Almost every survey of US consumers from the last several years that asked some form of the question: “What would it take for them to strongly consider buying an electric vehicle?” has a significant percentage of respondents requiring among other things — 300 or more miles of electric range. And because that number has been repeated over and over — including from top executives of GM saying their own surveys also point to this requirement — 300 miles of range along with $100 per kWh for the cost of batteries have become the EV adoption “magic numbers” in the US.
“Consumers want beautiful vehicles, a robust charging infrastructure and a range of at least 300 miles (483 km). Once those boxes are checked, consumers are very excited about EVs. Having a range of at least 300 miles (483 km) is important as that’s the point where range anxiety ceases to be an issue, aside from long distance trips where consumers need to have “confidence” in the charging infrastructure.”Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors – via CarScoops
While not quite a majority, in a December 2020 Consumer Reports survey of 3,339 US drivers (see chart below), 49% said that they needed 300 or more miles of range between charges to consider purchasing or leasing an electric vehicle. But 25% wanted 400 or more miles and 35% desired 350 or more miles of range. On the flip side, however, 51% responded that less than 300 miles of range would suffice.
Another more recent study published in November 2021 — Cox Automotive: 2021 Path to EV Adoption — and which was conducted in June and July of 2021, included a survey of nearly 5,000 in-market consumers who owned, considered or rejected a pure battery-electric vehicle in that timeframe. Range expectations for respondents to the Cox Automotive survey actually increased from 2019, with participants in 2021 saying on average that 217 miles of EV range was the minimal acceptable range, up 34 miles from 184. And perhaps more telling, the desired range increased 41 miles to 341 in 2021 from 300 miles in 2019.
So what’s behind the 300 miles of range magic number? Why do so many US drivers want an EV to have 300 or more miles of range when 99.2% of daily trips in the US are less than 100 miles? And 80% are less than 10 miles. (see chart below)
The short answer lies in the 0.8% of trips which are 100 or more miles in length. For many US households this translates to taking long road trips about 3 days per year. And so it is for these few, the minority of trips that we drive each year, upon which most of us base the requirement of 300 miles or more of EV range. The simple fact is, that US drivers don’t want to buy or lease an electric car that meets their needs 99% of the time, but falls short on the 1%, those few long trips taken each year.
But it isn’t just these longer trips driving the “desire for 300 miles,” there are at least nine key factors driving the magic 300 miles of range number. The issue of course with EVs having at least 300 miles of range is that to achieve this range requires large battery packs — typically from about 75 kWh to 125 kWh depending on the EV. And those larger battery packs add significant weight and cost to an EV and the extra capacity is generally only used a few times per year. But until EVs can charge significantly faster than they do currently or other alternatives for those few long trips per year, large batteries that can produce at least 300 miles of range will be a focus of most OEMs and and desire of US drivers.
10 Reasons Why US Drivers Desire 300 Miles of Range in EVs
1. Expectations: First it’s just an expectation that electric vehicles should come close to the range of ICE (internal combustion engine/gas-powered) vehicles, most of which have a range from 300 to more than 400 miles of range on a tank of gas. Whether drivers need and use those 400 or so miles of range or not, it is the benchmark that drivers are used to and compare against.
2. Road Trips: The biggest reason is the desire for lots of range for road trips. Americans love road trips, whether it’s to take the family to visit grandma and relatives during the holidays, to take the kids to Disneyland or Disney World, or travel hours away to see their favorite band on tour at a festival rock concert event. And many of these trips might fall in the 400 to 500 or more miles of range which obviously easily exceeds the range of all but a few battery electric vehicles today.
And so we have this road trip conundrum. The fact that most US households probably only take from 1 to 3 of these long road trips per year, and yet they make their purchase decisions of whether to buy an electric vehicle or not based on their driving needs for maybe only 2 to 4 days per year. Said another way, battery electric vehicles with say 200 to 250 miles of range will actually meet the needs of most US households about 360 out of 365 days per year.
3. Repetition of “300 Miles Mantra”: Third is simply the fact that the numbers have been repeated so much that it seems to have taken on a life of its own so everyone pretty much is in agreement that 300 miles is the magic number of miles they require in an EV.
4. Mid-range trips/Weekend Jaunts: Fourth is the simple fact that American households often also take mid-range trips, especially on weekends that go well beyond the range of the daily commute and errand trips, but don’t qualify as a long road trip. These are often those weekend trips, perhaps to the mountains, to a ski resort, to the beach, to the wine country, or for those with kids travel to a regional soccer, volleyball or lacrosse tournament that might be 50 to 100 miles away from home.
With many Americans taking these mid-range 100 to 200 mile trips several times a year, they don’t want to have to worry about having to charge at their destination or on the way back. They want confidence that they can drive to and from that mid-range trip either with no charging needed or perhaps a simple top-up while parked at their destination.
5. Emergency Confidence: Fifth is just what I’ll call comfort and confidence. People who don’t own an electric vehicle worry about things such as having to drive a family member to a hospital or pick-up someone unexpectedly and not having enough miles in the car because they haven’t yet charged their EV that night. They worry that they might forget to plug in their car and discover when they wake up the next morning that they don’t have enough miles to take one of those longer mid-range trips.
6. Lack of access to charging: The sixth reason is that they simply don’t have convenient access to overnight charging. They might live in an apartment or condo either without any available chargers or without a dedicated parking space with charging and they might not have an opportunity to charge their car on particular day or night. Or they might live in a single-family home without a garage that is located in an urban city with only street parking and no ability to plug-in and charge. An EV with 300 miles of range provides flexibility and means that these drivers can drive most of the week without needing to charge, or perhaps just needing to add some range where they work or shop.
7. Cold Weather: For drivers who live in regions of the US with cold winters, there is a concern about reduced range caused by the energy drain from blasting the car heater, combined with lower energy output from cold batteries. A second issue is that cold batteries take longer to charge unless they are correctly pre-conditioned, and so potential EV drivers who are aware of these issues will want and expect larger batteries with more range to compensate for these cold-weather factors affecting range.
8. Charging Speed Concerns: From the time we are a little kid sitting in the backseat of our parent’s car, we discovered that it only takes about five minutes to fill up the gas tank in a car or truck, pay, and get on your way. And even if you have a large pick-up or SUV with a 28-gallon gas tank or perhaps you head inside the convenient store to buy a cup of coffee and snack, or perhaps use the restroom — the entire “gas-station experience” might last upwards of 10-12 minutes maximum.
But it is the 5 to 10 minutes timeframe that many US drivers use to benchmark and establish their expectations on the time it should also take to refuel an electric vehicle. Unfortunately, with EVs there are numerous variables that make difficult an apples-to-apples comparison to refueling an ICE (internal combustion engine). These include:
- The state of charge of your EV (e.g., 10%, 20%, 30%)
- Level charged to (e.g., 70%, 80%, 90%, or 100%)
- Maximum charging rate of the DC fast charger (e.g., 50 kW, 150 kW, 250 kW, 350 kW)
- Maximum charging rate actually delivered
- Whether the EV batteries are preconditioned for maximum charging rate
- Weather conditions (e.g. cold or extreme heat can slow how fast the battery can charge)
With those factors in mind, today realistically it can take from 30 to 60 minutes to charge an EV up to 80% or more to provide enough range to get back on the road and reach your next charging location or final destination. Under perfect conditions with a combination of a high-power DC fast charger and EV that’s capable of charging at a high rate, an EV driver might be able to add 150 to 200 miles of range in about 15-20 minutes and get back on the road. One of the fastest charging EVs is the new Hyundai IONIQ5 which can add about 170 miles of range in 18 minutes when charging at a 350 kW DC fast charger (of which not a lot exist currently).
Experienced EV drivers understand that especially on road trips you stop and charge your EV while you refuel your body by eating a leisurely meal, stretch your legs, use the restroom, check email, etc. Though it might take 30 to 60 minutes to charge your EV, much or all of that time is not spent waiting around but rather doing other things while your car charges. But this notion of refueling while your EV is parked and you are occupied with other activities is something that most drivers don’t understand and really won’t until they go on their first road trip in an EV.
And for drivers who expect to completely refuel their EV in 5 to 10 minutes, even having an EV with 300 miles of range may disappoint them which perhaps partly explains why 35% of those in the Consumer Reports survey desire 350 or more miles of range. The factor behind that wanted amount of range is simply so that they can either avoid having to stop and charge altogether or only having to add a lesser amount of range (hence shorter charging time) to reach their final destination.
9. Rural/Remote Drivers: Another potential concern, and one that is quite legitimate is from those drivers who live in very rural and remote parts of the US and who may do frequent long trips just to reach the nearest large city or location for their regular supplies or other needs. For these drivers, DC fast charging stations may be few and far between and they will want to be able to do a round trip without needing to stop and refuel. They may have a round-trip of 200-250 miles to reach a large city and back to their home and so an EV with say only 150 to 200 miles of range — and especially during cold winter months — simply is not going to be enough range.
While a much smaller use case, one that is quite real to those people who are, for example, rural healthcare workers who drive their cars hundreds of miles each work day to reach patients in remote areas. Many of their patients have limited electrical power options and access to fast charging is simply going to be nonexistent. For this group of drivers, a hybrid or even a plug-in hybrid which they can use to cover at least some miles for personal commutes may be the optimal solution for many years to come.
10. Towing: A final reason people want more than 300 miles of range is for those who use their trucks and other vehicles to tow things — whether a boat, camping trailer, or construction equipment such as a concreted mixer. Since towing can significantly reduce electric range, 400-500 miles of range maybe necessary for people who use their vehicles to tow things to obtain an actual 250-300 miles of range.
What have I missed? Are there other reasons you or others desire or need 300 or more miles of range before considering the purchase or lease of a full, battery electric vehicle? Let me know in the comments.