The words 'range anxiety' probably send a shudder down the spine of most electric car owners, even if they don't suffer from the condition themselves.
Describing the sense of dread associated with running low on charge, it's often brought up without considering just how many EVs are currently used.
Those in cities, for instance. With limited mileage in city driving, just how much range does an electric car really need?
Is 50 miles actually enough?
Existing 50-mile cars
Some carmakers seem to think so. Toyota, for example. The Scion iQ EV has a small, 12.5 kWh battery with a quoted range of only 50 miles.
The Mitsubishi i is said to do a similar distance in real-world driving, and in Europe the Renault Twizy is quoted as having a 50-mile range--and the Twizy is very much a city-only car.
Other carmakers are hinting at cars with similarly limited ranges. The Volkswagen Nils and Audi Urban Concepts previewed last year were both short-range electric vehicles designed exclusively for city use. The former is said to do 40 miles on a charge, the latter only 37.
Pike Research reports that in urban settings, research suggests that drivers can get away with surprisingly low range vehicles.
The University of Colorado at Boulder revealed results of a study showing that drivers of the prototype Prius Plug-In averaged only 22 miles between charging events. In the Prius that's enough for the engine to kick in, but in a short-range electric car, it wouldn't be enough for the dreaded range anxiety.
And Chevrolet's research into typical daily range was why the Volt's electric range ended up being a usable 40-50 miles--many drivers don't regularly go over that.
The benefits of small batteries in electric cars are clear. There's greater efficiency through less weight, costs are lower, and it's easier to package a smaller battery, particularly if the vehicle itself is small.
There are negatives, too. A 50-mile range may be suitable for the 'average' journey, but if that figure is composed half and half from 25 mile and 75 mile journeys, it won't be suitable for half of the trips made.
Some city-specific EVs aren't really designed for longer distances in the first place--few could accuse the Renault Twizy of having a range unsuitable for its intended environment--and as some cities develop a greater charging network, more frequent trips will become increasingly viable.
Price versus range
Cost once again comes into the equation. People are almost certain to accept a lower-range electric car as prices come down enough to make such a thing attractive.
Priced low enough--even below that of an internal combustion vehicle, and short-range electric cars may sell as second or third vehicles, and cover the majority of a family's short trips.
They're unlikely to break out of niche territory in the U.S.--unless some cities follow Europe in implementing increasing restrictions on emissions--but at the right price point, that niche could expand quickly.
Would you buy a short range electric car if you only did city trips? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.