What range anxiety?


editors-blog-entry3I was just reading a column by the now fairly famous Lyle Dennis who, a few years ago, started a web site devoted to covering and promoting GM’s Chevy Volt.

In the column, Dennis examines the question of how Nissan’s move to price the all-electric LEAF at a very affordable post federal tax credit price of $25,280 might affect the price of the Volt.

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He concludes that the LEAF and Volt are essentially in a different class of car and that GM therefore should be able to charge a very different price for the Volt if it wants.

And, besides, he notes, via the words of an auto industry analyst he quotes, “The GM Volt has a much larger appeal than the LEAF.”


Due to the ultimate electric car bogeyman: “range anxiety”, or basically the fear that an electric car like the LEAF (Nissan is advertising a range of 100 miles) won’t get you there, wherever “there” might be.

Blanket appeals to range anxiety are everywhere in the mainstream media, Dennis’ column is just one example.

But like any type of blanket statement — “Americans are fat.” “Germans love beer.” “GM cars can’t be trusted.” etc. — broad generalizations about “range anxiety” are, at best, only partially accurate.

In fact, I would argue that those making broad appeals to “range anxiety” just don’t get it (or, at least, they don’t want others to get it).


For instance, grand references to “range anxiety” don’t get the fact that most Americans don’t drive more than 40 miles on an average day (GM knows this, having built a 40-mile battery into the Volt), they don’t get the fact that you don’t need to charge an EV every five minutes, and they don’t get the fact that you don’t need a charging station on every corner for pure electric cars to be practical.

But what they really don’t get is this:The majority of American households that will house an EV are very likely going to be two-car households — and, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, 55% of American households have two or more cars. That’s in large part because early adopters of new technologies are typically wealthier than middle to late adopters (I’m not talking about rich people; I mean a range extending from solidly middle to slightly upper middle and finally, to more truly upper-middle class Americans).

Put an electric car in a two-car household and, in the vast majority of cases — poof — range anxiety becomes a non-issue.

It’s a complete non-issue for our two-car household. My wife and I often commute by bike or public transportation. But when we do need drive to work (mostly because we have to drop our daughters off at pre-Kindergarten on the way), our round-trip commutes are 20 and 30 miles, respectively. That’s well within the 100-mile range of a LEAF, or a similar electric car.

Put an electric car in a two-car household and, in the vast majority of cases — poof — range anxiety becomes a non-issue.

We rarely drive more than 90 to 100 miles for weekend trips. But, for the longer trips we do make, for example, to Colorado’s beautiful Rocky Mountains, we’ll just hop into our gas car, which will be the 1994 Toyota Camry we currently own, and we’ll get there — no problem!

I’ve seen a lot of talk that revolves around the issue of what one-car households are going to do with an EV. Obviously, in many cases, one-car households are not going to buy an EV. For many of these households — but not all of them — an EV would be impractical.

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But there are tens of millions of Americans who, like us live in two (or three or more) car households and who have daily commutes well within the 100-mile range of a pure electric car. (According to the Federal Highway Administration, in 2001, there were, on average, 2.58 cars per household in the U.S.)

Many of these households are, comparatively speaking, “wealthy” — although, it’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t necessarily mean mean they are rich. For example, the two cars we have parked in our garage are a 1992 Acura Integra with 145,000 miles (and which I bought new in April of 1992) and a 1994 Toyota Camry with 255,000 miles (which was a hand-me-down from my brother).

These two-car household folks — and we’re among them — won’t have range anxiety. They’ll be able to choose one clean, efficient, environmentally friendly EV for shorter driving and daily commuting and have a gas-powered car, ideally a hybrid or even a plug-in hybrid like the Volt, for those comparatively rare occasions on which they need to drive more than 100 miles.

Bascially, sweeping references to range anxiety are — as all sweeping claims are — extremely misleading. That’s because they sweep over different realities, including, in this case, the reality of tens of millions of two-car American households in which range anxiety will be a complete and utter non-issue.

What range anxiety?

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