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There are two primary takeaways from a recent study of electric-vehicle driving habits in Germany. One: an electric vehicle with 25 percent of its battery charge left creates the same reaction in drivers as the fuel needle on "E" in a gas-powered car. Two: familiarity breeds comfort.

The study, conducted by Germany's Technische Universität Chemnitz and funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, put some real numbers on the concept of "range anxiety." According to Green Car Congress, that anxiety truly kicks in when there's less than a quarter of the driving range left on an EV's battery and the study found that a typical car's range is "shortened" by a 20 to 25 percent "psychological safety buffer." If we take the popular Nissan Leaf as an example, the official 84-mile single-charge range is really closer to 63 miles in the head of the driver.

The longer the driver spent in the EV, the shorter his mental buffer became.

The study was culled from data involving just 79 drivers who tooled around Berlin in Mini E EVs for about six months, collectively putting a quarter-million miles on the electric vehicles. The good news is that the longer the driver spent using the EV, the shorter his mental buffer became, which meant he could comfortably get more miles from the car. So, to all you EV advocates out there, know that once drivers spend some time with an EV, they get more and more used to what the car can do. It's a lesson we've learned before. Just remember that to new EV drivers, the single-charge range is a lot smaller than the one old-timers see.


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  • 22 Comments
      • 1 Year Ago
      While I agree the volt and other hybrids have the benefit of the gasoline engine to alleviate the range anxiety, I will never go back to an ICE again. The need for maintenance of a gasoline engine still exists and all the ramifications of oil changes, tuning, spark plugs, emissions and other things related to keep it running optimally. I have had the LEAF for 2.5 years and have taken it to the dealer twice in 37,000 miles (for two battery checks). I have opened the hood may be 3 or 4 times so I have forgotten what it looks like up front. Reliability, simplicity and efficiency cannot be beat. I average less than 2c/mile for my driving cost. With no other maintenance, the only other cost is insurance. I have not had to touch brakes or tires yet. Have to replenish wind shield fluids once in a while and may have to check some mechanical components every 20k or 30k miles. Admittedly, one has to have a second car for longer trips. I am hoping that the new Tesla with 200 miles or more of range at a reasonable price will be the natural step up from the LEAF. I have a "meter" that I plug into the OBD port which tells me the exact state of charge, so there is no range anxiety. The estimated miles is usually not worth much, but the state of charge is. I know when I go to low battery warning state and when I will go into turtle mode. Never run out of charge yet even though I have pushed it to the limits.
      Mart
      • 1 Year Ago
      The TEPCO Paradox, proven again.
      Ryan
      • 1 Year Ago
      It is better for your batteries to not run them all the way down. And I don't know if the manufactures have built in the 20% or 30% buffer so that the life of the battery is improved.
        Aaron
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Ryan
        They do. The buffer is closer to 10%. While many EVs won't charge to 100% (also for longevity reasons), some will (Model S, LEAF) but only if you ask for it.
      Rotation
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't understand these study results at all. First of all, an EV with the range on HALF FULL creates a similar level of concern to the general public as a gas car near E. I watched a sales manager at the BMW dealer who had an i3 on loan insist they have to charge it immediately because it had only 38 miles of range remaining. This instead of doing more 2-mile test loops. I told the guy who said that I left for the dealership to take this test drive with less than that remaining on my LEAF range! And it's a 10 mile trip each way! Now, as to leaving the safety buffer, I agree. I tell people that all the current EVs (other than the Teslas and RAV4 EV) are really only good for a trip of a hair over 60 miles. No matter what the claims are. Most people just really don't feel comfortable driving down to the end of the range. I drove a (almost all highway) trip of a bit over 70 miles on my LEAF this weekend and it had only (predicted) 4 miles to spare. And I don't really know how much it had to spare because when it gets below 8 miles remaining it stops showing the remaining range and just flashes "---". And the car goes nuts, you get two warnings about low range remaining on the instrument cluster and center stack. I'll tell everyone here, again. Any of the current crop of EVs will only take you a bit over 60 miles reliably. This includes the LEAF, Focus Electric, Spark EV, 500e. The Smart ED and Mitsubishi i-MiEV are even shorter. And it'll include the BMW i3 soon too.
      John
      • 1 Year Ago
      That's the beauty of my Volt- I can use the whole 40 mile range without worrying about running out of juice. The level of charge is never even a factor when I go to use the car. With the HOLD feature I can choose to use gas or electric which greatly extends the range of electric-only when I want it. For instance, today I had a doctor appointment in a city 45 miles from my house. I drove in EV mode to the freeway (about 5 miles) and then switched to the ICE on the highway where the gas engine is completely transparent- you can't feel or hear it. Once I arrived at the off ramp of my destination, I switched back to EV mode for the city portion to the doctor's office. Reversed that on the way home and when I got within 20 miles of home, I switched back to EV for the rest of the drive. Also, I was able to do the drive in the carpool lane here in SoCal which is an added bonus. I've owned dozens of cars (mainly Japanese and German) in my 54 years, but after 9 months of Volt ownership I still look forward to getting in this car and driving it. I'm not a tree hugger by any means, but I love, LOVE my Volt!!
      paulwesterberg
      • 1 Year Ago
      Most electric vehicles currently on the market hold less energy than a gallon of gas when they are fully charged. When you have 25% of your battery remaining that means you have less than 15-25 miles max which is very similar to a gas vehicle with gas tank needle on empty. I have only driven my leaf below 20 miles remaining a handful of times and it took me 6 months before I tested its complete range - 84 miles in cool fall weather left the GOM with dashes and the onboard computer frantically urging me to drive to the nearest charging station.
      Jim McL
      • 1 Year Ago
      After 8 months in my Mini E, I regularly arrived home from work at 0%. No sweat. I live much closer to work now and usually get home at 80% in my Think.
      winc06
      • 1 Year Ago
      It seems rational to me to make such a judgment about range. Everything I have read is that the range on an EV varies much more with driving conditions than with an internal combustion engine. So your safety margin should be a bit more. The comparison is in error when it talks about fraction of maximum range. Most cars have about 2.5 gallons when the red light pops on. Assuming a relatively economical car that gives you another 100 miles or so before the tank is dry, more than the entire range of an EV. No one drives around with the reserve light on. So actually EV drivers are much more optimistic than ICE drivers already. Don't criticize them stupidly.
        Aaron
        • 1 Year Ago
        @winc06
        It's not that the range varies so much more. It's that EVs hold a LOT less potential energy than a tank full of gas. For example, the 16kWh battery in my Mitsubishi i-MiEV is about the same potential energy as 1/2 of a gallon of gas. Think about that. My car can travel 62 (EPA rated) miles on a full charge (although I can squeeze up to 85 miles in city driving). As an EV driver, that's always in the back of my mind if I'm traveling farther than usual. When I'm traveling on my usual route, range isn't even in my mind. I don't even glance at the power usage meter much. Maybe I'm a rarity, but I also don't even display my "range remaining" meter, relying only on the non-granular full/empty tank meter. Keeps me from stressing about range remaining.
      itsme38269
      • 1 Year Ago
      I drove my Mini E over 14 miles after the range indicator said "----," and pretty much every other owner I talked to used to make a game out of seeing how far they can go below zero, so these people really need to get over it.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      Experience changes the psychology of the use of a vehicle over time. How people think about range is NOT how they are going to think about it in the future. Over 4 years of riding an electric bicycle, i have instinctively learned how to manage a limited amount of battery. During the first few months, i would run my battery down to low voltage cutoff and have to pedal the bike home ( not fun! ) That hasn't happened in years, now. When people went from the horse and buggy & bicycle to the automobile, they had a lot of learning to do. For a few decades, nobody knew that the oil needed to be changed. There was a term for when your engine blew up at 10,000-15,000 miles because you didn't do this. We will eventually, collectively learn what EVs are best at. Just as with hypermiling my gasoline car, the trick is typically going lower speeds. I take a 50mph side road over a 70mph highway very often.. the difference is 4-5mpg on the car that i drive. The difference in a large car is much greater than that.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Yeah, but here is the thing . . . you could pedal your way home when you got it wrong. With an EV, you have to call for an expensive flatbed towing. Hence, with the EV, people will always want some sort of back-up plan . . . whether it be a gas range-extender, a nearby public charging station, or keeping 20% of the battery in reserve. This is why I think EVs need to move up to a 120 mile range or so. 85 miles is enough for most daily driving. But people do want a little bit of a buffer so they don't sweat it. These 85 mile range EVs have been fine for the early-adopter pioneers. But if they want to grow the EV market, they are going to have to increase the range a bit. And the fast-charger standards war is a disgrace. They need to resolve that and get more fast-chargers deployed. They can do wonders for people worried about range.
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Well you can put me on Team SAE-Combo because I think the standard backed by GM, Chrysler, Ford, BMW, VW, and Daimler will win . . . . but who cares what I think? The fact that there is a fight between different competing standards means that we have all lost. I wish there was someone who could just end this war. It is a stalemate right now. Chademo currently has more cars & chargers but SAE-Combo has more backers (and more important backers).
          paulwesterberg
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          @Rotation: Tesla has committed to building the Supercharger system in sparsely populated areas to enable interstate travel. Nissan wont make the same commitment. BMW wont. Sure they may offer charging at dealerships but that is nowhere near as convenient. Business owners looking to draw electric vehicle will stick with low cost level 2 chargers that can charge any vehicle but are too slow for reasonable long distance travel. http://insideevs.com/nissan-now-offering-15000-towards-chademo-charger-installs-in-us/ The price for a CHAdeMO unit is the US is $40,000. Nissan’s $15,000 incentive, combined with the federal’s government $12,000 credit, bring the net cost to site host down to $13,000. At that price, one would think CHAdeMO units will soon be popping up everywhere, but Nissan limits the incentive to only in areas it deems worthy for installs. The problem with Nissan's piecemeal approach is that 1 charger can only serve 1 vehicle at a time which means it could easily be occupied when you get there. The small number of vehicles on the road means it is more difficult to monetize a charger in order to recoup installation costs - especially in rural areas. Tesla's system with a bank of conveniently located chargers is more likely to have spare capacity.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          A standards war breeds true competition. SAE may indeed win... but fierce competition from Chademo may encourage SAE CCS chargers to be installed faster than if they had no competition. SAE chargers can benefit from this competition, which also brings real market data. Competition from Tesla will inform SAE charger installers to think closely about planning. Instead of dumping them at dealerships and urban locations... but rather set up banks of 5 or 6 in better remote locations to enable long distance travel. Also, to encourage sleeker form factors too
          paulwesterberg
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Unfortunately most of the public charging points are level 2. Those chargers are great if you just want a bit of juice or if you are willing/planning on killing some time by having a meal, shopping or watching a show. Tesla is the only automaker seriously enabling long distance electric travel. CHAdeMO has a decent number of chargers and the best urban coverage, but it requires manufacturers to put and extra bulky port on a car(increasing costs),and it is only supported by Japanese manufacturers(nissan) so it is doomed to failure. Now that there are a lot of electrics being sold businesses will be reluctant to continue investing in CHAdeMO chargers that can only serve a fraction of the market. SAE Combo is a better solution from a cost and manufacturer acceptance standpoint, but there are no chargers. Tesla's connector is the most elegant, but I can't see established manufacturers willing to pay the license fees to Tesla in perpetuity or allowing their customers to finance the Supercharger network. I think that the current situation is so screwed up that Tesla will have the only pure electric vehicle capable of long distance travel for the next 5-10 years. Other manufacturers might be able to make an EV with a large battery, but there wont be enough chargers(outside of the west coast) to truly enable long distance driving. And other manufacturers will be much more reluctant to build the necessary infrastructure. Tesla wins. Others will compete against each other with commuter BEVs and plug-in hybrids.
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          paul: There was 1 SAE Combo charger in the US two months ago, 4 two weeks ago and 6 today. Give it some time, there were less than 20 CHAdeMO chargers in the US 18 months ago. Honestly, I think the biggest problem is that most EVs have no DC charge support at all. Only some LEAFs and some Spark EVs. And soon some BMW i3s (all BMW i3s for the first 2 months). There's literally no standard that can help those people out. I don't get your Tesla wins argument. There are more non-Supercharger DCFCs than superchargers and that doesn't look like it's going to reverse soon. Non-manufacturer companies will jump into the DCFC market, as they already have with CHAdeMO. The biggest reason you won't see long distance travel in non-Teslas is just because no one wants to stop every 50 minutes for 20 minutes. Not on a long trip. That suppresses demand for the DCFCs and thus reduces the number that companies will install in sparsely populated areas.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          --"I don't get your Tesla wins argument. There are more non-Supercharger DCFCs than superchargers and that doesn't look like it's going to reverse soon. " As of February 11th 2014 the CHAdeMO web site states that there are now 554 DC Quick Chargers installed in the US. Each station is 1 charger. Tesla has 77 Superchargers in the US, but typically has 4 - 6 stalls at each station... so that is 385EVs that can charge at once. But wait, there is more... since Chademo is 50KW and Tesla SCs are 120KW... each Tesla can rotate out of the stall twice as fast... So, in a given hour, Tesla can enable 2.4 times more EV miles... about the equivalent of 924 Chademo stations. ------------------------- Bottom line... it is about the terminology... Chademo considers 1 charger to be 1 station... and Tesla has a completely different idea about station. ... in conclusion, Tesla does win.
          Aaron
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Agreed on all points. Fortunately, new public charging points are popping up all the time. Nissan is rumored to be working on a LEAF with 150 miles range. That will be a game changer. We currently have 3 fast-charging standards in the US: CHAdeMO, Tesla, and CCS. It amazes me that we can't agree on a standard.
          jsongster
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Depending on how the sales of the LEAF and the new Soul go... and the e-NV200... CHAdeMO could be the only other charger besides Tesla. In other words, The war may not even be a war if 50% of the cars sold use CHAdeMO and 49% use superchargers and 1% use CCS... well... maybe CCS will fade away. It really offers no value other than one opening in the vehicle for charging... and that really doesn't matter to most buyers. The only time I care about the door on an ICE car is when entering a fueling station... old sports cars used to have two fillers... for twin tanks.... no biggie really. The CCS tech isn't significantly better.
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