Understanding battery range is important if you want to make the most of your electric car. Although the days of ‘range anxiety’ are rapidly becoming a thing of the past thanks to bigger batteries and the expansion of the public charging network, there are a number of tricks and tips that will help you squeeze out every last drop of energy from your battery. Together with bp pulse, we’ve created a guide to battery range and sorted the facts from the fiction.
Real range vs manufacturer claimed ranges
One of the biggest complaints many new electric car owners make is that their car isn’t capable of matching the ‘official’ range figure quoted by carmakers. This, of course, is completely understandable. You wouldn’t expect your car to come with three wheels instead of four, so why do electric cars come with lower ranges than those that are advertised.
The reasons are a little complicated, but bear with us here. You may have noticed that all new cars (petrol, diesel and electric) come with WLTP range and consumption figures. By law, all cars sold in the EU must have undergone what is known as WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test). These are tests carried out by independent agencies who put all cars through an identical set of trials (acceleration, cruising, etc). Now, while these are meant to replicate day-to-day driving, they don’t because all tests are done at controlled temperatures with no wind and no inclines. Carmakers are also allowed to submit their cars for tests with power-sapping systems such as air-con and heaters turned off.
As a result, consumption and range figures for electric cars are always on the optimistic side. If you get a nice warm day with no wind, a flat road with no corners and you turn every electrical system off, you might get close to matching your car’s WLTP figure. Drive with a heavy right foot through the Highlands on a freezing day, the heater set to 29c with a force nine blowing and you might find your range halved.
Here at Electrifying, we’ve driven a LOT of electric cars and have become pretty good at second-guessing what the real range will be. While it varies from car to car (and driver to driver), a general rule of thumb is that the real range of most electric cars usually works out at around 75-80% of the official figure. So, for example, if your 58kWh Volkswagen ID.3 has a WLTP range of 261 miles, you can expect to get around 195-205 miles in normal conditions.
Don't be surprised if your 'real world' range is less than the official WLTP figures
Adapt your driving and become a range ninja
Now that you know what range to expect from an electric car, how can you eke as much range out of your battery as possible? As you may know if you’ve already tried one, electric cars are wonderfully easy to drive. One pedal makes it go, the other makes it stop. All you need to select is whether you want to go forward or backwards. No clutches, no gearboxes, no fuss.
But even with this simplicity, there are ways in which you can tweak your driving style to help you get more from your battery.
Change mode: Most electric cars offer different driving modes that can help you maximise your range. These modes alter parameters such as throttle response, top speeds and also reduce some of the in-car functions such as air-con and heating. By limiting the power draw on the battery, eco modes can help get you a little further with very little compromise.
Max out your regen: Some electric cars allow you to adjust the level of regenerative braking, or regen, that takes place when you take your foot off the accelerator or drive downhill. When an electric car does this, the motor that drives the wheel turns into a generator that puts charge back into the battery. By selecting a higher level of regen (in some electric cars this is known as B mode), more charge can be recuperated by the motor. It takes a little getting used to at first because it feels like you’re applying the brakes as soon as you ease off the accelerator, but the payback in terms of range efficiency can be significant.
Using maximum regen in B mode will extend your range
Choose a different route: It’s a simple equation - the faster you go, the more energy you drain from your battery. Drive at 70mph and you’ll use much more power over a distance than you will at 60mph. That’s because factors such as wind resistance make life much harder for your motor and battery as your speed increases.
Canny electric car drivers know that in most cases, taking an A-road and sticking to 60mph can often generate big range savings. If you use a route planning app like Google Maps or Waze, try selecting ‘avoid motorways’ and you’ll often find that the A route is shorter and more direct. Yes, you’ll probably take a little longer to reach your destination, but you’ll get there with more range showing than if you took the motorway. Give it a try.
A roads often deliver a shorter route - and more driving enjoyment
Not all electric cars are created equal
Electric cars are, in simple terms, all the same. They all have a large lithium-ion battery pack, an electric motor and a load of control electronics to get the first part to work with the second. So why are some electric cars much more efficient in the real world than others?
Let’s take two popular electric cars, the Tesla Model 3 Long Range and the Audi e-tron 55.
The Tesla has usable capacity of 78kWh while the Audi has 83.6kWh. Despite having a smaller pack, the Tesla has a WLTP range figure of 360 miles while the Audi has an official range of 259 miles. That’s 101 miles more for the Tesla.
Efficiency perfected: the Tesla Model 3 is a class leader in terms of range
How? There are a number of reasons why Tesla appears to be head and shoulders above its German rival here in terms of efficiency. The first and most obvious reason is weight. The Audi tips the scales at 2,565kg while the Tesla is just 1,847kg - some 718kg less. In addition to the weight advantage, the Tesla also has a drivetrain that is widely regarded to the be the most efficient in the business. Unlike almost every other car maker, Tesla makes the Model 3’s battery, motor, inverter and control electronics in house. It designs and engineers the entire drive system to work at its most efficient and is constantly tweaking all these elements to squeeze out more and more range. By contrast, most other brands source hardware from outside suppliers and then join the dots to make each universal component work with the others.
Some brands also have more sophisticated tricks and energy saving systems than others. For example, BMW claims that its aero alloy wheels are so efficient that they add up to six miles to the overall range figure. Tesla Model Y models close off the passenger air vent if sensors detect that there’s nobody occupying the front seat. This reduces the amount of power the heating system requires and extends the range in the process.
Working out which electric cars are the most efficient isn’t quite as simple as just looking at the range figure. As our example shows, you also need to consider the size of the battery and the weight of the car. These will help you establish which cars are able to make the most efficient use of their batteries.
BMW's aero wheels can add up to six miles of range thanks to their clever design
Add a heat pump
One of the least efficient parts of an electric car is the heating system. In fact, heating is the biggest single energy consumer after the drive motor. One way of minimising the power drain from the heating system is to opt for a heat pump.
Compared to a petrol or diesel car, the drive components of an electric vehicle do not produce enough waste heat to keep you warm and toasty. An electric car heat pump does two things. Firstly, it can take heat generated from the battery pack and channel it into the cabin. Most heat pumps are reversible, which means that, with the help of a compressor and refrigerant, they can heat and cool the cabin far more efficiently than with a conventional heating system.
Heat yourself rather than the air
Heating up the air in a car cabin uses a lot of energy, so it’s actually more efficient to keep yourself warm via heated seats and a heated steering wheel if you have them. It might feel a little counter-intuitive, but you’ll reduce your energy consumption if you knock even a couple of degrees off your cabin temperature.
Using heated seats and steering wheel is a more efficient way of keeping yourself toasty
And if you do need to stop…
Even range ninjas need to recharge every now and again, so it’s good to know that the UK’s public charging network is expanding faster than ever. Charge point operators such as bp pulse are adding new sites on a monthly basis and bringing easy-to-use high speed charging (up to 150kW) to the nation’s electric car drivers. To discover more about bp pulse’s charging options and to check the location of your nearest charger, click HERE.
Allow the bp pulse rapid charging network to keep you on the move