Range anxiety – bigger battery, smaller chassis?

One of the most commonly held beliefs among those who question electric vehicles is that they just don’t have the range, yet car companies are still rolling out monstrous SUVs with massive batteries that can’t drive the car very far. If they wanted to sell EVs, shouldn’t they sell smaller cars with the same sized batteries?

Sadly, logic alone doesn’t solve this. Earlier this year Ford announced it would stop selling saloons in the US and instead concentrate on heavy sports utility vehicles and sports cars. There’s reasoning behind that in domestic and global sales. In a free market the masses decide what sells. Is there an answer?

Ford’s decision

In May the new CEO of Ford Jim Hackett announced his new domestic US strategy. It comes down to what sells and doesn’t – according to Forbes, “The sales ratio sits [of SUVs to saloons] at about  60 percent-40 percent now, the reverse of just a few years ago, and is headed higher. The embrace of these vehicle forms by millennials, who are aging and starting families, is the last straw for a product format that had gotten the industry through its first century.”

Other sources point to the recent fall in gas prices as a leader – with the fall in pump prices so people feel they can afford gas guzzlers. The Trump administration is known to be planning to roll back engine efficiency regulations that were imposed by Obama and were forcing car makers to actively consider going electric. 

It isn’t all bad – there is a real market for electric and hybrid vehicles and the threat of Tesla. Forbes again: “Ford also is hedging its fuel-economy bets with all new models by planning to produce electrified versions of them. That will give Ford a way to buffer against any rise in gas prices and also a counter to the fuel demands of larger vehicles. Also, if EVs begin to prove much more popular with American consumers than they have so far, Ford will be covered.”

Australian explanation…

An Australian motoring website summed up the reason people in their country are going for bigger vehicles: “there is no better way to cram everything you own and love into one vehicle. Motoring writers tend to put this under the vague title of ‘packaging’; basically, it’s what you can fit into the space you have.”

Electric vehicles – smaller chassis?

While there is a real worry among the wider public about climate change, there are problems buffeting the EV market. Admittedly sown by EV haters, this old rubbish of ‘range anxiety’ comes time and again. Looking around the web, there are no vehicles on sale that have a small, lightweight chassis and a big battery at mass market prices made by major players. 

There are big cars with big batteries – the 100kWh Tesla Model X is a classic example of the problem we have in that it’s an SUV. You have the Jaguar iPace and the Audi E-tron which like its other rivals are at the premium end of the market. The Tesla Roadster is set to answer part of the problem – big battery / small car – but at close to the price of a small family home it doesn’t quite reach the masses.  Tesla’s Model 3 Long Range with an 80kWh battery? In the US, $44,000 – again, beyond the price where EV haters would shut up. 

Government solutions…

While calling Trump to do anything rational that would serve anyone but his rich buddies really is quite irrational in its own right, here in Europe we have governments that do at least show signs of climate change awareness. Though high on free market economics, some of the older European countries like Germany and even the prodigal UK are taking certain measures to protect the environment. Frustratingly, in its recent government Budget the May government froze fuel duty hikes for something like the tenth year running – a mistake in my view. The fuel duty was a green tax designed to squeeze people into more economical vehicles by warping the market. As can be seen above in the case of the US, where the vagaries of oil prices forced people into PHEVs and BEVs, squeezing prices at the pump up can really drive the electric vehicle market.

We have a climate crisis coming and something already in place in many government tax systems – fuel taxes – can be used aggressively to change the market. Watch people flock to EVs when the pump price hits €3 a litre!!