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What Is The Ideal Electric Car Range?

While most of the automobile industry battles between “enough range” and the ideal range for electric cars, there is a clear divide between what people would like and how much they actually need.


We’re a bit of a psychotic society. On the one hand we want freedom, cheap prices and get paid a lot of money to work as little as possible. On the other hand, we don’t want to work too much, want the best quality in the most affordable way and expect cars to run forever, as well as the government to give us tax breaks. But the reality is quite another. You work for what you get. You make money to buy quality and there is a duty for every right.

From Optimism To Practical. If you listen to would-be electric car, EV buyers, the ideal range would be at least 500 miles. While this is not only unrealistic, it’s not what daily drivers currently need. Indeed, 80% of the daily work route in the USA is 40 miles or less. This means, about 95% of electric cars sold today are more than adequate for the needs of 80% of the US population. So what’s the holdout?

It’s All About Range. If size matters less and less with cars in our country, range on the contrary does. The range expected by many is an overly-optimistic 500 miles. As much as it would be nice, it really isn’t needed. First, the battery technology isn’t there yet. Second, the research investment would make it exponentially exorbitant. Few would buy a 500 mile range electric car if available. Let’s not forget that electric car buyers want them to be under $20,000?

The Expert World. Most experts seem to agree on 100 miles being the magical range of an electric car. After all, it isn’t such a crazy number. When the first car broke the 100 mile barrier, we stepped into a new world. It’s all very psychological.

In the recent Plug-In 2012 conference experts seemed to agree that a 120 miles per charge target range is what we need in order to eliminate range anxiety for most drivers. 120 miles isn’t that far fetched, after all some of the more modern electric cars can actually squeeze that much from their battery pack. But do you need to more than 100 miles? What is the point of driving to the limit of your battery pack, or your gasoline tank, for that matter of fact? And anyway, how many of us have bladders that can withstand a 500 mile trip? 120 miles is already two hours on a highway.

All in all, 120 miles makes sense and is more psychological than a practical need. With the advent of fast charging allowing a 75% to 80 recharge in less than 30mn, as well as electric outlets that can almost everywhere, without mentioning charging stations, 120 or less meets the statistics amply. The next generation of electric cars should be able to meet the mystical 120 mile range target with the advancements in battery technology.


Don Bain    July 31, 2012 - 4:15PM

But what about road trips? I agree 50 to 100 miles is adequate for normal driving, but it won't get you to Glenwood Springs for a dip in the pool. What do you do to visit that relative in the next state?

I'm thinking the actual ideal range is 250 to 300 miles. That way when I drive to visit mom I could get halfway, recharge over lunch or dinner and then make it.

One hundred fifty would work fine if charging stations were in every interstate rest stop and you could get a quick charge to get you to the next one in ten minutes.

EVs work fine for daily commutes but not for road trips until the infrastructure expands. That's the problem I see.

Nicolas Zart    July 31, 2012 - 4:22PM

In reply to by Don Bain

Hi Don, that's the crux of it. Currently electric cars are urban vehicles and should be viewed in that light. The next bet step for the following few years if to develop plug-in hybrids until battery energy is dense enough to allow for longer stretches.

Too bad Tesla Motors' Roadster was at such a steep price because I feel its range was spot on.

On the flip side, the charging station network is growing, so that should also help.

Sean Harlow (not verified)    July 31, 2012 - 4:33PM

For me, as a primary vehicle it wouldn't be about the range itself but about the refuel time. Over the years I've owned a variety of gasoline vehicles which had ranges between 250 and 500 miles on a full tank. That really didn't matter to me, other than the impact on my wallet of course, because the important part is that when my fuel gets low I can pull off at any random gas station in the country, plug a hose in the back, swipe my credit card, and be back to full range in 3-10 minutes depending on pump speed and tank size.

Right now I don't have a clue how much fuel is in my car. It could be nearly full, it could be nearly empty. What I do know is that if I got a call with a family emergency happening across the country, I could get in my car and drive straight there while spending maybe a half hour at maximum refueling.

On the other hand, the best electric vehicles on the market currently can only reach the low end of the range scale and have recharge times measured in hours. For this sort of charge time to be acceptable, I'd need a range of at least 1000 miles so I could get a useful amount of traveling done in a day.

Now, as a second or third vehicle I think 200-250 miles is getting in to the sweet spot where it's enough for most people to use as a daily driver. Charge time in this use case is mostly irrelevant as long as it can complete overnight. Use the electric car day-to-day and break out the gasser for long trips.

For this reason at the moment I think plug-in hybrids are the best all-around solution, since they can run on electricity the majority of the time and take advantage of inexpensive fuel while still providing the flexibility to exceed your single "tank" range without requiring a stop in every state along the way.

Nicolas Zart    July 31, 2012 - 4:46PM

In reply to by Sean Harlow (not verified)

Hi Sean, yes, you've hit it on the nail. Currently, plug-in hybrids are really hitting the sweet spot. You can drive one on electricity for everyday trips and use the gasoline engine for longer ones.

As far as fast charging, I've had a fun time experiencing it when I had Mitsubishi's i MiEV. While it took less than 30mn to recharge, the best part was the social interactions I had with others. We actually spoke, something we don't do at a gasoline stations :)

Better Place's idea of swappable battery packs was a great o paper, it's just impossible to implement. In the meantime, PHEVs will do just fine as the charge infrastructure builds up and battery become more energy dense.

David Rose (not verified)    August 1, 2012 - 12:43AM

In reply to by Nicolas Zart

"Better Place's idea of swappable battery packs was a great o paper, it's just impossible to implement".
Nicholas, if your statement is true, then I must be in coma, otherwise how do you explain that I can drive throughout Israel, pull into a Better Place Battery Switching Station, and switch my battery in under 5 minutes? I've had my Fluence ZE since April 4, starting battery switching on May 21 and have not had a moment of range anxiety since. In fact, by Nov. 1 of this year, I won't even take range into consideration once the entire network is spread out throughout Israel. Now before you all jump on the thing that Israel is not the size of the US and a coast to coast battery switching network would be nearly impossible to build, I know that it would be difficult, but what about a Washington DC Beltway switching network, or a Three Rivers switching network in Pittsburgh? You'd be amazed how fast the question of range would become irrelevant if all you needed was five minutes to switch a battery and no Nicholas, it's not impossible to implement, it's my daily reality!

Nicolas Zart    August 1, 2012 - 7:14PM

In reply to by David Rose (not verified)

Hi David, as much as I agree with you and have covered Better Place since its inception, the matter of the fact is that getting more than two or three manufacturers to agree on a single battery pack system is almost impossible to conceive globally.

Yes, Better Place is doing a great job and yes, as you also know, Israel is small compared to the US or Europe, China, etc.

As much as I agree with you, I don't see how Better Place can have a sustainable business model when it comes to keeping "enough" battery packs ready, charged and cooled. That takes a lot of energy. Another point BP hasn't answered, last I checked was what is the guaranty on the battery pack you have at that particular moment? In other words, what happens when a pack has had 1,000 recycling charges, and another 5,000 and another 10,000. Do they all sit side by side? How will drivers be effected, etc.

It's a great idea on paper, but I don't see how it could work. Hope you can prove me wrong :) Thanks for your comment, Nicolas

JohnVolt (not verified)    August 1, 2012 - 12:48AM

Rang anxiety is another way of saying you should feel guilty for thinking that EV rang is inadequate. Let’s call it what it is: range limitation.

120 miles would be more than enough for me most every day but not EVERY day. What do you do those few days you need more? I paid a bit extra for a 4WD SUV. I only actually use the 4WD 3-5 times each year. I bought it because when I need it I cannot get by without it, at least not without significant inconvenience. Maybe someday charging rates and the number of charging locations will improve to where recharging on the go is viable. Until then PHEV is the only practical solution. Some see PHEV as a stepping stone to EV’s but PHEV’s may always be in the lineup for those who have those other days from time to time.

Nicolas Zart    August 1, 2012 - 1:11PM

In reply to by JohnVolt (not verified)

That's very well said JohnVolt. We have regular gasoline cars for the 2 or 3 times we actually can away from LA traffic. The rest of the tie, it's biking, hybrid buses and electric trains :)

120 miles would be just about right. It would make for a daily driver without the fear of having to recharge all the time. And I think I might call it from now Range Limitation. Good point indeed.

JohnVolt (not verified)    August 7, 2012 - 1:45AM

In reply to by Nicolas Zart

For many it is more than just a few times per year and a regualr gas car can not always stand in. I am a good example. I live in Orange county and work in LA. Many times my job dictates I leave my office to visit our facility in the San Bernardino area. A leaf would not get me to San Bernardino after the drive to LA and even a 120 mile range may not get me home at the end of the day. Once I am already at my office and the need arises I can not exactly tell my boss I cannot go because I drive an electrica car. In my volt I burn zero gas to and from work (charging at work) and can still go where I need to whenever the need arises. The PHEV is the superior option for many like me at the present time.

Nicolas Zart    August 7, 2012 - 9:32AM

In reply to by JohnVolt (not verified)

You're right John, in many ways a plug-in hybrid is a great choice. I think at this time, ideally we need a PHEV for longer hauls and a pure EV for around town or on predetermined routes. Currently, a PHEV will better for those who don't have predetermined routes. After all, 80% of daily commute is set and under 40 miles.

Also, as fast chargers pop up here and there, especially for us in the greater LA area, it starts to tip the scale toward pure EVs.

Hey, at least we have a choice, even it costs money... wait, everything costs money :)

Bob Wallace (not verified)    August 1, 2012 - 1:47AM

I'd say the ideal/threshold for wide adoption is about 175 miles with 90% rapid recharging in about 20 minutes.

This would allow a 500 mile driving day with only two moderate stops, not much different than what people now do.

Toshiba's SCiB lithium-ion batteries used in the Honda FiT EV will take a 90% recharge in 18 minutes.

Nicolas Zart    August 1, 2012 - 1:14PM

In reply to by Bob Wallace (not verified)

Hi Bob, we are getting closer and closer to this state. As version 2.0 of modern electric cars are coming out, we'll see 120 miles. I think the next 2 to 3 years will see a jump to closer to 200 miles. I think at this stage, the 120/150/190 range is great for people who don't to stress over recharging at night, for whatever reason.

Anonymous (not verified)    August 1, 2012 - 6:23AM

In Australia, just for arguments sake, petrol stations are supposedly 300km apart so as people won't run out in the vastness of our country. This could prove to be an excellent 'ideal range' to think about shooting for so as to break the psychological barrier in this country atleast....

Nicolas Zart    August 1, 2012 - 1:16PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Hum, you raise a great point. Charging stations need to be placed the same intervals as gas stations are today. This is something charge station builders and management companies understand but the crucial part is to develop a viable business model.

Any ideas? ;)