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Friday, March 23, 2012

Range Anxiety Isn't Only an EV Thing!

Range Anxiety: Range anxiety is the fear that a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination thus stranding the vehicle's occupants.

Range Anxiety, Gasoline Style!
I stopped by a local gas station the other day to get a cup of coffee (that's all gas stations are good for these days, right?) and when I was leaving I noticed a man walking with a gas can from the pump area towards the street. As he walked by me I asked him if he needed a ride, not knowing how far away his car was. He thanked me but said he was only a block away and didn't want to get my car dirty as he was in his work clothes. I asked him what happened and he said, "I wasn't paying attention and by the time I realized how low I was I couldn't make it to the station." So he continued down the block and no doubt filled up and continued on. I took a few pictures as he walked away, then got in my ActiveE and quietly drove off. Did he have range anxiety? Sounds like he did once he realized how low he was, and for good reason, soon after his car shut down right on the street, in traffic, and he failed to make his destination.

Drivers of electric cars are much more susceptible to experiencing range anxiety  for a couple reasons:

First, electric cars have a shorter range they can drive before they need to refuel as compared to their gasoline burning counterparts.

Secondly, gasoline stations are everywhere as they have had a hundred years to proliferate whereas there aren't very many electric vehicle public charging stations since modern electric vehicles are just beginning to become available to the public in the past couple years.

Thirdly, gas cars take about ten minutes to refuel, while electric vehicles typically take 4 to 8 hours. However level 3 DC quick charge stations are beginning to be deployed and a complete network of them could really be a game changer. These quick charge stations typically recharge an electric car to 80% capacity in under a half hour.

These three reasons conspire to cause many people to worry if they could live with an EV. Fearing that they will be driving with white knuckles, gripping the steering wheel tightly as they constantly look down at their state of charge meter. I'll admit, when you first get an EV, you do spend some time looking down, running calculations through your head and double checking your remaining range with how far you'll be driving that day. However it doesn't take long to get comfortable with the car's range and soon you find yourself looking less and less at the state of charge and estimated range meters. When the MINI-E program first launched the other MINI-E pioneers and myself all went through it and we conferred and offered tips to each other on how to minimize the chance of running out of juice. After a few months, we rarely talked about it because we all learned how to deal with it, how to maximize our range and how to plan ahead so we wouldn't put ourselves in a position where we could run out before we made our destination.

Now as the ActiveE program begins and a whole batch of new Electronauts are introduced to electric drive for the first time, I'm beginning to see the same questions as I did three years ago when the MINI-E program began. It's kinda cool being the 'elder statesman' now, one person even called me "Sensei" when he asked me a question! Of all the topics about living with an EV, dealing with the 100 mile range is usually the most discussed, and the one that people that don't have much EV experience think they will have the most difficulty with. However once they have their car, and live with it for a few months, the overwhelming majority of people come to terms with the range, get used to it, and stop worrying about it. That's when they really begin to appreciate how great these electric cars really are. 


  1. Tom/Sensei,

    Before we moved to MA, we were living in State College, PA and my daily commute was only 10 round trip miles. I was using my VW Beetle EV conversion every day to get to work. It only had 25 mile practical range, but it worked for short trips. Anyway, as you can imagine I had severe range anxiety whenever I tried to use it for other short trips where I wasn't sure of which hills I might hit. I did run out once after moving to MA after underestimating the drop in range from cold weather and pleaded at a tennis club to allow me to charge from their 110V outlet (and that it wouldn't harm anything). Anyway, bottom line is that 85-100 mile range in my ActiveE feels like total freedom in comparison! Keep up the great work sharing your experiences!


    1. Thanks Paul, love the VW conversion! While expensive, it would be cool to get you about 20kWh of lithium ion batteries for it. You would at least have about a 50-60mile range then.

  2. I remember what to wrote one on you miniE blog about this "range anxiety lives in the minds of people that have never owned an electric car". You were stressing the point that people with no EV experience complair about the short range of electric cars more than the people who actually drive them and I fount that very interesting. Please keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks for the comment. I'd really appreciate if you could post a name when you comment though if you don't mind. It's nice when I recognize people that comment every now and then.

  3. I remember as a kid my parents having range anxiety when we'd drive into the boonies and weren't sure when we would next the next gas station. And back then my dad's F150 probably was lucky to get 8 or 10 MPG. If we took away all the gas stations tomorrow and replaced them with EVSE stations, the RA would tip to the gas-guzzlers. I'm glad to know that the RA is a temporary condition, Tom. Thanks for all your guidance.

  4. Our first weekend with the ActiveE - we headed for a pick your own produce farm about 90 miles R/T and went for it. A great way to kill any range anxiety. [Ended up back home with 25% battery left - drafting a big truck works wonders].

  5. Great post! The ActiveE community is lucky to have you. Personally, I found passenger RA to be more pronounced than driver RA, and it usually takes a bit of persuasion to convince your passengers that everything will work out. This reminds me a bit of the early days of air travel when fear of flying was more common, and the stewardesses played an important role in dissuading fears by projecting friendly confidence at all times.