Right after the Chevrolet Bolt EV raised the bar to 238 miles of range when driving on battery power, Hyundai announced the Ioniq EV with just 124 miles per charge. Honda is about to announce EV, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell versions of a new Honda Clarity. The Clarity EV may get just 80 miles per charge. What gives?
Hyundai says the more important metric is MPGe, the measure of battery efficiency relative to gasoline power. Not surprisingly, Hyundai is the leader at 136 MPGe. Honda says some EV-intenders are turned off by dinky little EVs; the new Clarity is the same size as the Honda Accord.
What is MPGe and why it matters
A gallon of gasoline contains 115,000 BTUs of heat. Gasoline fired off in the cylinders of cars creates heat that expands and forces the pistons down, creating the power that drives the car forward. According to the EPA, you’d need 33.7 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity to match the heat in a gallon of gas. A car that travels 100 miles on 33.7 kWh of battery power would be rated at 100 MPGe. Among EVs available today, their efficiency ranges from 84 MPGe for the Mercedes-Benz B250e (a 173-inch, compact SUV) to 136 MPGe for the Ioniq EV, roughly the size of the Hyundai Elantra, and 124 MPGe for the subcompact BMW i3 EV.
An EV rated at 100 MPGe would use 33.7 kWh of electricity. At the end of 2016, residential customers in the US paid an average of 12.21 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. So the cost would be $4.11 per 100 miles. At the current $2.29 cost per gallon of gasoline, according to AAA, you’d need a combustion engine car returning 57 mpg. To match the Ioniq, you’d need a gasoline car that gets 78 mpg. The Elantra averages 25-32 mpg, depending on trim line.
Big, heavy batteries reduce efficiency
Why haul around a battery of 900-1,200 pounds in order to get 200 to 300 miles of range, asks Hyundai. The Bolt EV battery weighs about 900 pounds. Tesla batteries are up to about 1,200 pounds. The Ioniq EV battery weighs less than 500 pounds.
Here is the argument of the automakers whose vehicles have ranges around 100 miles:
- There is no range anxiety, as 95% to 98% of daily trips are all within the vehicle’s range. It only takes 30 seconds to plug in the charger when you get home.
- A 200- to 300-mile battery doubles or triples the battery weight. The Ioniq’s 3,164-pound curb weight would jump beyond 3,500 pounds. This for a compact car, no less.
- A bigger battery adds another $1,000 or more to the price.
- A bigger battery eats into passenger and cargo space.
- It only gets better from here, with more public charging stations offering 220/240-volt charging (full battery charge in 4-5 hours) and DC Fast Charging (80% charge in a half-hour). You can charge at the company parking lot, at home, on campus, and in an increasing number of parking lots and garages.
Americans want more than compact cars
So far, the majority of EVs have been compacts or subcompacts. Tesla is the lone exception, with full-size cars that cost more than $75,000. Now comes Honda, shortly, with a medium-to-full-size sedan. But the Clarity EV is reported to get just 80 miles per charge. On range, that’s a throwback to 3-5 years ago. Honda’s points are:
- There is no range anxiety (see above)
- Americans crave roominess. They want cars that seat 4-5 comfortably. They’re about to get one.
Steve Center, VP for environmental business development for Honda in the US, told Automotive News, “These people want a battery car and they know what they do and where they go. They’re very rational and they don’t need to lug around or charge up a 300-mile-range battery because that costs them electricity.”
Honda has experience selling small EVs, to wit the Honda Fit EV that at 160 inches is almost three feet shorter than the Clarity and Accord. Honda sold only 1,100 of the Fit EVs. Obviously, one could argue there’s room for something in between, such as an EV version of the Honda Civic (367,000 sold last year) or CR-V compact crossover (357,000 sold last year).
The Clarity, fuel cell and electric, will be publicly unveiled at the New York International Auto Show April 12. The Clarity Fuel Cell may have a range of 350-plus miles on a single tankful of hydrogen, which converts the fuel into electricity and water.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle
The reality from the automakers points of view should be tempered with the POV of buyers. Which is:
- Sure, it only takes 30 seconds to plug in an EV every night, but sometimes it gets forgotten. It is the source of occasional spousal bickering over who forgot. And not every office has charging.
- Just as you’re loath to drive a combustion engine car when the low fuel light is on at startup, EV owners are nervous about going someplace when the range indicator is below, say, 25 miles. On a Clarity, you start getting worried after driving 55 miles (of the apparent 80), on a Ioniq EV after 100 miles, and on the Bolt after 200 miles. Over time, you may drop the reserve-miles set-aside from 25 to 20 or 15 as you get more comfortable, but never below 10.
- Electricity is inexpensive at home. At public parking stations, it costs more, sometimes a lot more, unless your purchase or lease includes free fill-ups at, say, ChargePoint. With shorter range cars, you’re more tempted to fill up on the road, just to be safe. If you pull up to a public lot with charging, they may be in use, or one or the two is broken.
- Even with the range of EV efficiency, 84 MPGe to 136 MPGe, buyers and owners believe that all EVs are significantly more efficient that combustion engine cars. It’s unclear how many will be drawn to the most efficient EV (currently the Ioniq) when the others are good enough.
A short range (100 miles or less) is acceptable if this is your second car, in which case a smaller EV is acceptable. For longer trips, you’ll have to rent a combustion engine car or get a friend to drive. The advantage accrues to a brand and dealership that offers seamless weekend rentals of combustion engine cars and, if you’re agreeable, that rents your EV out for the weekend to recoup costs. Weekend renters in urban areas like EVs because they’re only going short distances.
Take your pick
Five years from now, all EVs will probably have 150-200 miles range, minimum, as batteries grow more efficient. We might see a 500-mile Tesla, for example. The fastest chargers will support all connectors, including Tesla and DC Fast Charge.
In the meantime, you must choose what you want most: long range, efficiency (MPGe), roominess, or affordability. More of one means less of the others.
If you’re shopping, keep an eye of the trade winds out of Washington. It’s possible the tax credits of up to $7,500 may go away under the new administration, and some states with tax credits are cutting or eliminating theirs.