Range Anxiety and the Electric Car

Special collector’s item article! Not dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story! I’m writing something that has nothing to do with my geekiness or my Christian faith.
Today’s topic: cars. Specifically, electric cars and the concept of range anxiety. (But you knew that; it was in the title.)

Background

A couple of years ago, at my workplace, we got news that Tesla wanted to start putting up super charging stations in Canberra; from there, we started hearing a lot about their cars and their whole concept. They sounded like a pretty good thing for the super-rich to have.

Not very long after, my workplace added a couple of Nissan Leafs to its fleet. When I reluctantly drove them due to the real cars being booked out, I found out they were actually good cars. Driving them felt just like driving any other modern car; there were differences and issues, sure, but I had those with any car in our fleet.

For the sake of the environment, I approved; but there was still no way I’d replace my current green car with a … current Green car. It seemed wasteful and needless, and I couldn’t afford it anyway.

Cut to the beginning of 2019, when I got bad news from my mechanic: “Hello, my name is Max. Prepare for your car to die.”

My mechanic looks like Mandy Patinkin

It could only be properly fixed by a good, old-fashioned replacin’.

The dying car is a 19-year-old Hyundai and I swear it’d still be going strong, if I hadn’t been really naïve and filled it with E10 once*. So, I decided to stick with Hyundai.

Then I began to think in my own, dumb way: could I go electric?

Apart from the environmental concerns, I talked to the guy in charge of our fleet and he told me they’re incredibly reliable; he was very enthusiastic.

And, I’d never have to go to a petrol station again! (Then I remembered the lawn mower; gonna have to get petrol for that – but that’ll be rare. I can’t wait to pull up to the pump in a full electric car. :))

I looked around; Tesla cars are built to cater only for the super-rich, and they don’t have a dealership in Canberra. The Renault Zoë and Nissan Leaf were not available at the time I was looking (the Leaf was between models), the Kill car** Soul were either unavailable or didn’t exist (I was getting conflicting information; apparently they didn’t exist, except the one I saw? Probably a petrol vs electric issue). Hyundai had two full-electric cars: the Ioniq and the Kona (both available in hybrid flavour as well; you can also get a petrol-driven Kona). They have two dealerships in my home town, and the company had impressed me with my car’s longevity.

The car I wanted and the car I’m getting

Disadvantages

I liked the Ioniq (hatchback) more than the Kona (SUV), but both had disadvantages.

They are far more expensive than their petrol-driven sisters (ICEs, or Internal-Combustion-Engine cars).  In fact, I’ve seen enough about the finances of others on this site, specifically related to cars, to tell you not to even think about an EV (Electric Vehicle; get with the lingo, people!) .

EVs are all automatic, but it turns out that’s because they only have one gear (‘reverse’ is that same gear in, well, reverse). They don’t have spare tyres, which is common to new cars of all kinds these days, and inherent to electric cars (the batteries take up the space where the tyre would be stored). I could wish for a CD player; but again, not having one is common to pretty much all cars these days.

Hyundai keep advertising their amazing colour range and how you can really express yourself with it; then they tell you what the range actually is. And then you look at the colour range across Kona and it isn’t a range, and the colour range of the three-times-more expensive Kona Electric is even narrower still: so grey it’s white, grey, grey, grey, so grey it’s black, greyish blue, and red. (I’m getting red.) They even have an Iron Man edition Kona… but not in electric. Obviously, no fan of a sci-fi movie about a guy who makes an alternative energy source would want a futuristic car with an alternative power source.

The electric Kona only comes with leather seats. In Australia’s climate. Obviously, no vegetarian would ever buy a car whose main selling point is environmentalism.

I prefer the Ioniq for several reasons. I’d rather a hatch than an SUV. It’s actually roomier in the back, and is more like my Accent, so I’m used to it. It has a bunch of extras I like. It’s also a lot cheaper. But… well, we’ll get to that.

Although, the Kona is available in the Highlander version.

I was tempted.

The Arguments

When I started talking about buying an EV, I found out very quickly that everybody has an agenda. A lot of people (environmental types, mostly) demand that you buy one. A lot of others (rev-head types, mostly) say they’re no good and useless. Some people say they’re thinking of getting one, too; some people make excuses why they don’t. Some people encourage you to get one; some discourage you. Some yell and scream, some go quietly, some explode, some implode, but all will try and take you with them.

Some people say they’re just as bad for the environment as ICEs because the petrol you don’t put in your car goes to the power stations instead. (The power does have to come from somewhere, but I believe electric cars are still better than ICEs – and that would be true even if my “state” didn’t get most of its power from solar and wind farms, and even if I hadn’t just installed solar power in my house. So, for me, that’s a non-issue.)

Range Anxiety

The title of this article promised I’d talk about Range Anxiety, and I haven’t even told you what it is yet. It is, by all accounts, the biggest reason why people don’t buy EVs. If you ever speak about EVs, you’ll quickly run into the concept – even if you (or the person you’re talking to) don’t know what it’s called.

Range anxiety is the fear that your (electric) car won’t get to the next charging station; it’s the idea that getting an electric car means crippling your ability to travel. One of my work people added an extra dimension to this: if you run out of petrol in an ICE, you can just carry a petrol can to the nearest station. If you run out of electricity in an EV, unless your passenger is Chris Hemsworth or Halle Berry, you’ve run out of luck and will need a tow.

Basically, anybody with lightning powers

I’ve mentioned people always have an agenda around EVs. Proponents of the electric car will tell you range anxiety is totally not an issue at all. Opponents will tell you you absolutely should not buy an EV because of it.

I want to come down somewhere in the middle.

The argument goes something like this:

First of all, most households, at least around here, have more than one car; so having an EV for driving about town / daily use, and an ICE for long trips is an obvious solution.

I only have one car.

Yeah, but most people only make a couple of long trips a year, and wouldn’t really need a long-range car.

Yeah, but I make a couple of long trips a year; to Sydney, to the coast. I need a car for that.

You could rent one. You could borrow one – in fact, before you started looking at an EV, you sent your parents an email asking your parents if you could, hypothetically, borrow one of their cars to go to either place. They said yes. They didn’t even know why you were asking at the time.

A lot of the time when I’m at the coast, they’re there with me. Weirdly, that means I can’t take their car to the coast. Also, just the arrangements and imposition discourage me. And, for me, rental adds expense I don’t need to my trip.

The Ioniq could get you to your parents’ coast house – with 7% power left, if you started at 100%. You can (and will) just plug it in when you get there.

The trip measurer on Hyundai’s website said the same thing for getting back – which means it isn’t accounting for the mountain (what Americans call a bump) between here and there. I probably couldn’t get home in it. Plugshare shows a dearth of charging stations between here and there. The two in Batemans Bay have their own problems: the possibility of getting ICEd (finding a petrol-driven car in the one parking spot I can use to recharge my car), the possibility that the charger at the Soldier’s Club won’t even charge Hyundais. I’ve gone and held that one in my hand, and I still don’t know if it’d work on a Hyundai. There’s limited standardisation at the moment, and it’s surprisingly hard to get information. Oh, and getting in and out of Batemans Bay at peak times… I shudder to think. When I went to test it, I had to wait a couple of days because it wasn’t worth going in to town when everybody in Canberra was going to the coast.

The Ioniq wouldn’t get me to Sydney on one charge. I’d have to stop at Goulburn, be there when the Visitors’ Centre is open, and hope and pray I can get enough charge for Sydney in a reasonable amount of time. I’d have to give up on heading straight there after work on a Friday.

There’s more infrastructure coming.

I don’t bank on promises, especially promises from faceless corporations.

Conclusion

Put it all together, and that means that range anxiety is a real issue for me. It means that an Ioniq just isn’t practical for me… but the Kona is. The Kona will easily get me to Sydney, where I can charge at my friend’s garage (I’ve checked). It can certainly get me to the coast.

So, while range anxiety is not enough an issue to stop me buying an EV, it is enough of an issue to affect which EV I buy. An electric car is a good thing to get if you have the means; but do know your travel plans first.

I’ve had an electric Kona on order for a couple of months now.

* Twice. I was desperate, Okay?

** 

Kia’s logo and a quick lesson in what those letters actually are.

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