I’m going to miss “range anxiety”

Mitsubishi i-MiEV Front.fw

A Blog by Ron Groves, Plug’n Drive’s Manager of Education and Outreach

One of the thrills of being an early adopter is the adventure of  pioneering something new!

Five years ago, the first electric and plug-in hybrid cars came to the market in Canada from General Motors, Mitsubishi and Nissan. These early EVs led the way in advanced battery technology, all-new power electronics, standardised plug connectors and many other advances that harnessed electricity as a transportation fuel.

Some would argue that these new EVs were odd looking, others couldn’t understand the benefit of “re-fuelling” at home. But most could identify the difference between electric range and gas range. 100 to 150 kms of electric range vs. 600 kms on a tank of Dino- juice was too big a gap for most drivers to get their head around.

In those early days, our family had the use of an all electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV‎ with an average range of about 120 kms. When I told my friends about the wonder of driving without fossil fuel they thought that was a great idea. But when I mentioned the i-MiEV’s range they smiled politely and quietly scratched their heads in bemusement as to how useful I was going to find such a vehicle.

Admittedly, the spunky i-MiEV my wife named ‘Sparky’ took some getting used to, but with careful planning, travelling around Toronto was pretty easy. Then winter hit and that is when the term “range anxiety” was probably first coined. The smallish 16 kWh battery lost 1/3 of its range in the cold and that is without the heater on.

It was then that the pioneering spirit of early adopters kicked-in so we could get where we were going. We learned to preheat the car’s interior when connected to the grid using the Dick Tracy remote on the key chain. Bum warmers were mandatory and allowed for warm backside, frozen nose driving using the defroster sparingly to see out the windshield. ‎Most EVs in the day had an Eco Mode that cut back power for greater range at the cost of some performance. I hated it! I preferred the max regenerative Braking Mode that fed precious electrons back into the battery every time I braked or went downhill.

All EVs have some form of driving coach built into the dash to help the driver learn habits that saved energy. Our eyes never strayed from the i-MiEV’s bright red needle that swung from “power” to “charge” as you drove. That little ‘Sparky’ had the best energy coach I ever drove.  Today I can get into any EV and easily hit or exceed the max range of the battery because of the stingy energy habits I learned driving with ‘Sparky’.

Which brings me to today and the EVs our family drives now. The Nissan LEAF with a 30 kWh battery and almost 200 kms of range, the BMW i3 with a 33 kWh battery and an easy 200 kms of range.‎ As the Monty python skit goes, “Luxury!”. We don’t give range hardly a thought. These EVs accommodate 90% of our family’s driving needs.

I’m going to share with you a story from this past weekend. My wife and I accepted an invite to a friend’s cottage for the day; a 90 minute drive away. This would be all highway, hot summer driving with AC on. And we were coming back the same day. There are no DC Quick chargers on our route (by next year there will be 200 across Ontario). We would be able to plug-in at the cottage and charge at 110 volts. This would recover about 8 kms per hour. We were there for eight hours. So while we swam, ate, boated, sunbathed and generally did cottage stuff, ‘Fritz’ (the electric i3) noshed away on electrons from our friends cottage. That evening we unplugged, set the cruise for 110, and silently, electrically, wooshed our way home. “Range anxiety”? Hah! It’s banished from the lexicon as new and better technology takes centre stage.

You will recall I said that these latest EVs can handle 90% of my family’s driving needs. The last 10% is not going to come from the vehicle but from the electric refuelling infrastructure being installed across Ontario (and Canada) as we speak. Able to recharge an EV battery in 30 minutes or less, these stations will give EVs the same range capability as gas cars.

So it looks like my adventurous EV pioneering days are over. Sadly, I will have to find another outlet that challenges me to push barriers and seek new truths because driving an EV and getting to my destination worry free has become as easy as getting the groceries, as simple as driving downtown, as convenient as talking on the phone, as comfortable as driving to Grandma’s…. ah, you get the idea. Fill in your own example…

BMW i3 Front.fw