March 11, 2011

IT'S NOT AS IF ANYONE THINKS THE OBJECTIONS ARE RATIONAL:

Range Anxiety: Fact or Fiction? (Josie Garthwaite, 3/10/11, National Geographic News)

[R]ange anxiety does exist, at some level, among the general public. A survey conducted last year by the Consumer Electronics Association found 71 percent of respondents feared running out of charge on the road—placing range anxiety among the most common perceived disadvantages of electric vehicles, according to the study.

A number of strategies for putting range anxiety to rest have emerged in recent years, and the pace is poised to pick up as more electric cars roll out. Governments from the United States to China to Ireland are investing millions of dollars to install charging infrastructure so drivers needn't stray too far from a plug. Software developers are building applications for smartphones and in-car telematics systems that make it easy to find charge points on a map.

The startup Better Place, based in Palo Alto, California, aims to set up large networks of charge points and stations where batteries can be swapped out in five minutes or less—theoretically affording the convenience and ubiquity of gas stations. The company has just opened its first European location where consumers can sign up for Better Place service plans and order a Renault Fluence Z.E. vehicle, designed to be compatible with Better Place's automated battery-swap system. General Motors, meanwhile, has opted to equip its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt with a small gas engine to power the car for about 250 miles beyond the battery pack's estimated 25-50-mile range.

"It's a logical notion that a car with less range creates anxiety," said Marc Geller, a longtime electric vehicle advocate and co-founder of Plug In America. "Automakers and critics have long suggested that it was a critical flaw," he said. As a hurdle for electric vehicle adoption, however, Geller believes the issue has been overblown. Whether you are driving a Hummer or a Prius or a Leaf, he reasoned, "When you're nearing empty, there's anxiety." So the important question, he said, is not whether this anxiety exists, but whether it increases or decreases when people drive an electric vehicle.

People who are new to electric cars generally come to the experience with some level of apprehension about range, said Geller, "If only because they've been told to." But for most people, it drops off over time. "The number of people who actually run out of juice," he said, "is very small."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 11, 2011 9:49 PM
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