Though electric cars sales are yet to take off, the recent launch of Tata Nexon EV in the sub-Rs. 20 lakh range has added to the growing excitement around the category.
Enthusiasts have been gushing over sports-car like acceleration and good handling due to low centre of gravity and even distribution of weight. And the environment-loving types are happy at the prospect of ridding the planet of dirty emissions. And we in media, well, we are always excited by all things new.
The fact that the excitement has not set the sales charts burning suggests there are issues to resolve before the EVs truly ‘arrive’. The biggest is around range and battery. How far does an electric car go? And what happens when the battery runs out of juice?
How far can an electric car go?
The range of an electric car depends on the size of the battery and the driving style. The car shows you the range in real-time that you can expect and plan your next stop for recharging the battery. Tata Nexon EV claims a range of 312km from a 30.2kWh battery—it does a very credible 200 km in the real world. Hyundai Kona Electric claims a range of 452km from a 39.2 kWh battery but does around 300 km. The MG ZS does around 260 km against a claimed range of 340 km. These are ballparks as the actual range depends a lot on driving conditions and style just like petrol/diesel cars.
But petrol and diesel pumps are everywhere while the charging facilities are a bit patchy. And that leads to a modern ailment known as Range Anxiety.
What is range anxiety?
Range anxiety is the concern that a driver has that their car will run out of battery before they reach their destination. But according to the drivers that are already driving an EV for quite some time the anxiety slowly goes away. This is because you start planning your routes with stops and change your daily habits a little bit. For instance, you would need to plug in your EV almost daily when you reach home so that it is ready for the next day with enough range. Also, you would need to plan road trips with stops for you to charge your vehicle.
But the anxiety bit apart, there is a real issue of battery discharge. Fortunately, the EVs have a lot of techs to help you anticipate and manage the situation.
So what exactly starts happening when the battery of an EV starts running out?
The manufacturers of the electric vehicle have thought of this condition and they have found some ways to warn the driver of the decreasing range. The car always shows you the range in the instrument cluster. There are certain things that some of the car companies have implemented such as
- The car will warn you about the dropping battery percentage in the instrument cluster.
- The car may suggest you navigate to the nearest charging station.
- The car goes in a limp mode which basically reduces the performance from the motor and limits your top speed to extend the range so that you can reach the nearest charging station.
- Some cars may turn the AC and other electricals down to save the battery to further extend the range.
But if the battery does get depleted, then you would need to tow to the nearest charging station.
And it’s here the EVs are, well, different. You can’t just push them around or use your friend’s car to pull it to the nearest charging point. This is because the motors are ‘coupled’ with the wheels and if you spin the wheel, then the motor can get damaged. Tesla suggests towing their cars on a flatbed. And this is a case with most of the electric cars that you would need to call a tow truck which has a flat-bed or if it is an emergency you can use the self-loading dolly (tyre skates) that will make sure that your wheels are not spinning when you are towing.
But don’t let all this scare you. If you are looking to buy an electric, there is a good chance it is primarily for city use as the infrastructure for long-distance travel is just not there. And most cars have enough range for city drives. You just need to get into the habit of plugging your car often enough to keep the batteries juiced up.
Electric vehicles shouldn’t be towed with a rope or lift, as this can damage the traction motors that generate electricity through regenerative braking. Different manufacturers give different advice. Tesla and Renault, for example, advise owners to only use a flatbed truck for recovery. However, Nissan says that the latest Leaf can be towed with the front wheels raised, as this avoids damaging the traction motor. However, a flatbed is always the safest choice.