Electric Car Range Anxiety In Perspective, A Response To Tesla’s Musk vs. NYT’s Broder

A war has erupted between Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and New York Times columnist John Broder. Musk takes issue with Broder’s review of the Tesla Model S, and backs it up with data recorded by the test car. I’m not concerned with parsing the details of the feud. I simply want to address the issue of range anxiety. “As I crossed into New Jersey some 15 miles later, I noticed that the estimated range was falling faster than miles were accumulating,” said Broder. “At 68 miles since recharging, the range had dropped by 85 miles, and a little mental math told me that reaching Milford would be a stretch.”

If you ask most people what their biggest concern is when it comes to electric cars, assuming they’ve thought about it at all, they will probably cite range anxiety. The concern is not reaching your destination before the battery’s charge is depleted.

Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway:

John Broder, New York Times — I began following Tesla’s range-maximization guidelines, which meant dispensing with such battery-draining amenities as warming the cabin and keeping up with traffic. I turned the climate control to low — the temperature was still in the 30s — and planted myself in the far right lane with the cruise control set at 54 miles per hour (the speed limit is 65). Buicks and 18-wheelers flew past, their drivers staring at the nail-polish-red wondercar with California dealer plates.

Nearing New York, I made the first of several calls to Tesla officials about my creeping range anxiety. The woman who had delivered the car told me to turn off the cruise control; company executives later told me that advice was wrong. All the while, my feet were freezing and my knuckles were turning white.

So this looks like yet another indictment of the limited range of electric vehicles. But the problem is not range, the problem is infrastructure. Your gasoline powered car has a similar limited range. The only reason you don’t have range anxiety when driving it is due to the massive infrastructure of re-fueling stations. Take your gasoline powered car to an isolated area of the world that has no gas stations and you will soon see infrastructure is what makes the convenience of travel by automobile possible.

Tesla Model S - photo by Steve Jurvetson

Bad-mouthing electric vehicle technology because of lacking infrastructure is most certainly an inane endeavor. So let’s turn to a simple but clever way to explain what the real problem is. We certainly could get by with less articles announcing the impending death of the electric vehicle.

Tesla Motors vs John Broder:

Matthew Yglesias, Slate — Imagine if 70 percent of Americans commuted to work using electric cars, but then new internal combustion engine technology came along that made driving much cheaper and could liberate another 15 percent of the population from reliance on buses. Well, it’d face some daunting obstacles. Sure, you could buy a bunch of gasoline to store in your garage to refill the vehicle at night but not everyone who owns a car has a garage. What’s more, even though on the typical day you’re just driving to and from work a big part of the appeal of homeownership is freedom. With an electric car, you and your family could just drive off to Toledo or Charleston or wherever on a moment’s notice and stop at a charging station whenever you need to power up. With a gasoline-powered care you have a range anxiety problem. Of course if lots of people already owned gasoline-fueld cars, we might have a nationwide network of gasoline depots at which it was possible to refill with all the convenience of a plug-in station. But you can’t get the chicken without the egg and you can’t get the egg without the chicken.

We know gasoline powered cars cannot be the long-term solution. So let’s stop searching for things to complain about and instead find ways to make a transition to electric vehicles work.

photo by Steve Jurvetson

Car cartoon - No, but it does come with keyless exit! - Mark Anderson

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#battery#charge#electric car#electric vehicle#Elon Musk#gasoline#infrastructure#John Broder#Model S#New York Times#range anxiety#Tesla Motors

  • Krys

    It seems to me that a lot of places could install some sort of charging stations that work with a credit card that you swipe, much like a parking meter, so while you are at work or at the store, or sightseeing in a city or at a museum, your car could be charging. That would be a start. Charging also needs to take place faster. I know Tesla has sped up the process quite a bit, but 5 minutes at the gas pump and 45 minutes at a charging station is still a big difference – especially if you have a kid with you. But I’m totally on board with electric vehicles. I’d love to have one. I just don’t have the bank account for one.

    • Indeed. Early gasoline powered cars had their technological limitations as well. Range anxiety was an issue in that time as well, but just as likely would be a breakdown that would leave you stranded. Just because electric cars are not an immediate option for all people does not mean electric car technology has failed. Just because it seems like a daunting task to build out a new infrastructure of charging stations is not a reason to say uncle.