200-Mile Electric Cars Are Overkill, Suggests Academic: 100-Mile Range Is The Sweet Spot

It’s the same reason restaurants needlessly pile our plates ever-higher with far more than our dietary needs dictate: the more you get, the more you want.

But like picking an all-you-can eat buffet over a modest meal off the menu, car buyers will always pick size, performance and — in the case of electric cars — range over more sensible notions like affordability, common sense and scientific data.

Which car would you choose? Turns out the LEAF may be the smarter option.

Which car would you choose? Turns out the LEAF may be the smarter option.

As a consequence those whose needs might be met by a medium-range electric car like a Nissan LEAF or Chevrolet Spark might find themselves lusting after a range-extended electric car like the BMW i3 REx or Chevrolet Volt instead — just to make sure. Even those considering a Tesla Model S will find that their fear of running out of charge, however irrational, will cause them to spend extra money and opt for the longer-range 85 kilowatt-hour Tesla Model S over the bast model 60 kilowatt-hour model.

Yet the purchase decision to opt for a longer-range electric vehicle in order to mimic the range capabilities of a traditional gasoline or diesel car is both illogical and financially unsound, argues a new report (via GreenCarReports) from a senior researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

The study, entitled  Optimizing and Diversifying Electric Vehicle Driving Range for U.S. Driverspersonal transportation requirements of more than 36,500 drivers in the U.S., examining their individual driving patterns and “household flexibility” to see just what kind of ranges an electric car would need to be in order to allow a switch from gasoline to electric. Moreover, it calculated how electric car range would change as the cost of lithium-ion battery packs decreases and the number of public charging stations increased.

For now, sub-100 mile electric cars make the best financial sense.

For now, sub-100 mile electric cars make the best financial sense.

What it found was that electric cars with ranges of less than 100 miles are far more cost effective to buy and a far more logical financial decision over longer range electric cars — at least until the cost of battery packs fall to less than $100 per kilowatt-hour.

Based on our own experience of electric car ranges, we’d have to agree. While it’s nice to have a car capable of driving more than 250 miles per charge, the reality of everyday driving is that in most cases a range of under 100 miles will suffice. When it comes to longer-distance driving, being able to rapid charge every few hours in the time it takes to grab a meal or a coffee is enough.

What’s more, the money you’ll save on buying a larger-range electric vehicle can be spent elsewhere: buy a second plug-in car, or perhaps even save up for that next-generation battery pack several years in the future.

Of course, we don’t always do what’s best for our wallets, ruling with our hearts sometimes rather than our heads. But do you agree that 100-miles is more than enough for your daily driving needs? And would you seriously consider spending less on a smaller-range car if you could save money in the long run?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • Dennis Pascual

    Having workplace charging and easier access to public charging allowed me to pile on 54,321 miles on my 80-100 range Active E with no DC Fast charging. However, I drove the car from Feb 2012 – Feb 2014 when the adoption of EVs and the use of public charging stations wasn’t as prevalent as it is now.nnnIn Southern California, for the first year to year and a half of my Active E use, it was easier to get a Level 2 charge than not. (aside from issues with network errors from Blink). However, about the time that the Leaf and other EVs started to drop prices in 2013, access to L2 J1772 became more contentious and thus more difficult to put in the miles. And this is in California where there are probably a larger network of paid and free J1772 charging available than most places in the world.nnnSo, for my 80-100 mile commute, I prefer to have the extra buffer of batteries that a Tesla provides, because it’s not uncommon for me to head back out AFTER the 80-100 mile commute and thus need a bit more range to continue driving electric.nnnHaving said that, the average electric miles on our Model S has been LESS than on our Active E, but I believe that has more to do with the fact that we drive two EVs now, rather than just one.

  • andywade

    What utter nonsense. Especially since the EV makers lie about range as a matter of course – the LEAF was supposed to have a 100 mile range, but it conks out at about 65. Even the “320 mile” Tesla only does 250.nnThis is the problem with electric vehicles, as I see it – the market is dominated by a combination of arrogant geeks who know what you want better than you do, and outrageous lies about range. And this twit is helping. Who buys a whole new and expensive type of car just to pop down to the shops or commute to work?

    • WeaponZero

      It is not that the lie about range. More like people get confused with multiple different standards. The world needs to agree on 1 single standard for measuring mpg/range.nnFor example, the Nissan Leaf:nnEPA 5 cycle: 75 milesnnEPA 2 cycle: 100 milesnNEDC: 120 milesnJC08: 141 milesnnSame thing with Tesla:nnEPA 5 cycle: 265 milesnEPA 2 cycle: 300 milesnNEDC: 312 milesnnI can understand the discrepancy between the EPA 2 cycle and 5 cycle as it was a coincidence that EVs were introduced right as EPA changed the test so the Leaf went from 100 miles to 73 miles (2013 it got a bump of 2 miles).nnBut then there is the NEDC and JC08. And while NEDC is used by a lot of the world (based on European standard). I think the EPA 5 cycle is a more realistic test. Either way they really need to come together and make a single test, they will even save some money if the wolrd can standardize their tests.

      • Esl1999 .

        Totally agree.

    • Surya

      A Leaf only does 65?

    • The Smart ED is $100 per month on lease here in Toronto Canada. I am saving more than that per month on fuel, insurance and other costs. There is every reason to get one for the commute, and save the gas car for the family trips.

  • andywade

    PS – it just so happens that it is very bad for batteries to deep-discharge them on a regular basis. So in fact, more range is better technically too. This guy simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    • Surya

      His point is that most people don’t even need the full 100 miles on a regular basis so the deep discharge isn’t a problem really.

      • This is about affordability though, right? The report — as we mentioned — said that this only holds true until cheaper battery packs exist. The cost-effectiveness of EV ownership is the thing being studied here. nnnBesides, how many people do you really know who do 50+ miles a day? The average U.S. and UK annual mileage figures suggest it’s impossible for most people to do more than 100 miles a day. nnnEven at 65, most people find they’ve got enough charge to carry out a day of chores and commuting. We’re exceptional case owners who drive a total of 90 miles per day in a LEAF and 50 in a Volt — we still cope 🙂

        • Surya

          Affordability is indeed the first obstacle to EV adoption, the perceived lack of range the second one. But how the hell do you get it out of people’s heads that it’s only their perception that a 100 miles isn’t enough?

        • Agreed. My Smart ED rarely gets to “stretch its (short) legs” past 50km in a single day. I’ve done 130km round trips without issue, but they are twice per year at the most.

      • vdiv

        I love it when others know more about my needs than I do. Can I stop being a selfish narcissistic prick for a second and think about the children?!nnnI should just stop thinking about myself and be a happy drone for the rest of my miserable life, the academics will take care of me, just like they did in grad. school…

        • I think we sometimes forget all too easily that our own requirements u2260 other people’s requirements. 😉

  • Esl1999 .

    “I may not need it, but it’s nice to know it’s there.”nIf Mark Chatterley could have range anxiety in a P85, then the heart may know something the mind doesn’t. People will pay extra for flexible, stress-free driving, just ask the people who chose the 60 and 85 Model S’s over the 40 kilowatt-hour.

  • Michael Thwaite

    Unlimited texting, internet, TV, phone calls; we love it no? The i3 is a good example of this. The extra range afforded by the REX costs, in rough terms; purchase, tax, and extra effort getting it fixed, about $50-$100/month over a 7-year life. People are flocking to buy it. The message is, we want extra range and we don’t want to feel stressed about it. Many owners, including me, would have paid the price of the gasoline engine in batteries instead to gain an extra 40-60 miles range or, basically, a reliable year-round 100 miles. I have a good use-case for that need but I don’t think I’m alone.

  • Espen Hugaas Andersen

    I agree that 100 miles range is enough for most people. It’s just that right now the only pure EVs that can reliably drive a minimum of 100 miles are the Model S and the RAV4 EV.nnThe Leaf can’t be counted on to go further than about 40 miles on the highway in the winter. Same with most of the other EVs. Many people commute more than 20 miles each way to work and don’t have charging at work.nnThen there’s the batttery degradation. A Leaf with 70% remaining capacity can’t be counted on to go further than about 30 miles in any weather conditions.

  • The 85 to 100 miles I get with my EV works perfectly fine and after all incentives was $26,500 fully loaded. That works for me. I really don’t need a 200 mile range EV that costs $53KnnNow if the can develop a 200 mile range car that costs 30K I’ll be all over it.

  • The first question people ask me about my Smart ED is “how far can it go”, and I reply “140km on a full charge” to which they reply “that would be enough for me”. Frankly, the Smart Fortwo ED is perfect for my needs, and while it may not suit everyone (though I bet many millions could use it for their commute), the range is more than enough, and the 8 hour recharge time is irrelevant (we all have to sleep sometime)

  • D. Harrower

    I can’t fathom purchasing an EV with range based on typical use.nnSure it would work fine most days. You’d get up, drive to work, charge, and drive home again (don’t forget to plug in before bed). But what about those few non-typical days? If a charger you rely on everyday is down for maintenance for a few days/weeks, you suddenly can’t do anything unless you leave your EV behind! What about adverse weather? Do you just skip work on the days it’s snowing?nnAn EV should hold enough charge for a minimum of 2 days driving, that way when something unexpected happens and you can’t follow your routine to the letter, you won’t be totally hooped and bumming a ride in a coworker’s Hummer.

    • Mike

      Great point – it’s not the average distance that counts, but the peak usage times. That’s one reasons why folk want a whole lot of reserve in their range.nAnd that’s partly because the relationship to the car is one of freedom – to be able to go wherever you want, when you want.nGo back to when we all drove ICE cars, didn’t you get a little bit nervous when the fuel light popped up on the tank, even though according to the manual, that would still take you 50 miles, 2/3 of the real range of the Leaf? We may not need the massive range buffer, but we definitely are used to it.

  • Pete McWade

    I’ve been living with my Leaf for 3 years now and have 33,700 miles on the clock. My range has dropped from a solid 75 when new to a measly 58 today. I commute 45 miles daily. The issue with extra range is not just to go extra miles but to be sure you have decent range a few years down the road. This winter will most likely be my last year I can actually make it to work and back without charging. At that time I will have to put the car on the back burner because it won’t satisfy my commute needs. I planned on at least 6 years driving before my range dropped to where I could not do the drive to work and back on a single charge. In California most people do drive more than 35 miles on a daily basis and having the extra range just in case you need to jet out and get some extra goodies on the way home. I dearly love my Leaf but really don’t like the battery life. LiFePO4 battery chemistry has a longer life expectancy than the Leaf chemistry. nnnI would have to say that a solid 150 mile range in the middle of winter with the heater on the entire drive at 65 mph would be an ideal situation for an electric car for the average driver. The few that only drive in town will then benefit from not having to charge so often. nnnPete 🙂

  • Mike

    I took the LEAF just because it just about makes economic sense to commute 72 miles each way, based on the Lease cost + ins + servicing – versus train or ICE car. And the costs are more predictable. I’d love the same price and double the range – then I’d have little concern about getting there and back and possibly not finding a charge point at work…nAlso when I want to take the family out of a day, I’d wish to be able to go somewhere and back without having to be sure of a charge point being there or working – but have to fall back on the ICE again for that! And it is restrictive to be forced sometimes to go down to 60 mph or 35 mph just to be sure to make it to the charge point.nNikki thanks for the article 3 mth ago (which I just found) about the abortive WAVE trip. Was going to try going to Paris next year with the LEAF, but not now – might be worth the gamble independently, but not with 3 kids under 9 yo in the car!!!

  • Kenneth_Brown

    It would be nice to see manufacturers have the option of an extra battery pack to extend range. It shouldn’t be too hard to fit a connector in the boot/trunk and some fastener points. nnnI’m currently in an area that makes my range needs just on the edge of getting there and back on one charge of a Leaf in good nick. The “city” has some options for charging including a dealership with a Fast Charger, but it isn’t always convenient to make my way there and wait to charge up. I am looking forward to when the shopping centers start installing charge points and I can plug the car in while I shop instead of stopping elsewhere to top up. The Nissan dealer’s charger is only available durning their business hours. I wish it was available 24/7.