The inane ‘range anxiety’ argument

I’ve heard some good arguments against electric vehicles (EVs): The technology is still too expensive; if the electricity you charge the car with was generated by coal it’s, worse for the environment than gasoline; they take too long to recharge. They’re all relatively logical arguments that, at least for the short term, have some merit.

I’ve also heard some very bad arguments against EVs, but one has stuck as particularly ridiculous. Namely, range anxiety.

When you type “range anxiety” into Google, here’s what comes up:

Noun informal

worry on the part of a person driving an electric car that the battery will run out of power before the destination or a suitable charging point is reached.

“range anxiety is often cited as the most important reason why many are reluctant to buy electric cars”

I certainly hope that’s just Google being overdramatic, and range anxiety isn’t the most important reason why many people are reluctant to buy (or lease) an EV, but something tells me otherwise.

That’s because, on the surface, the range-anxiety argument makes sense. The idea that I could be driving to work, running errands, or just going about my day when my car starts to run out of fuel with nowhere to recharge is scary. But when you think about it for more than a few seconds, it turns out range anxiety is a paper tiger.

First, unlike gasoline cars that need to be taken to a gas station to be refueled, EVs can be topped off at home, ensuring you always have a full tank to start your day — well, battery, but you get my point. And while there aren’t as many public charging stations in the U.S. as there are gas stations, it’s not as if there are only a handful of them. In fact, there are more than 11,000 stations across the United States, and growing. Further, drivers don’t need to look too hard to pinpoint a station, as the Department of Energy maintains a handy Alternative Fueling Station Locator map that makes finding a nearby charger a breeze.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the average American driver travels less than 37 miles each day. Why does that matter? Because 37 miles doesn’t exhaust even half the range of most 100% EVs for sale today. Put simply, range anxiety is a fear the vast majority of electric car drivers will never experience.

But let’s say you’re still not sold. Your job requires you to drive 100+ miles each day, or you take long road trips on regular basis. Well, there are EVs for you too. And no, I’m not talking about the Tesla with it’s 200+ mile range and $70,000 price tag.

I’m referring to cars like the Chevy Volt, Cadillac ELR, and Ford C-Max Energi — plug-in EV hybrids that, respectively, have electric ranges of 53, 40, and 21 miles before switching to a dedicated hybrid gasoline engine. So even if you run out of charge, you’re not stuck. No anxiety.

That said, the other arguments against EVs mentioned above may still be a stumbling block for some over the next few years while the technological kinks are worked out. But rest assured, those problems will be put to bed in due time as well.

In the meantime, another way for drivers to use less gasoline without buying an EV are flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs), conventional cars and trucks that can run equally well on both ethanol and gasoline. No range anxiety or any of the legitimate problems associated with electric cars. And unlike electric cars, this technology isn’t new — cars have been running on ethanol since the Model T was around.

Or, if you want bonus points, try driving a Chevy Volt with E85 in its gas tank like John Brackett does.

Ultimately though, the bottom line is that while EVs may still not be perfect for everyone for a few reasons, range anxiety definitely shouldn’t be one of them.

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