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MOTOR MOUTH: Three things novice EV shoppers need to know; a beginner’s guide to the lies, damn lies and some surprising statistics

Electric vehicle shoppers have lots to consider.
Electric vehicle shoppers have lots to consider.

DAVID BOOTH

With so much hype surrounding electric cars, it can be hard for the first-time EV buyer to distinguish myth from reality regarding range anxiety. Is there really a reason to be anxious about the range of your next zero-emissions car, or is range anxiety just the Boo Radley — I’ve always wanted to slide a To Kill a Mockingbird reference into a column — of electrification, perpetuated by recalcitrant piston heads desperate to hold on to their spark plugs for as long as possible? It’s tough to know where to turn to for advice, the discussion as polemic as modern-day politics.

So, what’s real about range anxiety, and what isn’t? Here is Motor Mouth’s basic guide to this contentious issue. The first conclusion may surprise you, namely that:

There’s no such thing as range anxiety …

… in the city. Oh, if you’re driving a particularly low-range porker like Volkswagen’s e-Golf and just happen to live in Flin Flon — cold weather would greatly reduce its already paltry 198-kilometre range — you might have a few anxious moments. But, for the most part, it’s almost impossible to run out of electricity driving around town in a modern electric vehicle. Yes, even in a city as range-y (sorry, it was too obvious to resist) as Toronto.

The reasons are manifold, the first being that electric vehicles are particularly well suited to urban driving. Thanks to the low-speed efficiency of electric motors and the wonders of brake regeneration, most current EVs hit their rated range mileages easily: If your car’s little digital readout says you have 300 kilometres of free electrons in the “tank,” chances are it will eke out every single one of them.

More importantly, most people simply don’t drive as far as they think they do. EV proponents love trotting out the fact that the average commute is something less than 60 kilometres, and they’re right. Most daily commutes are much shorter. Getting stuck in 401 or Golden Gate traffic might make you think your drive to work is endless, but the truth is, with many EVs on the market now boasting ranges of 300 or more kilometres, the one cold, hard, unassailable truth to the range anxiety question, it is that you’re unlikely to run out of lithium ions driving around the city.

Which is a good thing because …

The convenience of plugging in your car at home is definitely situational

Simply put, if you’re a bucks-up Audi e-tron or Jaguar I-Pace owner, then you probably have a multi-car garage with a built-in wall charger. Replenishing your EV’s spent electrons is as simple as popping out of the driver’s seat, reaching for your conveniently placed SAE J1772 plug, and your car will be all juiced up come the morning. What could possibly be more convenient? On the other hand, for those who live without house or apartment parking, street charging is currently pretty much non-existent, and even when (if?) it becomes more common, it will most definitely test your resolve.

Most consumers will find their situations somewhere between those extremes, facing a personal choice as to how committed they are to zero-emission motoring. Personally, I find it a lot easier to gas up at the Esso around the corner once a week than fiddle with electric cars parked in my driveway. Others, in the same situation, might find the opposite.

As for heavy-duty highway use, well, I just spent a week prowling SoCal’s busiest highway and the one thing that stood out — besides the fact that American exceptionalism is alive and well on California roads — is that …

You really don’t see many Teslas in the fast lane

In fact, I didn’t see a single one. Considering how many Model 3s there are on the roads in and around Los Angeles, it was quite startling, especially given Tesla’s reputation for Ludicrous speed. Oh, there might have been a few crawling along in the left-hand lane on LA’s incredibly congested 405, but out in the no man’s land that is California’s famed 101 — where anything less than 80 miles per hour in the fast lane earns you a bazooka up the butt — all the Teslas, every single one of ’em, was way over to the right.

I suppose you could posit that all Tesla owners are all just so safety conscious that they rigorously adhere to the speed limit. But the inconvenient truth of electric motoring is that the flip side of a BEV’s superlative efficiency in an urban environment is that they — all BEVs, not just Teslas — are incredibly profligate with their electrons on the highway. Indeed, an overabundance of curiosity had me take a Nissan Leaf Plus tester out to Ontario’s almost-empty-off-hours Hwy. 407 and measure its electricity consumption at a number of different speeds. This is what I found:

At a perfectly legal 100 km/h, the Leaf used about 20 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometres (the EV equivalent of L/100 km). With 62 kWh of lithium-ion on board, that works out to range of about 310 klicks. That’s less than the 349 km Nissan rates the Leaf SL Plus, but hardly worth mentioning.

Ratchet the speed up to 130 km/h, however, and things go to hell in a hand-basket. Nissan’s consumption metre actually doesn’t go high enough to measure the number of free electrons the Leaf consumes trying to hold a steady buck-thirty, but I do know that I was way over its 45 kWh/100-kilometre maximum the entire time. Way over.

In actual range, the Leaf managed but 165 kilometres (yes, I drove it until the battery was almost depleted). That’s less than half its rated range and much, much less than the range of any gasoline-fuelled vehicle on the market today. It also means that you’d be looking for a charging point after just an hour of freewaying. Oh, and by the way, for those about to scream foul at my supposedly outrageous speeding, please note that I was passed by almost everything on the road, one of only two cars I passed being — you guessed it — a Tesla Model 3.

Nor does said Tesla’s vaunted range offer much salvation. Yes, Tesla boasts its Model S can drive more than 500 kilometres on a single charge, but they won’t manage anything like that at typical Canadian highway speeds. (And for all the Tesla owners already penning their protestations, please read the Tesla Model S and Porsche Taycan comparison in this month’s Car and Driver for a discussion of claimed range. Hint: the Model S only got 10 more miles driving at 75 mph despite Tesla claiming 134 miles more). And that’s without factoring in our wintry weather. Throw in some blustery –20°C mercury, and said realistic range will drop even farther.

So, for all those contemplating buying their first electric vehicle, consider this: If most of your driving is local and you have a convenient home charging station, or if you’ve the patience of Job and don’t mind turtling down the highway, stopping for 30 minutes whenever you do need more electrons, then by all means, an EV is perfect for you. On the other hand, if you’re a true road warrior, a significant portion of your annual mileage spent banging out big klicks at equally big speeds, then you might want to look to something more traditional.

Oh, and enjoy passing all those turtling Teslas.

Author’s note: Driving will start this spring a serious of tests where we accurately measure range rather than simply relying on manufacturer’s claims. We will conduct these tests at various speeds and will be recording their absolute range for each as well as comparing their long-term range versus manufacturer’s claims. Stay tuned!

Copyright PostMedia Network, 2020

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