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Editor's letter: Range anxiety is not dead

By Alex Inwood, 20 Jan 2019 Opinion

Editor's letter: Range anxiety is not dead

I genuinely thought range anxiety was dead. But, as happens from time to time, I was wrong

I’d like you to honestly answer a simple question: how far do you drive each day? I’m not talking about your weekend adventures, the Sunday joyrides or the early morning strafes along deserted, sinuous mountain passes, because, honestly, how often do we actually do those?

No, I’m talking about the type of driving we all try to forget. The tedious, infuriating, mind-numbing grind of traffic, speed cameras and tailgaters that, truthfully, makes up 95 percent of our time at the wheel.

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Unless you’re a truckie, a cabbie, or you own a Camry, and are therefore an Uber driver, statistics suggest that your daily commute is 16km, one way. That’s the Australian average. So around 32km a day; 160km travelled in a working week. Even accounting for ambitious weekend adventures, it’s likely you won’t drive more than 300km in a week – a distance well within the reach of most modern EVs.

Now ask yourself this: will your next car purchase be an electric one? Again, the data shows your first mental response will be “nope”.

There are a number of glitches to potential EV ownership, but none is larger than the issue of range. It was, for a while, an omnipresent thought, an unpleasant smell that clung to any electric car. Australians in particular seemed to relish rubbishing EVs, our minds firmly on this brown land’s vast distances and lack of charging infrastructure as we sagely shook our heads and said “Nah mate, they won’t work out here.”

But then the talk of range anxiety faulted. It was slow at first, a slipping into the background that occurred so naturally we barely noticed. You can thank Tesla for that. Say what you like about those Kool-Aid chugging, tech-altar worshipping disruptors from California, but they changed the game. Talk of ranges leapt from a few hundred kays to 400 plus, and slowly but surely, fast chargers were drilled into the ground on key arterials. Now we have ‘supercharge highways’, a cresting wave of cutting-edge electric SUVs from companies as disparate as Jaguar and Hyundai that claim 450km ranges, and enough charging points on the east coast to feasibly drive from Melbourne to Cairns.

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I’ll admit that for a brief period I genuinely thought range anxiety was dead. That it was an unpleasant hiccup of a new technology, which thanks to progress, had been quietly taken out the back and shot.

But, as happens from time to time, I was wrong.

Wheels has driven more electric cars in the past two months than it has in the last decade and the overall experience has been fraught. It’s true we drove them much further than 32km a day, but the issues have been numerous. Cars have thrown up catastrophic system errors and refused to move, software glitches have drained batteries at fearsome rates, charging stations have been non-responsive or equipped with the wrong type of plugs, cars have arrived with no charging cables at all, and the overarching experience has been one of real-world driving seeing most fall disappointingly short of their claimed ranges.

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This magazine’s EV megatest, which as far as we can tell is the first of its kind in Australia, was especially ambitious and challenging. It did, however, cement one irrefutable fact: ‘range anxiety’ is a truly appropriate label. Multiply the above problems across six cars over four days and it’s little wonder that deputy editor Enright returned to the office a broken man, his face painted with the strange, grim expression of someone who has spent the last four hours in the left-hand lane on the Hume, his speed dropped below 90km/h, his nose tucked in behind a truck, his eyes glancing furtively at the battery gauge.

These problems will, of course, eventually be ironed out. Few industries move as quickly as the tech world, infrastructure will continue to develop, and for most owners, fitting a wall box at home will alleviate, if not totally remove, the anxiety of day-to-day driving. And the future is bright. Wheels regularly champions the benefits of electric cars and it will continue to so, but for now, there’s still a way to go before Australia feels properly ‘EV ready’.