Planet Forward at Ford | Instilling range confidence in the EV transition

Planet Forward at Ford | Instilling range confidence in the EV transition

Courtesy of Ford Media Library

Related Topics:
Business & Economics, Engineering, Transportation

If electric vehicles (EVs) are charging us into the future, range anxiety could be hitting the brakes. According to JD Power, EV sales grew last year at a 50% pace, reaching one million units. By 2025, electric vehicle sales could comprise almost 20% of new car sales. 

  • Range anxiety is the fear that an electric vehicle will not have enough battery charge to reach its destination, leaving occupants worried about being stranded. 

Why it matters: Carbon emitted from internal combustion engines account for 28% of greenhouse gases emitted annually, according to 2022 data. As contributors to climate change, many are arguing that motor companies have the responsibility to introduce innovative solutions such as EVs and hybrid models to mitigate additional harm to the planet.

Range anxiety is particularly threatening to the long term EV transition because consumers are hesitant about long distance travels along stretches of road where there may be fewer EV charging stations.

Early this year, reports found that electric vehicle sales had slowed as more consumers turned to hybrid models as their primary means of transportation. However, while Tesla continues to struggle, Politico recently reported that EV sales by traditional auto manufacturers saw a 75% increase this April. With dynamic shifts happening in the industry, auto-manufacturers’ responses to range anxiety in consumers could make or break annual sales. 

The big picture: To ensure a smooth and steady transition to electric vehicles, motor companies must address range anxiety and quell consumer apprehension.

  • Even with more long-range options and increased charging stations, battery-powered cars are making some drivers anxious. A survey from AAA showed that about 75% of respondents were undecided or unlikely to purchase an EV due to concerns about charging infrastructure and range anxiety. However, survey results showed that younger generations were most open to purchasing an EV (31% of millennials).
  • In a June 2022 survey by Forbes magazine, Americans were found to be worried about range regardless of their geographic location. However, drivers in the midwest were most stressed about charging on the go, despite efforts to increase fast-charging stations along major highways. 
  • A reported 78% of EV owners report that feelings of range anxiety decrease with increased driving and vehicle knowledge. 
  • Auto manufacturers such as Ford Motor Company have designed apps that help alleviate range anxiety and instill confidence in the consumer. Their FordPass app, for example, provides ancillary equipment and technology that allows users to set their departure times, pre-heat/cool the battery, and prepare the vehicle for long distance travel. 

Range confidence 

Car manufacturers are working to instill range confidence, as opposed to range anxiety. According to JP Helveston, Assistant Professor at George Washington University in the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, the key to range confidence is building higher-range EVs. “While battery prices have fallen exponentially, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have decided to make longer-range EVs instead of less expensive, and smaller range, EVs. This has translated into an EV market in the US with longer-range, and very, very heavy, EVs than anywhere else in the world, but at the expense of affordability,” Helveston said. 

The primary focal point when it comes to range confidence is understanding how much people use the vehicle on a daily basis. Ford’s research found that people are driving anywhere from 15 to 50 miles per day (which is well within what studies have found to be typical average of 26.4 minutes). 

Several factors impact a car’s energy usage, including heating and cooling systems. In certain Ford models, such as the Mach-E SUV and F-150 Lightning, the console displays a chart mapping out how much energy is consumed. 

Driving behaviors also impact a car’s range. A driver going at a rapid acceleration of 80 miles per hour on the highway will likely experience a rapid decline in energy compared to a driver going at a steady 30 miles per hour. 

According to Whitney Pineda, Technology Communications Manager at Ford Motor Company, the key to instilling range confidence lies in understanding how consumers are using their vehicle and helping them find the right vehicle for a great experience. 

While the consumer is responsible for choosing a vehicle that makes sense for their needs, Pineda said that education about charging and how to condition their vehicle are crucial to easing the transition for EV drivers. 

“If you are getting ready to hit the road with the family, you are packing up your car and running around the house and may quickly want to check the vehicle and charge information,” Pineda said. 

Ford offers the FordPass app as the one stop shop for this type of information. Owners of Ford vehicles can download the app and link an account to their vehicle’s VIN. Using the interface, they can track their vehicle’s status and performance including fuel and charge levels, as well as vehicle health alerts.

The Ford Pass app. (Courtesy of Ford Media Library)

The big transition

While JD Power agreed that EVs are still in the ‘early adopter phase’ at the end of 2023. Sam Trentin, a 75-year-old Michigander and owner of a F-150 Lightning, lives in Escanaba and first became interested in purchasing the Lightning after seeing television advertisements on electric vehicles. 

“I knew I wanted electric, but I wanted a pickup,” Trentin said. “I bought it because of the environment.” Trentin’s desire to help the climate may have been the motivation behind his purchase, but he loves the truck itself. Beyond its strengths in sustainability, Trentin said the car is much smoother than gas and boasts better acceleration. “I love it,” he said, firmly. But issues relating to weather and charging have posed threats to his adoration for the truck. 

As a resident of Escanaba, Michigan, where daily low temperatures often fall between 23°F to 15°F, and can drop below 0° during peak winter months, Trentin relies on a car that can charge him through the cold weather. “The problem is the cold; I have issues when it gets into the 20s,” Trentin said. “The cold impacts the mileage.” 

The phenomenon Trentin is referring to is neither new nor surprising, and where battery preconditioning is helpful. The cold slows down the chemical process that electric vehicle batteries use to store and release energy. As a result, EV owners like Trentin must deal with low battery performance and increased charging times, especially during long distance trips.

This past Christmas, Trentin claimed he was unable to go to spend time with his son, who lives just 140 miles east of Escanaba. “I can’t go to any place in that type of weather and there is no charging station between St. Ignace and Escanaba,” Trentin said. The F-150 has a range of an EPA-estimated 300 miles, but in below-freezing temperatures, the vehicle can lose 36% of its range according to research by EV reselling platform, Recurrent.

To help counteract the effects of cold temperatures, drivers can use the FordPass app to check their battery charge and “precondition” or prepare their vehicle before a long-distance trip. Users can plug in and set their departure times in addition to pre-heating and pre-cooling their batteries and cabins in preparation for a ride. 

According to the FordPass website, preconditioning the vehicle allows the battery to warm to optimum temperature before use, which positively affects the range and driving dynamics for longer distance driving. 

As the EV market evolves with rapid battery innovation, Renata Arsenault, Technical Expert for Advanced Battery Recycling at Ford, said that Ford’s battery technology has “surpassed what people expected.” 

Bridging the technology gap 

Experts like Helveston believe the solution to tech-related issues lies in expanding the charging infrastructure and creating more models. “Workplace charging is increasingly important for people to be able to refuel during the day on solar energy that is increasingly in large supply on the grid. Consumers also have very few options right now for an EV. We need way more different types of models and classes: EV SUVs, pickups, minivans, etc.,” Helveston said.

Car manufacturers are pushing for consumers to purchase an EV in the first place. A survey conducted by Recurrent revealed that EV range anxiety drastically diminished with the experience of owning an EV. According to the study, range anxiety is highest among potential EV buyers in the one-to-two years before their first purchase, but with prolonged ownership, the feelings decrease significantly. Public education programs such as National Drive Electric Week also provide opportunities for potential consumers to get acclimated with EVs. 

The bottom line: For as long as humans drive, they will have personal preferences for how they use their vehicles. The solution to range anxiety and a smooth EV transition lies in satisfying individual customer needs, while bridging the gap between early adopters and the next generation of EV owners.

How do you move the planet forward?
Submit Story

Get the Newsletter

Get inspiring stories to move the planet forward in your inbox!

Success! You have been added to the Planet FWD newsletter. Inspiring stories will be coming to your inbox soon.