Range Confidence: Charge Fast, Drive Far, with your Electric Car

By David Herron

For electric vehicles to be widely adopted great fast charging support is required. We buy cars to travel around, and none of us want to feel limited as to where we can drive.

To the extent that folks are concerned about electric vehicle range - range anxiety - a combination of enough range and fast charging is what gets folks past the buying hurdle and ready to buy an electric car.

Fortunately the days where affordable ($35,000 MSRP) electric cars had only 80 miles range are fading fast. Enough Range is becoming the norm, and we no longer have to buy an expensive luxury car to get it. Namely, the typical driving range is now in the 200-300 mile range and the automakers are working on charging speed, bumping fast charging beyond the 50 kiloWatt barrier.

Of course Tesla has a long head start in this regard. They understood the need to address adoption hurdles, and have long supported 90-120 kiloWatt charging with an enormous driving range.

But it seems that many potential EV buyers are focused on which car has the most range. You often see questions like when will they make a 500 mile range electric car? But focusing solely on range misses the point - that driving range (beyond a certain threshold) isn't as important as charging speed.

To understand why let's think about a gasoline powered road trip. Is a 350 mile driving range per tank typical? That would be 12 gallons at 30 MPG, so if the car has a 15 gallon tank leaving 3 gallons as a cushion is a good choice.

At 65 miles/hr (100 km/hr), 350 miles (560 km) is over 5 hrs. Even if the car has a longer driving range, it's a good idea to stop for a break long before 5 hours. Therefore a driving range beyond 300-350 miles is superfluous. You're likely to stop for a human-needs break anyway, so the car might as well be charging while you're doing human things like eating a snack.

Therefore, 350-400 miles range is a good maximum electric driving range.

Since some EV drivers expect to take long trips on electricity, a solution is needed. Namely - fast charging that is fast enough to make the road trip pleasant. The threshold here is probably 30-45 minutes to reach full charge, though of course many are clamoring for an even faster 15 minute recharge time.

Thinking about this logically, how long should the break after 5 hours take? Wouldn't that be an opportunity for a meal? To walk around a bit and decompress? To take a pee break? Taking care of those needs can easily take 45 minutes.

The people driving 600 or 700 miles (1000+ km) at a stretch? That's not healthy.

Longer range electric cars amplify need for fast charging

The owner of an 200+ mile range electric car clearly has the option to take longer trips. Back when 80 mile range electric cars were the norm a longish trip, like Los Angeles to Las Vegas, would seem more trouble than it would be worth. In July 2019, a news article was posted by a person who makes that trip routinely with her Chevy Bolt (240 mile range), relying on a 1/2 hour charge at the halfway point, and the plentiful charging stations in Las Vegas. (see (longtailpipe.com) Chevy Bolt owner to NY Times: LA to Las Vegas takes 1/2 hour charging, not 2 1/2)

Obviously the person with a 300 mile range electric car will look at the map, see the mountains are less than 300 miles away, and want to drive their car to the mountains for vacation. Or, visiting that family member who's 1000 miles away becomes possible because it only requires 4 charging stops to get there.

And, again, taking these longer trips in ease (rather than the frustration of slow charging) means there must be fast charging along the way.

What does all this have to do with electric vehicle sales?

The electric car market is shifting to supporting longer and longer driving range. Many people who said "NO" when the typical range was 80 miles, will start saying "YES". They'll bring with them the expectation of 300+ mile range and a 10 minute recharging time, because that's what gasoline cars support.

Therefore to close the sale, when that potential purchaser asks "will I be able to take road trips with an electric car?" the answer needs to be "YES". And for the answer to be "YES" the charging time has to be as fast as is practical.

What happens if electric car fast charging infrastructure doesn't expand fast enough?

The sales rate for electric cars is increasing as the range capacity increases. It may be that the charging networks fail to install enough fast charging infrastructure.

Obviously Tesla is aggressively building the infrastructure. Their focus is on creating an excellent value proposition for their customers, and long range electric travel is that proposition. But the other players in the market don't seem to have the same focus.

If electric car owners owners are trapped to drive within a radius of their home, EV’s will never replace gasoline powered vehicles. The competing transportation fuel, gasoline and diesel, may continue being seen as offering the compelling refueling experience. That may keep people hooked on gasoline or diesel.

Range Confidence is Copyright © 2016-17 by David Herron

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.
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