The fundamental problem with electric vehicles isn’t their range – nor how long it takes to recover range, although both of those are compounding problems. The most basic problem with them – that magnifies these secondary problems – is the practical difficulty of starting out with a full charge and all of the range advertised.
I certainly do not.
When an electric vehicle is dropped off for me to test drive, it arrives with less than a full charge. So far, much less than a full charge – because of the time it takes to instill one at the “fast” chargers located within 25-30 miles or so of my home. These are mere 50kWh hour-capable chargers, which are not capable of instilling more than a partial charge in less than an hour. That is how long it takes to recover about half the maximum range most electric vehicles advertise.
The drivers who drop the cars off don’t have the time to wait the two hours (or longer) it would take to instill a full charge in the vehicles they bring me to evaluate at the not-so-fast chargers. So they put a partial charge in – and then lose about 10 percent of that on the way to my place.
I have had three electric vehicles dropped off to test drive over the past three weeks, beginning with a 2023 F-150 Lightning, followed by a Mach e Mustang and ending, most recently, with a Mercedes EQS. Each of them arrived with around 170 miles of range indicated remaining, or about half a full charge.
That may sound ok. After all, who needs to drive more than 170 miles in one day? But it’s not the same as having the gas-tank equivalent of 170 miles of driving range in a non-electric car, which can be run down to fumes without much worry because wherever you happen to be, there is almost always gas. And there is very little waiting involved when you find it, even if you roll into the station running on fumes.
When you are driving an electric vehicle, having enough range in reserve to assure you will be able to make it farther than your planned destination is important – because you might not be able to get charge where you had planned to.
The “fast” charger you were counting on may not be charging, at all (apparently, this is not an uncommon problem) and the next available one might be farther away than the “fumes” you have left. If you cannot make it to the next one, you now have a 5,000-plus pound problem on your hands. A vehicle that will not move again unless it is hauled to a place where it can be charged. You will wait wherever you happen to be – no matter how inconvenient.
So, 170 miles is more like 150 miles. And even that is probably optimistic. In every case, every EV I have test driven uses up more range per mile than indicated, with the disparity ranging from 10-20 percent. Thus, 150 miles of indicated range is realistically about 135 miles of actual driving range.
And what about tomorrow’s drive?
The problem can be salved by finding – and using the truly “fast” chargers – such as the Tesla “superchargers.” These can instill a couple hundred miles of range in 30 minutes or so. Assuming you can find one that doesn’t require driving 30 minutes (or longer) out of your way to find it.
If there isn’t one on your way, then you are going to find out how slow “fast” can be – even if you do eventually make it there. Because you will be waiting however long it takes to get to the “faster” charger, negating the advantage of “faster” charging.
Waiting at home is of course more convenient – assuming you have nowhere to go for awhile. Until tomorrow. Maybe even the day after that. Which is how long it will take to recover even half the advertised full-charge range on 120V household current. You can reduce that to overnight on 240V – but that’s as “fast” as it gets – at home.
This lag – the time in between charging and driving – can only be avoided by driving the EV with less than a full charge. But that means less range when you start your drive – and that will mean recharging again, sooner.
Since there is no practical way to fully – and quickly – recharge an EV at home it means depending on regular “fast” charging to even approximate the non-electric car’s capability to just be driven, anywhere, anytime. And since there is nothing even approaching the necessary infrastructure (including water-cooled high voltage cabling) or grid capacity to make “fast” charging even approximately equivalent in terms of speed and convenience to refueling non-electric cars, it means as a practical matter that most EV drivers will be regularly driving Partially Charged Cars (PCCs) that go significantly less far than advertised – and that take much longer than advertised to be able to drive any significant distance.
That is the true meaning of “plugging in.” It is more akin to leashing-on. And you won’t be holding the other end of it.
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