In this occasional series, David Berman, investing reporter, addresses some of the more frequent questions – and raises some of his own – about the advantages and disadvantages of life as an electric vehicle owner.
When you own an electric vehicle – especially a futuristic-looking one that screams EV, like mine – you have to be prepared to handle questions about your ride.
In May, I pulled up close to a streetcar stop in Toronto, thinking I’d park there for a few minutes while I ran into a store across the street. I was contemplating whether this was illegal when a streetcar pulled up next to me. The driver motioned to me to lower my window, and he didn’t look happy.
But instead of ordering me to move, the driver leaned toward his own open window and yelled: “What kind of range do you get?”
I’ve owned an EV since the start of 2022, and I sometimes feel like minor celebrity. That’s amusing to me: I know nothing about cars and I usually avoid car-talk at all costs.
But I’m learning that there is a lot of curiosity about these vehicles as policy makers embrace electrification and car manufacturers invest billions in developing new models. High gas prices might be pushing some folks into thinking more about EVs. Who knows, maybe climate change is part of it too.
Since you asked, I drive a Hyundai Ioniq 5. But that’s not important: What I’m interested in writing about transcends the maker.
I think the best question to start this series with is the one posed by the streetcar driver: What’s the range?
The short answer, and the one I often give because it is based on the manufacturer’s estimate, is 390 kilometres. But the better answer is: I think range is one of the most overrated features of an EV.
Let me explain.
Range is an estimate for how far an EV will travel on a full battery charge, and speed, weather and hills can have a big impact on it.
There is a good reason why prospective car owners look at it closely. The number helps them gauge whether they will get to where they’re going on a single charge. The bigger the range, the smaller the concern of running out of power – a concern commonly known as range anxiety.
If I had to rate my own level of anxiety from one to five, I’d say I began at a four: When I first started driving my EV I’d look at the battery charge indicator every few seconds.
Now, I’d say my anxiety level is at two – more confident, but still obsessive about where I’m getting my next charge.
In practical terms, driving to the family cottage this summer and dropping off my daughter at her summer camp was not a problem, given plenty of charging options in Ontario’s cottage country.
But was I willing to tempt fate by making the 300 km return journey along a lonely road in Northern Ontario from my family cottage to Killarney Provincial Park? Uh, no.
The official range of an EV assumes you are charging your battery to 100 per cent and depleting it entirely. But that’s not the way I use my car.
Though recommendations vary, some car manufacturers and researchers will tell you that car batteries will degrade faster if regularly charged above 80 per cent. As well, fast-charging stations slow the juice once reaching this threshold.
And who wants to assume they can arrive at a destination or a charging station with zero charge, or even 10 per cent? That’s a thin margin of error. I’ve rarely allowed the charge on my car’s battery to dip below 30 per cent. Perhaps I’m neurotic, but I need that safety buffer.
In my case, that leaves an operational band of 30 per cent to 80 per cent, or an effective range of less than 200 km. I’ve stretched that to 250 km on long trips by charging above 80 per cent at the start, but that’s rare.
Dismayed? I’m not.
If I’m on a road trip – I drove more than 3,000 km this summer, in total – I count on stopping for a charge, even if it’s just a 30-minute top-up. I like to take a break from driving every couple of hours anyway. Who doesn’t?
In any case, most of my driving is limited to Toronto, where I live. A smaller battery and a range of just 100 km would be more than enough for most of our family’s daily needs.
No doubt, range is a prominent marketing feature of EVs because a big number can ease our transition from gas-powered vehicles and their 50 litre tanks. But I’m guessing that the importance of range will subside as charging options expand.
In the meantime, our EV is taking us to work, to the cottage, to the mall, to the grocery store. Despite my oh-so-careful approach to charging, range has not been an issue. Well, short of gazing longingly at Killarney Park on a map.
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