EVs could spell the end of range anxiety for SA drivers
Derrick Dearlove, Customer Experience Manager, JLR South Africa

The term “range anxiety” has been affixed to electric vehicles (EVs) as if it was never an issue previously. It’s a very real current issue for every internal combustion engine (ICE) owner. Yet the very noose around EV’s neck may, in fact, be one of its biggest advantages.

In the case of EVs, range anxiety can be described as the nervousness of running out of battery power before reaching the destination or a suitable charging point. It’s no different to the concept of running out of fuel. But the issue has perhaps been exacerbated by the relatively short range EVs can drive on a single charge, especially early in their development.

Range anxiety is not a new concept. Anyone who has had their low fuel warning light come on while driving a traditional ICE car knows this feeling all too well. To help alleviate this, many automakers now offer technology in their vehicles allowing the driver to check the fuel level using an app on their mobile phone before departure. But this still requires drivers to remember to fill up with fuel at the nearest forecourt to avoid the dreaded range anxiety.

EVs similarly allow the driver to check their battery charge level by either using the battery level gauge, usually located in the instrument cluster, or remotely through a mobile app. The biggest advantage of EVs, however, is their convenience of being able to be “filled up” at home overnight. Treat your EV the same way you treat any of your mobile devices – by putting them on charge overnight – and EVs start every day with a full battery, significantly reducing any chance of range anxiety.

Where home charging is not an option, there is a growing network of public charging stations across the country offering high-speed DC (Direct Current) charging that can charge an EV from zero to 80% in approximately one hour, and up to 100% in about an hour and a half. Considering the average commute in South Africa is in the region of 50km per day, a more traditional range anxiety “fix” isn’t arduous.

With the average EV range now in the region of 300km on a single charge, those early apprehensions about range are no longer valid. Extended-range models such as Jaquar’s I-Pace can achieve up to 470km on a single charge, comfortably allowing a full work week of urban driving without any intermittent charging. Range is further extended by technologies such as regenerative braking, which extracts the energy generated from braking and stores it for reuse. But just like fuel economy in an ICE vehicle, range in an EV relies on the driving style.

Road trips in an EV do require a bit more planning to identify public charging facilities along your planned route. EVs have integrated navigation, which can be regularly updated through over-the-air software updates, meaning the nearest public charging stations are always visible and accessible. Independent EV charging station providers like GridCars also provide a list of all their charging stations across the country. One can even see specific stations with backup power supply, offering more peace of mind during loadshedding.

It is highly unlikely that you’ll find a queue of EVs waiting at a charging station, however. The rate of infrastructure rollout is currently ahead of actual EVs sold in South Africa, a trend that looks set to continue. GridCars’ strategy, for instance, is to create a market infrastructure for EVs that will make the adoption of electric vehicles an even more attractive proposition for local car buyers.

We have to accept that early adoption of any new technology is never universal. While we can debunk the notion of range anxiety in relation to EVs, there remains many consumers who will continue to be apprehensive when it comes to transitioning from ICE cars to EVs, simply because the technology is still relatively new. In this regard, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) can be a sensible way to test the suitability of new energy vehicles (NEVs) as an alternative to ICE cars. A PHEV, like the Range Rover Sport Electric Hybrid, has an ICE engine that’s complemented by an electric motor. At low speeds, the vehicle can run solely on electric power for up to 100 kilometres. When the battery is depleted, the ICE engine seamlessly takes over. This can be a good steppingstone for those who might be considering an EV but want to be sure about its suitability to meet their mobility requirements.

As battery and EV technology continues to advance rapidly, range should be expected to increase. Affordability will also improve as sales volumes of electric vehicles become larger. So, if anything is going to eradicate range anxiety for the South African driver, it is the adoption of EVs, not the fear thereof.