How important is overall range for Electric Vehicles?

BMW i | February 9th, 2016 by 45
BMW i3 Shadow Sport Edition LA Auto Show 2 e1447883190956 750x500

BMW’s only pure electric vehicle, the BMW i3, has drawn heavy criticism in the past year for not boasting a range capable of competing with …

BMW’s only pure electric vehicle, the BMW i3, has drawn heavy criticism in the past year for not boasting a range capable of competing with the likes of Tesla and even GM. The latter two companies both offer EVs that can achieve a claimed 200 mile-plus range on their batteries, with the Model S P85D and Chevy Bolt, respectively. All the while, BMW’s i3 can only achieve around 80 miles or so without its range extender gasoline engine, which is around the same as the 2015 Nissan Leaf. However, even the 2016 Leaf boasts a further range of 107 miles. So BMW seems a bit behind the 8-ball, in terms of battery range.

2016 Chevy Bolt Detroit Auto Show 1 750x563

200 Mile Chevy Bolt

For most automakers, 200 miles is the current goal for BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles), as they feel that 200 miles of range is enough to pull customers over from gasoline vehicles. According to an article from Popular Mechanics, the 200 mile-mark is the mark to hit for companies like Chevrolet, Nissan and Tesla. Nissan, whose 2016 Leaf does claim a further range than before, is still significantly behind the ball as well. “We are very aware of what’s happening in the market,” said Ken Kcomp, director of product planning at Nissan. “Nissan is developing longer range batteries.”

According to General Motors, 100 miles of range is just not enough to eliminate range anxiety for most motorists, with Larry Nitz, G.M.’s director of global transmissions and electrification saying “Today’s drivers of 100-mile electric cars always need to look for the next charge,”. However, BMW seems to feel differently, claiming that the 80 mile range of the BMW i3 is far more than the average American drives everyday.

BMW i3 winter test drive 6 750x339

“I question the race to the 200-mile electric car,” said Jose Guerrero, head product manager of electric vehicles for BMW. We’ve spoken to Guerrero before and he feels as if the 80 mile range of the i3 is sufficient in the current market. Guerrero claims that the average commute for Americans is only 36 miles, round trip, so the BMW i3’s 80 miles is more than enough. Plus, adding a larger 60 kWh battery somewhat defeats the purpose of the BMW i3.  “Putting a 60 kilowatt-hour battery in an i3 would kill the dynamism of the car,” as the i3 was designed to be very lightweight, with its extensive use of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials, thus needing less battery capacity. The BMW i3 is designed to be as efficient as possible and efficiency and range aren’t always synonymous. The BMW i3 makes the most out of what it has, while many other companies are just packing bigger batteries is. That’s not what the i3 is about, according to Guerrero.

However, BMW’s Bavarian neighbors over in Ingolstadt, at Audi, have different feelings. Siegfried Pint, who used to be the electric powertrain engineer for the BMW i3, is now currently the chief of electric powetrains for Audi and feels that Guerrero’s opinion is somewhat outdated. “I had that opinion six or seven years ago,”, referring to his time with BMW,  “But if you want to sell a decent number of cars, you need ‘first-car ability,'”. That “first-car” ability Pint is talking about is the ability to own an EV as a first or only car and making it a daily driver. In light of Pint’s change of heart, the upcoming Audi e-tron Quattro BEV SUV will boast a 300 mile-plus range from its massive 95 kWh battery. According to Pint, “That was a strong requirement from the sales department,”.

Audi e-tron Quattro Concept

Audi e-tron Quattro Concept

So it seems as if overall range is the absolute goal for most automakers, in terms of EVs. All manufacturers, other than BMW, feel as if 200 miles is the must-have range for upcoming EVs. BMW feels that actually efficiency, developing a car that is capable of eking out the most miles from its battery, is more important overall, and BMW does have a point. If a car isn’t efficient, a massive battery won’t necessarily help all that much. BMW’s idea is to maximize efficiency so that when battery technology catches up, BMW can fit smaller batteries and still achieve further range.

It’s interesting to see the massively different view that BMW shares from the rest of the automotive world, even a fellow German automaker. The majority seems to think that overall range is the key for EVs moving forward, but BMW seems to think that efficiency, getting the most out of the battery, is the key. It will be interesting to see who ends up being right.

[Source: Popular Mechanics]

45 responses to “How important is overall range for Electric Vehicles?”

  1. Chris Llana says:

    Herbert Diess, who headed BMW R&D when the i3 was brought into being, said, “Our goal, right from the start, was to come to market with a car which will be emotional and fun to drive and deliver on our core competence which is driving pleasure. Meaning, the vehicle should be fully electric and focused on cities, so it has to be an agile car. We don’t want to overload the car with battery cells. We think the range should be for daily commuting. We never wanted to build a car that can compete for the long-distance traveler.”

    The companies who are touting long range as important now, are not building long range EVs (other than Tesla), but are aiming to bring them to market in three or four years. So for them, talk is cheap, especially when they’re playing catch-up. In essence, they’re talking trash about the current crop of EVs, perhaps hoping to blunt their sales while they get their act together.

    It’s not just BMW selling an EV today with sufficient range for the large majority of drivers. Look at Nissan and Renault (the market leaders), and look at the eGolf.

    There are plenty of drivers today in the pool of potential EV buyers for whom a 100-mile range more than satisfies their needs. Why compromise the performance of EVs to satisfy the small minority who really need to go long distances? They are more than likely going to continue to buy gassers in any case, and if they want to drive electric for their shorter/commuting drives, and retain the ability to go longer, there are plenty of plug-in hybrids for them.

    • johnbl says:

      Yes I have the BEV i3 and the range meets 99.9% of my driving needs but i won’t sell my ICE until I can get an BEV with at least double that 80 miles..and I feel that way even though I know from driving over a year that the 80-90 range totally works for me..I might get the second gen i3 but now will wait ’til Model 3 give some hint of what Musk has in store for that new Tesla.

      BMW will not retain any decent sales of their BEVs until they get with the program..giving up reason to meet the whims of the marketplace..it just how it is. Maybe the i3 January sales figures will change a few ideas at BMW and encourage their engineers to get their heads out of the clouds.

    • Theo A says:

      I have the I3 REX and end up using REX at least 2-3 a month in winter. 2 weeks ago I had to drive into a 40 mph head wind in 5f type weather and my effective range with defrost running was 28 miles. REX saved my a$$. Majority of folks who can buy an EV still live in cold climates, some a very cold, every bit of range helps….

  2. MichaelT says:

    It sounds like BMW is in no hurry to build a long-range BEV that could compete with their ICE. Efficiency is important but the average consumer want range and the two qualities are not mutually exclusive.

    • Chris Llana says:

      I just saw the results of a Navigant Research EV survey. Most of the respondents were concerned about range and the availability of public charging stations (gas station model they were comfortable with), and planned on staying with the familiar ICE, but for the few people taking the survey who actually drove EVs, range was a non-issue.

      Many issues and biases will disappear as battery tech improves (less weight, less cost) and EVs gain market share, and become less of a novelty. The i3 and LEAF are both getting a bump in range this year with the introduction of new battery chemistries.

      And yes, the big car companies want people to continue buying their ICE vehicles; it’s what they know. During the transition to digital/HDTV, the consumer electronics companies similarly fought to keep people buying their old analog TV models.

      • Erik Corry says:

        “for the few people taking the survey who actually drove EVs, range was a non-issue”

        Self-selecting group. If they cared about range they would probably not have an EV, but those people already have an EV and are not the target if you want to sell an EV.

        “BMW is in no hurry to build a long-range BEV that could compete with their ICE”. The i3 doesn’t compete with BMW’s ICE’s, it competes with other manufacturers. I think BMW actually know that.

      • 181 says:

        I have an i3 Rex and I sure as hell care about range. In fact nearly every EV owner I’ve talked to feels the same. I would like to see the wording of this question because I think either the poll is bad or you are misinterpreting the data.

  3. Figjam_US says:

    We have an i3 with REM. As noted in the article, we use this as a commute car for my wife who does not have an extended commute.

    In my mind, it is not “range” that matters so much as 1. Availability of charging stations away from home and 2. The time duration to recharge.

    The second point is critical to replacing gasoline transportation. Families who take their cars on extended vacations do not want to spend at least 30-mins recharging after only driving for 5-6 hours. They want what they have now, stop refuel in 10-mins or less and get back on the highway. No one is even close to that model and probably won’t be for some time to come.

    For now, leasing an i3 for commuting is an ideal way to cut down on fuel costs. We use this car as much as possible to reduce fuel consumption. Coupled with our solar panels we are very pleased with the economy of our EV.

    • brunurb says:

      I should have read your comment before posting my own, i made a similar point about recharging times :) people won’t accept higher range if it still takes hours to recharge. Tesla is going in the right direction with charge speed but theres room for improvement.

      • Viking79 says:

        There are different use cases, but most only need a car that will charge fully overnight (not a problem up to 300 miles range or so). Fast charging is more necessary on lower range vehicles, unless planning long distance travel, where we really need faster than Tesla charging.

        But a 200 mile range EV I don’t need fast charging to go on an 80 mile one way trip. With a 100 mile range EV I would need a rapid charger at my destination to get back.

  4. brunurb says:

    To answer the headline question- Overall range is as important as charging capability and charging speed. Having a 200 mile range is great, but if it doesnt have fast charge capability (think Tesla supercharger speed), and it takes 12+ hours to recharge those 200 miles, people wont want it. I would rather have 100 mile range with the ability to recharge that 100 in 5 minutes. Problem is, that runs into thermal management issues… batteries heat up when charging, especially when its fast.

    In the meantime, I’ll stick with my chevy volt, ~50 mile electric range, then gas to go further if needed. I went two months without using gas only to have the streak ruined by a family ski trip :)

  5. Viking79 says:

    If BMW sticks to their claim that people don’t need more range than 80 miles, they won’t be making EVs in 5 years.

    I love the i3, but it is already out of selection for me due to the Bolt EV specs. At least for the asking price.

    I honestly don’t care about quick charging, but do want 200 plus mile range so I can venture 60 or 70 miles one way. Even Tesla charges too slow for long range travel.

    • Matt Stokes says:

      BMW aren’t claiming people don’t need more than 80 miles range. They are stating that the average journey is 18 miles each way, and developed the i3 to cater to people in that demographic. In Europe I suspect that average journey is less (it is in the UK).

      In your case, you anticipate your average journey to be much longer, so, simply, you are not the i3’s target demographic.

      • Viking79 says:

        I understand that, but what reason would I have to buy an i3 vs a Bolt EV for $5,000 less that offers similar performance with almost 3x the range?

        Early EVs have 80 mile ranges as a compromise to cost. Even though it will work for most driving, it is nice to have more. I wouldn’t even trust 80 mile range to drive to the next closest town. Sure, it would do for work and local shopping, but that is all.

        I think both Leaf and i3 will need to rethink next updates or pricing to remain competitive. As an outsider looking at a Bolt EV and an i3, the only reason I would see to buy the i3 is the roundel and it is RWD. Also has a bit of ugly duckling appeal. If pricing was less on i3 it might sway me, but I think Tesla has shown that range is more important than price.

        • Matt Stokes says:

          What reason would anyone buy any BMW over it’s cheaper less-‘premium’ competitors? If your only two considerations when purchasing are how cheap, and how far, then the Bolt may well be the car for you.. I get that the range thing is an issue for you, but it isn’t for everyone.

          • Viking79 says:

            Because they offer a competitive package with nice intrinsic value. The i3 was competitive for a couple years, but everything is changing. It won’t be at all competitive for range.

            Don’t get me wrong, I love the i3. I might even pick up a used one instead of a Bolt EV, since there will surely be great deals on them.

  6. Erik Corry says:

    I have an electric car, and the first thing everyone asks about is range. Second and third is range and range. It’s huge.

    Getting 80% charge time under 30 minutes is hard. Perhaps you can get it to 20 minutes by being hard on the batteries and having good thermal management, but below that you run into some fundamental aspects of nickel batteries. But this means that the more range you have, the faster it charges in mph or km/h. So unless the manufacturer skimps on fast charging (hello Mercedes B-class Electric Drive) more range ‘automatically’ means faster charging – not in minutes, but in the distance you can drive after a ‘coffee break’ 25 minute charge.

    I think the i3 ReX is a great idea for a hybrid. BMW and others should really develop this concept more. A larger tank and a slightly larger car would be enough to push the car into first-car territory, and the simplicity of having no gearbox, no clutch, no restrictions on engine placement, no second differential etc. has lots of benefits.

  7. Msgs says:

    For daily commuting, most often there is only one person – why not make smaller car for two and cheaper…. More affordable.

  8. 181 says:

    I live in a climate that actually experiences winter (unlike much of California). My i3 Rex range drops to 50 miles on the coldest day. That means 25 miles each way because we also don’t have a whole lot of chargers yet and zero DC quick chargers (again, unlike California).

    So the BMW guy sounds insane to me. I think he has to say what he’s saying until a more range-competitive model is introduced. I’ll be cross shopping the Bolt when my current lease is up solely due to range.

    • Chris Llana says:

      Diess, Pint, and other key BMW i sub-brand managers and engineers all left BMW after new management decided to stop developing new i models. Diess is now CEO of VW’s core brand, Pint went to Audi, and others went to more EV-friendly brands.

      You should indeed buy an EV that matches your range needs, and hopefully there will be a range of ranges on the market within a few years. I just don’t want to see everyone getting on the same 200-mile bandwagon—”Your EV isn’t any good unless it goes at least 200 miles.”

      Anyone can build a 200-mile EV—just put a big battery in it. But when you go from the 22 kWh battery now in the i3 to a 60 or 70 kWh battery, the volume and the weight (and cost) of that battery will triple (well, not exactly because the battery is the cells plus the casing). That sort of battery volume would not have worked in the i3; the battery would fill part of the passenger compartment. The car itself would have to be bigger (and therefore heavier), plus the weight of the much heavier battery. And it would have been significantly costlier. It would not have been the i3, but some different, bigger, heavier, less efficient, and more expensive car. There is a car like that on the market—it’s called the Tesla Model S.

      Choice is good. One size does not fit all.

      P.S. New i3 batteries will be getting a bump in capacity this summer.

      • Matt Stokes says:

        ^This.

        As has been pointed out elsewhere… having massive batteries to give 200-300 mile range, if you’re only doing 20 miles a day, means that the rest of the time, you are lugging around all those extra cells, for no benefit – all you’re doing it using more electrons to lug around the dead weight. The i3 was the ‘MegaCityVehicle’, not the ‘Road-tripVehicle’.

        • 181 says:

          As I explained above, 80 miles in the best case scenario isn’t even enough for city use in my opinion. I own this car, do you own a 80 mi AER EV? 50 miles in winter is extremely limiting even in a metro area.

          • Matt Stokes says:

            No I don’t own an EV at all, 49 times out of 50, I’m driving less than a couple of miles, 1 time out of 50 I’m driving 500 miles – 330e will be the car for me.

            You’re obviously entitled to your opinion based on your experience, but the fact is BMW based the range for this car not only on lots of surveys, and government collected statistics, but also the Mini-E and Active-E programs, so they have data on lot’s of peoples habits and uses. If the average distance per journey across an entire country is less than 36 miles (round trip), then offering a range between 50 and 100% more than that will suit a lot of people. And I’d say those of you that do live in the city and cover more than 80 (or 50) miles on a regular basis are probably in quite a minority.

            I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong answer to this, but I think people need to be sensible about it. The i3 was engineered to have the range it does, it’s range will creep up as battery tech gets better. If it’s not suitable for you, don’t buy one.

            For BMW, it was probably a balance between, range, weight, cost and capacity. And that’s a balance they had to pick for ALL the i3’s markets, not just that vast and spread out USA.

          • 181 says:

            Yes it is a design decision for all markets in the world, but guess which country buys the most BMWs?

            A survey of what customers actually use is a completely different thing than the potential ability that a customer expects when making the decision to buy or not. If people (in the US in particular) bought according to only what they actually use (like I did) then there would be almost no pickup trucks or SUVs yet those are by far the biggest sellers. So it clearly doesn’t matter that “the average person only uses 36 mi R/T” if that doesn’t meet their expectation at the time of purchase.

            Also, if someone expects to break from that 36 mi routine even a handful of times a year they will prefer to have a car that covers that need as well over having to buy a second car or deal with renting.

          • Matt Stokes says:

            China, based on the last full years report. They buy the most BMW’s, then the USA. Both territories buy less than little old Europe – where combined sales of the UK and Germany alone are more than the USA.

            As for your other points, the fact Americans like large pointless SUV’s is not analogous to all other buying decisions, and if you’re going to say that 36 miles is no good for that handful of times, well… what if 300 miles is no good for that handful of times? Guess what, you’ll still have to base your buying decisions on range – where do you set your arbitrary level for acceptable… if you don’t base it on what you actually need (as BMW did)?

          • 181 says:

            I stand corrected on BMW sales.

            That arbitrary range is absolutely a fuzzy gray line, but it can be measured after the fact based on what the market will bear. We are finding the market will not accept 80 mile range cars in any significant numbers.

            We know the market accepts 300 mile range cars (though this is clouded a bit by Supercharger availability and other industry firsts) and soon we’ll know if it accepts 200 mile range cars (w/o a DC charging network).

          • 181 says:

            BTW the Volt has taught us that once a buyer has owned a car that can travel solely on electric power factor, they consider “more electric range” the top criteria for their next purchase. GM has said this many times.

            I would bet you anything you’ll feel the same after you have a 300e for a year. That 20 or so miles on EV power will be so smooth and silent that the engine turning on will feel like a letdown.

          • Matt Stokes says:

            Hey, I’m sold on Electric Power already, but for now I need the long range too, and for me that range needs to be at least 500 miles…. and from a car that’s 3-er sized or smaller.

          • 181 says:

            I hear you. We have 2 cars in our household so in the next few years I think we’ll have a a BEV and a Volt-style hybrid that has enough range to be 90% electric.

      • 181 says:

        The Bolt is much smaller and lighter than the Model S. It’s expected to be about 600 lbs heavier than the i3 yet has double the range. I very much doubt that extra 600 lbs is going to make a noticeable difference for a *commuter car*. On a race track, sure, but if BMW was targeting a race track setting with the i3 they wouldn’t have made it a tall CUV with soft springs that promotes body roll in even slow cornering. The battery keeping the CoG isn’t enough to correct the body roll in this car as-is. It’s my daily driver and my e46 with 130,000 miles had less body roll. The extra weight might even help reduce the roll!

        I think that 2 years from now the market will clearly prove that for the majority, the common opinion will indeed be that “your EV isn’t any good unless it goes at least 200 miles.” Full stop, end of story. I don’t think I’ve talked to a single other person in the 7 months I’ve had this car that would accept 80 mile range (in the best case summer weather scenario!) like I did. My anecdotal evidence tells me customers that will accept that handicap are in the EXTREME minority. For example, there aren’t any gas cars with a range of only 100 miles per tank and that customer expectation won’t change just because the fuel is different.

        • johnbl says:

          Exactly..I settled for the BEV i3 because I had solar panels, registrations fees were next to nothing, and I wanted that federal tax credit..I love the car but the marketplace will show that statistics are fine for mathematicians but have nothing to do with people BUYING cars..that 200 mile target is the only thing buyers will listen to ..not some study and all those fine ideals. It’s just how the marketplace works and BMW should know that by now.

  9. Tom says:

    The problem isn’t that 80 miles isn’t enough for 1 day, rather if I were to visit family or friends overnight, go on a weekend trip or camping, what am I suppose to do if I cannot optimally charge the car overnight?

    • Chris Llana says:

      Buy a car that meets your needs. Doesn’t have to be a BEV.

      • 181 says:

        You don’t think people might have changing needs over the life of their car? Someone could go from single to married with children in less time the typical car lease.

        A lot more “what ifs” are removed entirely by more range and/or more DC chargers.

  10. jbsegard says:

    One way to fit both arguments is energy modules. Have a look at http://www.eptender.com or http://www.nomadic-power.com

    The car can remain light and affordable for 98% of usage, and reach any destination by renting and attaching a range extending device to the car on demand.

  11. PeskyLogic says:

    i3 Rex owner here.

    I’ve owned my car through 1 winter and I can tell you that I believe that an 80 mile range is too small. I live in Chicago. I don’t always have the option of pre-conditioning the battery. If the outside temperature is below 0 F, (which isn’t all that uncommon during a chicago winter) and I don’t have the option of pre-conditioning the the battery or the cabin, I can see a predicted range as low as 37 miles.

    Yes I know I have the REX, but that onlt supposed to be used infrequently (according to BMW so take that for what its worth).

    The 80 mile range would be fine, it that’s what I would get in the worst conditions, I.E. cold battery and cold car. Otherwise, it can actually be far far less than that not to mention the fact that you lose over half your motor output.

    I used to think that electric cars only needed to conquer overall range, overall cost and charge time to really become widely adopted. I believe they need to put allot of work into better cold weather battery performance, or a faster way of bringing them up to temp.

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