In the automotive industry, electric vehicles (EVs) are often seen as newbies, even though they have been around since the 1800s. Like any outsider to a group, they often face adversity over automatic acceptance. While the surge in electric vehicle popularity in recent years has helped alleviate common ownership concerns, there still appears to be some uncertainty among mainstream drivers.
There are characteristics common among all electric vehicles that discourage prospective buyers or even owners from utilizing their EV to its full potential. A popular concern is battery range and the limitations that it places on long distance travel. Is “range anxiety” a reoccurring issue? The best way to truly understand the scope of electric vehicles is through the lens of experienced owners. We spoke with a few FleetCarma employees who have been on longer distance camping trips in an EV. Before going into their experiences, let’s first explore common concerns.
Common electric vehicle misconceptions
The electric vehicle market is changing from one year to the next, so it is important that there is up-to-date communication on how technological advancements should be lessening ownership concerns. Let’s start by addressing the most common EV misconceptions.
The first concern surrounds make and model choice. It is often assumed that there are not enough vehicles on the market to accommodate different driver lifestyles. In reality, the electric vehicle market made huge gains in 2019, across numerous car manufacturers and has ambitious plans for years to come. A recent study by BloombergNEF determined that there will be 500 different EV models available globally by 2022. With plenty of sedan and hatchback options already on the market, and larger sized vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks in the works, there is a lot more to offer in the way of options than previously.
Another huge topic is range. All vehicles, internal combustion engines (ICE) included, have a range. The difference with EVs is that charging does not appear to be as accessible or efficient as making a quick stop at any old gas station. With this mindset, drivers can experience “range anxiety” that discourages them from travelling longer distances or even going electric to begin with. It tends to be a non-issue for the average American driver whose daily commute of 30 miles is considerably less than many EV ranges. Manufacturers are becoming increasingly more capable of bringing long range battery electric vehicles (BEVs) to market as technology advances. With more EV ranges, such as the Tesla Model S, on par with ICE vehicles, charging infrastructure is becoming the distinguishing concern when travelling long distances.
The Model S is Tesla’s highest battery range vehicle at approximately 402 miles. Source: Tesla
A common belief is that there are simply not enough public stations available. Naturally, no one wants to get stuck at the side of the road if their range maxes out. But how often do you hear of this happening? Just like an ICE vehicle, EVs have “fuel” level indicators and range-estimation that should be monitored and used to plan trips accordingly. Locating a charging station has become much easier as workplaces, vehicle manufacturers, cities, charging companies and electric utilities across North America have made significant investments in charging infrastructure in recent years. The US Department of Energy has determined that there are already more than 68,000 DC Fast and Level 2 charging units in the United States, with more on the way. Level 2 charging, commonly used in home systems, average 2 hours for a full charge. This differs from DC Fast chargers, which only need about 30 minutes. In support of U.S. charging infrastructure expansion, nearly $529 million has been invested by the government across 19 states, $2.8 billion through private investment and $1.3 billion approved for utilities. Up north, the Government of Canada is investing over $300 million dollars in coast-to-coast DC Fast charging networks and other charging stations. InsideEVs reported that Europe is ahead of the game, as the United Kingdom has twice as many charging units as gas stations. Is this a sign of where we are heading in North America?
Upfront vehicle costs, along with home charging investments, form another belief that EVs are only realistic for the wealthy. According to BloombergNEF, lithium-ion battery pack prices fell 87% from 2010 to 2019 which is a factor contributing to the gradual reduction in vehicle purchase prices. Investments in home charging equipment are also not always required, as relying on the Level 1, 120 volt outlet in the garage proves to be sufficient for some owners. For those that wish to upgrade, there are many rebates available.
A very appealing aspect of EV ownership, that should be stressed more, is the lower costs associated with operation and maintenance. While upfront vehicle costs may seem daunting, they often work out to be more cost effective in the long-run than certain “cheaper” ICE vehicles.
While charging costs differ by energy provider and station, they are proven to be cheaper than gas – plus you avoid the pain of fluctuating gas prices. Most electric vehicle drivers do more than 80% of their charging at home. Some electric utilities offer discounts for charging an EV during set times, which provide homeowners yet another way to save. With an EV charging program such as SmartCharge Rewards, the owner basically charges at home for free. With numerous rebates, tax credits and other financial incentives out there for EVs, they may just be more economically viable than you think.
So what causes these insecurities in electric vehicle capabilities? Many people aren’t yet in the mindset to go electric due to a lack of familiarity and understanding of EV technology. The idea that the market is too complex or not yet adequate hinders drivers’ ability to benefit from all that electric vehicles have to offer.
Insights from electric vehicle camping experiences
There are many concerns surrounding electric vehicles, but if you ask actual owners, they will almost always admit that they are outweighed by benefits or turn out to be non-issues. Here are some insights that we gained from a few of our FleetCarma EV owners on navigating EV ownership and even going car camping.
Our first EV owner shared her recent experience travelling to a Provincial Park on Lake Ontario with her fiancé. With a very spacious trunk and extra storage compartments in the Tesla Model 3, they had plenty of space for camping gear, food, and other travelling essentials. They purchased the vehicle in December 2019, which was apparently not a difficult decision. With the numerous sedans and hatchback EVs that are now available, there wasn’t any issue in finding what they needed to suit their lifestyle. “They are starting to make EVs more affordable, and if you can get a good rebate, it is kind of a no-brainer,” she explained. Their home-charging setup is Level 1, which didn’t require any additional investment, but takes about 14 hours to obtain a full charge. Luckily, the Model 3 has an approximate range of 250 miles which is well under their daily commute. Going on a camping trip, however, is a different story.
Tesla’s Supercharging network continues to expand across North America. Source: Tesla
The couple’s recent trip was about 217 miles from their hometown, making the one-way trip just within range. With the route mapped out in the vehicle, it informed the drivers when and where to recharge, even if only for peace of mind. DC Fast chargers are capable of delivering full range charges in less than an hour which fuels the ability to get out of town. Tesla’s expanding Supercharging network makes this very convenient with nearly 2,000 DC Fast charging stations across North America. As a result, these EV owners were able to stop about halfway to recharge while grabbing a bite to eat at McDonald’s. The couple booked a serviced campsite, plugged-in at Level 1 overnight and were all set for their trip home. “Range turned out not to really be an issue,” she said. The experience came without challenges, and was definitely a quieter, smoother and more environmentally friendly ride.
What about travelling with electric vehicles that don’t have their own DC Fast charging network and integrated trip planning features like Tesla? Well, it may not be quite as convenient, but it is still possible. We spoke with a Chevrolet Spark owner, purchased in 2015, who has gained lots of EV experience over the years. The owner’s commute to work averages 44 miles which he manages to accomplish with workplace charging and a Level 1 setup at home. This amount of use has allowed him to become very familiar with his vehicle’s capabilities. With approximately 80 miles in range, some extra planning would be required if driving out of town. There are many trip planning and charging station locating apps, such as PlugShare, that make this easier. Fast charging networks that support various EVs are also continuing to appear across North America which increase the likelihood of locating a station. Another tip is to know how to drive efficiently on a longer trip. This EV owner suggests taking the backroads and staying at a moderate speed to conserve battery energy.
He loved his first vehicle so much that he decided to purchase another in March 2020, the Tesla Model 3. Before buying the Tesla, he did his homework. With a bigger picture in mind, he determined that the residual value of the EV would be higher than that of a comparable ICE vehicle. The upfront cost of buying an EV was not daunting to him because he knew that he would save on operating and maintenance costs.
Over the years, this EV owner has gone camping mainly locally to avoid exceeding range. His recent trip north of Barrie in Ontario, which was about 80 miles one-way, was made possible with his longer range Tesla. In terms of vehicle size and style, he never had an issue with finding what he needed. “In my experience, the Spark EV was a bit tight for space with my wife, the dog and everyone’s camping gear, but we made it work,” he said. The Model 3, on the other hand, has considerable room – it is so comfortable that he decided to sleep in it instead of a tent during his recent trip. That’s one way to avoid the bugs.
Over the past decade, the global electric vehicle market has grown tremendously. Societal pressures to cut carbon emissions combined with emerging technology have caused a major shift in the automotive industry. To nurture further adoption, there must also be a shift in mindset. Speaking with current owners helps to shed light on the many uncertainties regarding electric vehicle capabilities. EVs can go on longer distance trips – even camping – it just takes some extra planning. Prospective buyers should do their homework before feeling held back by ownership concerns. Current owners should test their limits to find out what they didn’t know they were capable of. And finally, electric utilities should be educating their customers on the benefits of EV ownership, along with providing support. “EVs are better” – we all need to start believing it.