Latest News > Is Greater Range Around The Corner For Electric Cars?

Is Greater Range Around The Corner For Electric Cars?

by James M. Flammang on

Ordinarily, we don’t accept electric cars for test-drives on our home ground. For good reason, too: Living in an apartment, we have no way to charge a battery-powered vehicle. Neither is there any provision for charging at my office. As a result, only at Preview Drives for new models, and during special media events, have I been able to experience the growing crop of electrics.

Therefore, when offered an opportunity to drive a fully-charged Mitsubishi I (formerly named i-MiEV), delivered in that condition by truck, we immediately said “yes.” Even better, we learned that there’s now a public charging station at a Walgreens drugstore, barely more than a block from home. Even though I’d driven the “I” for several hours at a media program a year earlier, this would be a most helpful trial of real-world electric-car use.

Mitsubishi’s electric car, certified by the Environmental Protection Agency, promises an estimated range of 62 miles – not all that much, but sufficient to get most drivers to work and back without concern. That’s the theme used in electric-car advertising, pointing out that most commuters can easily make a round trip without recharging.

Yet, after starting off with a fully-charged battery pack and driving just 22 miles through light suburban traffic, the indicator showed that only half of the battery’s capacity remained. Had we continued onward, then, we may well have run out of electricity after only about 45 miles – far short of the published range.

Sorry, that just won’t do. Even a confirmed electric-car advocate, such as myself, began to worry as that indicator dropped to the halfway mark, threatening to keep sinking fast. Furthermore, after connecting the Mitsubishi to that 220-volt charger at Walgreens, I ambled across the street for a leisurely coffee. Returning after about 1.3 hours, the charge indicator had risen from the halfway mark to less than three-quarters. Even at 220 volts, it’s a slow process.

Most EVs claim driving ranges well below a hundred miles; and that’s only if driven under light-load conditions. Of the subcompact electrics now on the market, Mitsubishi has the shortest range estimate, but the competitors aren’t much better. The Nissan Leaf gets an estimate of 73 miles (Ed. Note: but should improve drastically, soon). The Ford Focus Electric promises 76 miles. The new Honda Fit EV manages an 82-mpg estimate.

Heading that small-electric pack is the less-known CODA, with a claimed potential range of up to 125 miles. At the recent Plug-In 2012 Conference, experts determined that a range of at least 120 miles is needed to eliminate “range anxiety” for most people.

The far bigger, costly Tesla S, somewhat surprisingly named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine, is the only electric passenger car on the market with a range that reaches well into triple digits. Specifically, Tesla claims a range near 300 miles (at a steady 55 miles per hour) for its top-end model, priced at $77,400. Two less-pricey Tesla S sedans, with reduced battery capacity, have claimed ranges of 160 and 230 miles.

Electric cars have been around for more than a century, but all along, range has been the big trouble spot. In order to boost electrics into serious contenders, a big breakthrough has been needed. So far, it hasn’t emerged. Instead, electric-car batteries have been tapping at the window of potential range, when they should have been shattering that barrier and roaring forward.

At least one prominent antique-car collector has suggested that big, early electrics – such as the Baker – could go nearly as far as today’s lightweights.

Digital Trends reports that Toyota is developing a sodium battery with a potential range up to 600 miles. Sounds exciting, but claims of vast battery improvements have been made over and over. In reality, most have resulted in far more modest increases, if they came into existence at all. So, it would be prudent not to get too worked up about Toyota’s research until a lot more data has been acquired.

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