Range Anxiety. Two very familiar words, but their coming together is more recent.
It's the fear of running out of electricity in an electric car, compounded by typically short ranges and long recharging times. And it's contagious: A potential customer could drive under 30 miles per day and use a regular longer trips, but scare stories convince people that they'll be left stranded if the temperature drops by a degree or they forget to top up the range by 5 miles one night.
Opinions vary on just how much of an issue range anxiety is in the real world, but Chad Schwitters of Plug In America has posted his thoughts on how to conquer it on the Tesla Motors Club forum.
Schwitters describes how he's even had range anxiety in regular gasoline cars before, where the next gas station is a little too far away when you're low on fuel. And many readers will be familiar with "gas light roulette", where you try and drive for as long as possible on the "low gas" warning light, never quite knowing whether your car will splutter and die before you reach the next station.
In the post, Schwitters lists ten factors contributing to electric car-specific range anxiety.1 - Novelty - Simply as new technology, a user is less familiar with electric cars and how they operate. This can make some people nervous straight away.
2 - Functional fixedness - Most people wait till a gasoline car is empty, then fill up. They're used to going a certain distance before requiring more fuel. This isn't how most electric car owners drive - recharging at virtually every stop, simply topping up the battery - but it induces questions about total range and total charging time.
3 - Lesser analogues - You know when your TV remote simply stops working without warning, because it has no battery meter? Some people fear electric cars will do the same.
4 - Optimistic marketing - Many cars fall short of their claimed range - even gasoline and diesel vehicles. This is a problem with a new technology like electric cars, because when they fail to meet the advertised claims, people are immediately put off.
5 - Optimistic/unreliable instrumentation - An electric car's battery gauge can fluctuate hugely on the average journey - a sure-fire way to make people nervous.
6 - Sparse infrastructure - With a charging station on every street corner, most people wouldn't give it a second thought. But a relatively small infrastructure means people are worried about recharging (even if most is done at home).
7 - Charging standards wars - It's a nuisance getting to a charging station to discover it doesn't fit your car. Worries potential customers, too.
8 - Oversharing owners - The electric car community is brilliant for sharing information, but some may be deterred by the sheer volume of advice - particularly if they think they have to learn it all in order to use an electric vehicle.
9 - Media meme - The concept of range anxiety is endemic to media reports on electric cars. If a driver didn't have it before, they probably do now...
10 - FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) - Anti-electric types spread fear in potential customers by highlighting what they consider to be the worst aspects about the cars. For consumers not yet familiar with the technology, it's easy to believe all the negative publicity.
Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]
All of these concerns disappear with experience and exposure to electric cars - range anxiety can even be reduced simply by knowing someone with an electric vehicle and realizing that they always make it to work, to the grocery store and so-on.
But for some, that isn't enough - and his flow-chart suggests a suitable process for potential owners to take to see whether an electric vehicle really is suitable for them.
It starts simply by asking whether a buyer would consider an electric vehicle - some might, even if they have range anxiety. It then moves on to developing contingency for longer trips--whether customers are willing to rent, fly, take a train or other methods.
Address those two, and many will be easy to convince. For others, questions on how much planning they're comfortable doing, or how accurate the range meter in a particular vehicle is can have an effect on range anxiety.
You can read the full list in Schwitters' post, but in short, owners can help by taking potential buyers out for a ride, and even suggesting the use of plug-in hybrids and range-extended electric vehicles--not just alleviating range anxiety, but showing them that the vast majority of their driving can be done on a very limited electric range.
Learning more about the car, planning ahead and charging to 150 percent of your next destination is also advised, while automakers can help by advertising a more realistic estimate of range, as well as just EPA numbers.
And for the press, the advice is to stop talking about range anxiety and spreading the myths.
Unless you're trying to help, that is...