A new report (subscription required) in Transportation Sciences suggests that EV buyers would be better off purchasing cars with battery ranges of less than 100 miles. Why? That range covers the vast majority of their trips for the cheapest vehicle price, particularly as battery prices decline. And an expanded public charging infrastructure with cheap electricity would cover longer trips less expensively than buying a higher-priced, big battery EV. To gauge consumer demand, the study relied on a 2009 survey of more than 36,500 drivers and their driving patterns. Notably, it did not rely on any new data from consumers in response to specific questions about EV preferences related to range.
Perhaps as a result of this lack of consumer preference data on EVs and battery range specifically, the study is already getting some raised eyebrows at Green Car Reports:
Sometimes mathematical logic is simply swept aside by the more primal emotions: fear, anxiety, and insecurity. Which is why so many car buyers make choices that cost them money in the long run. Some of those choices may be luxury items they want but don’t need; others may be capabilities they’ll rarely, if ever, use but want to have in case of unusual circumstances. The choice of vehicle range for a battery-electric car turns out to be one of those decisions where fear of what could happen decisively trumps what probably will be.
I think most consumers would pay more for EVs with bigger batteries to maintain the convenience they have with gas cars of not having to worry about recharging on long trips. They want a car that meets all their driving needs, and if they just wanted cheap, they could buy an inexpensive fuel-efficient economy car (or used car) and save a lot on gas that way. Eventually, automakers will produce a range of battery sizes in the vehicles, so we’ll see how the market shakes out. And certainly we need a better public charging infrastructure anyway. But charging takes time, and most people don’t want to have to even think about it. So my guess is that cars like the LEAF will become a lot more popular once they improve the range while keeping the price steady.