Americans’ Love for the Open Road and its Implication for EV Range
For over a century, Americans have been enamored with the idea of hitting the open road and embarking on a classic road trip. However, this same “live free or die” mentality has also made the US slower to adopt electric vehicles (EVs) until recently. For Americans, the open road is freedom, and the need to frequently stop and charge is seen as an intrusion.
The Nuanced Understanding of Range Limitations among American Consumers
Recent data on ranges for EVs sold in the US shows that Americans are demanding the longest ranges in the world, roughly a third more than the global average. The average EV range is on the cusp of exceeding 300 miles, a key psychological barrier. Americans spend more time in their cars than drivers in any other country. US road travel totals about 4 trillion miles per year, or roughly 14,500 miles per person, a third more than any other country. That makes range anxiety particularly acute for Americans, whose access to charging networks is still limited.
The Challenge of Figuring Out How Much Range is Really Needed
The problem is that a car rated for 250 miles of range doesn’t actually provide 250 miles of reliable range. The number drops when you turn on the heater or air conditioning or drive in the rain or against a strong wind. Sudden stops and frequent braking also eat up mileage. So does driving over 60 miles per hour, loading the car with passengers and luggage, or using a ski or bike rack. Even under perfect conditions, drivers can’t count on all of those rated miles. Just like with a gasoline tank, running a battery down to empty risks leaving you stranded, so it’s important to hold some miles in reserve.
The Problem with Relying on Rated Miles and the Importance of Holding Some Miles in Reserve
All of these factors together can easily reduce the usable range on a 250-mile battery down to 90 miles. On its face, 90 miles seems like it should be plenty to cover the average day for most drivers. But plenty of days aren’t average: the times you forget to plug your car in at night, or lose power, or unexpectedly need to run extra errands or check in with a friend on the other side of town.
Why Longer-Range Batteries Are Better Suited to Fast Charging
A little quirk of EV charging is that it’s typically much faster to add a few miles of charge to a big battery than to a smaller one. That’s because longer-range batteries are made with materials better suited to fast charging. Also, once a battery is half full, the charging rate begins to slow, so smaller batteries spend less time adding miles at their maximum charge rate. Drivers have to plan their pit stops accordingly.
The Myth that Supplies of Battery Minerals Can’t Grow Any Faster
Some argue that given the world’s stretched battery supply, carmakers should prioritize smaller EVs or plug-in hybrids. The rationale is that we should dole out what we’ve got to the largest number of vehicles possible. But this battery-maximizing strategy rests on the myth that supplies can’t grow any faster, a notion debunked by a century of mass manufacturing.
The Promise of Range-Expanding Battery Chemistries
Another way battery supplies are growing is with range-expanding battery chemistries that increase output using the same amount of key materials. For instance, a new generation of battery suppliers is adding increasing amounts of silicon to the anode, which is the part of the battery responsible for storing lithium electrons after a charge. This simple tweak can instantly boost the range by 20%.
The Environmental Cost of Giant EVs
Another argument against big batteries is that they add to the significant environmental cost of EV manufacturing. Giant EVs like the 400-mile-range Chevy Silverado pickup coming later this year have roughly the same lifetime environmental footprint as a gasoline-powered Honda Civic, according to some analyses. This is because the large battery requires more resources to manufacture and transport.
The Scale of Environmental Achievement Inherent to Long-Range EVs
However, the counterargument is that long-range EVs can make a much larger environmental impact over their lifetime compared to smaller EVs or gas-powered cars. This is because EVs emit no tailpipe emissions and the electricity used to power them can increasingly come from renewable sources.
The Importance of Accommodating Different Lifestyles and Budgets
It’s important to note that not every driver needs or wants a car with 300 miles of range. Some drivers have short commutes or access to charging at work or home, while others may have a tighter budget. It’s important for automakers to offer a range of options to accommodate different lifestyles and budgets.
The Positive Impact of Longer Ranges on EV Adoption in the US
Ultimately, longer ranges can have a positive impact on EV adoption in the US. Longer ranges can help address range anxiety and make EVs more practical for longer trips. As charging infrastructure continues to expand, longer ranges will become even more valuable. Additionally, as battery costs continue to fall, longer ranges can become more affordable and accessible to a wider range of consumers.