV) with acceptable range and charging time. My long term objection to gasoline powered range extenders is not a green one in the environmental sense, but a green one in the dollars sense.

    One point most people don't get about BEVs the fact that they have a very simple drivetrain. The direct injection gas engine that the Volt uses to extend range is a complicated masterpiece of engineering compared to its electric motors. All of those additional parts and systems also represent additional failure points and maintenance requirements. They represent a virtual annuity for mechanics down the road. A BEV is virtually maintenance free. Just have to replace the battery approximately every 10 years, with a better and cheaper battery.

    Today, I think the Volt's range extender is a far better alternative than a BEV for most people. But, in the long run BEVs will prove to be superior vehicles, it is just going to take a while to get there.

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  4. Mike,

    In theory, more complexity equals more problems. In practice, "How many more problems?" is the question. My reading about the Volt suggests it's pretty reliable. I suppose now I'll have to go google the reliability numbers of the Volt against its competitors to back up that claim.

    I completely agree EREV's are a bridge technology for the next 5 years. That'll work for me.

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