[Update: This blog was written in 2012. Since then, electric cars have evolved a lot; most now have ranges of between 150-300 miles. Read about recent models below.]
Range Anxiety – Major Problem With Electric Cars –
Extended Range Electric Vehicles (E-REV) vehicles could be set to do away with Electric Car ‘Range Anxiety’.
One of the major issues people foresee with electric cars is that they have limited range. Despite more than 80% of journeys being less than 20 miles, people still feel anxious about driving a car with a maximum range of less than 100 miles.
Battery density is improving all the time, so the charge they can hold is increasing giving extended range. In addition, automotive companies are coming up with more ingenious ways of spreading the battery packs in the cars thereby maximising the volume of battery which also increases the range. In fact the Tesla Model S comes in three types with it’s entry range model rated at 160 miles (further models are available that are good for 230 & 300 miles on a full charge).
What Are E-REVs?
However numerous cars are looking to get away with range anxiety all together, including so called ‘range extenders’. The premise is simple, the majority of journeys are 20 miles or less, so the electric engine has a range of 25 miles, after this point a small petrol engine takes over to give you the additional range bringing it in line with most ICE engines today.
This is not a hybrid!! Hybrid’s alternate between battery and petrochemical fuel at any given moment, depending on speed, and battery charge. These ‘range anxiety’ beaters are known as extended range electric vehicles (E-REV), and they will exhaust their electrical charge completely before reverting to the combustion engine.
There is also a mode that allows you to force it to use the range extender prior to using the electrical charge. This is to allow you to save you electrical charge for when you are driving through zero-emission zones (which London could well become in the not-to-distant future).
Which cars offer E-REV technology in the UK?
Well there are three at the moment, the Vauxhall Ampera, the Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius Plug in. The Chevrolet Volt and the Vauxhall Ampera are essentially the same car, but bought to market by different companies, as such you can go into a car showroom in the UK and buy either a volt or an Ampera.
Vauxhall Ampera (+ Chevrolet Volt) – This has an electric range of 25-50 miles when taking charge solely from the electric engine. A full charge takes 4 hours, costing about £1 (worth of electricity).
When a driver goes beyond this range, the range extender kicks in; this is an 86bhp 1.4 litre Ecotec petrol engine. This engine does not power the wheels directly (like in a traditional combustion car), instead it acts as a generator for the electric propulsion system. The range extender gives the Ampera a total range of approximately 320 miles.
The Vauxhall Ampera has an on-the-road price of £32,745 (which includes the 5k Government Car Allowance) and will be available in the UK from May 2012.
The Chevrolet Volt has an on-the-road price of £29,995 (which includes the 5k Government Car Allowance) and will be available in the UK from May 2012.
Toyota Prius Plug in – This has an electric range of 15 miles when taking charge solely from the electric engine. A full charge takes only 1.5 hours, costing about 40 pence for the electricity used.
The difference here, is that you can choose to drive the Prius in Electric mode solely (hence the ability to charge it), however normally the Prius Plug in works as a typical hybrid, so alternating between electric propulsion and petrol engine propulsion. The Petrol engine in the Prius is a 1.8 litre, therefore packs a slightly bigger punch than the Ampera and Volt. The total range of the Prius Plug in 540 miles (electric and petrol combined).
The Toyota Prius Plug in has a starting price £32,895 (but is subject to the government’s £5k car allowance) and is expected to be available in the UK from Summer 2012.