Electric Cars: Would They Suit Your Lifestyle?

In the latest of our series of blog posts on electric vehicles (EVs), we’re looking this week at the sort of considerations that will determine whether or not EV ownership will suit your own lifestyle – will it be a practical option for you, your family and the sort of journeys you’d be likely to need to make?

There’s still a little time to add your questions to be answered in our remaining blog posts of the series, so add your questions to our list.

As always, check back next week, or sign up for automatic updates using the ‘Follow Blog Via Email’ link on the right of this page, when we’ll be bringing you answers to a range of questions on the costs of electric car purchase and ownership.

This week, we met again with Professor Phil Blythe, Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems and Director of the Transport Operations Research Group (TORG) and put your questions to him.


Dr Sarah Sweeney, Theme Administrator, NIReS: I know we say this every time, but again, we really appreciate you taking the time to sit with us and answer our questions.

Professor Phil Blythe: No problem at all.

Sarah: Thanks Phil.  So, this week, we’ve just got a short series of questions on how EVs might (or might not) fit in to the practicalities of every day living. To start with, you’ve mentioned in previous conversations with us that the range of electric cars is expanding all the time, but we think this is still one of the main things most people would worry about if considering buying an EV. Most people have heard that you can’t get very far in one before you have to charge it: what sort of range can you realistically get out of them?

Phil: The exact range for each type of electric car depends on the make and model, but typically you get 80-90 miles out of a fully-charged battery. This is why electric cars have been recommended for ‘daily drivers’ doing short commutes or trips to the shops, rather than for long journeys. It is also why electric cars are generally not considered as a serious alternative to conventional cars for most drivers. However, it is worth noting that, according to the Department for Transport, over 90% of car journeys are less than 20 miles in distance. Manufacturers are developing models which can overcome these problems; the Vauxhall Ampera, for example, combines the benefits of an electric car with the long range of a traditional petrol engine by using electric mode for its first 50 miles and, once the charge runs out, switches to a petrol-powered reserve which can travel for a further 310 miles (Source: The Guardian, 25/08/12). For many families,having an EV as their only car may not be an option as things stand.

Sarah: So are we talking here about the range of the cars under ideal driving conditions? How much is the range affected by the number of passengers, luggage, hills etc?

Phil: Just like a petrol car, the electric car’s efficiency is affected by the weather, poor car maintenance, under-inflated tyres, number of passengers and driving style. However, these effects on the range you get out of the car are more noticeable in an electric car; a loss of 10-20 miles in range of 80-90 is far more obvious than with a petrol car with a range of 400 miles.  Driving without aggressive acceleration and braking (so called eco-driving) can extend the range of a vehicle by up to 30%.  The topography of the road has  a major effect on range (both reducing and increasing) as does congestion and temperature.  From research at Newcastle it has been found that electric vehicle drivers tend to modify their driving behaviour and avoid driving at 70mph+ to conserve battery power.

Does how much luggage you put in an electric car affect its performance?

Does how much luggage you put in an electric car affect its performance?

Sarah: Could you use one to pull a caravan? How far could you drive with the extra load attached?

Phil: As a general guide, a caravan’s weight should not be more than 85% of the weight of the car used to tow it; the weight a vehicle can tow has nothing to do with the power it produces. As most fully electric cars tend to be small models, they are unlikely to be suitable for towing caravans. A hybrid vehicle might be more appropriate. As with a petrol car, towing a caravan will have a dramatic effect on the efficiency of the car and the range you get out of it.  In Newcastle’s SwitchEV trials we have two electric Range Rovers designed by Liberty Electric Vehicle; they have a 75kWhr battery and would be capable of towing a caravan.

Could you tow a caravan with an EV?

Could you tow a caravan with an EV?

Sarah: And do they have less boot space/leg room/passenger space than conventional cars?

Phil: This largely depends on the model of electric car you choose. In many cases the battery takes up some of the boot space, some are 4 seat rather than 5 and the Nissan Leaf has reduced legroom in the back as the floor is higher to accommodate the battery management system.

Sarah: Thanks again Phil – that’s extremely useful, but that’s everything we have for you this week. If it’s OK, we’d like to put some more questions to you next week on the topic of maintenance and repair?

Phil: I’ll look forward to it!

2 thoughts on “Electric Cars: Would They Suit Your Lifestyle?

  1. Hi James

    You’re absolutely right – for some people they may be quite difficult to manage, as things stand. I think the issue we’ve tried to combat in these blog posts is the very black and white way electric vehicles have tended to be portrayed elsewhere: those who are in favour of them see no obstacles to having one, and those who are against don’t see that for some people they can be a tenable, or even preferable solution to conventional petrol or diesel cars.

    There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when considering switching to an EV, but the same is true whenever someone is considering buying any car, but hopefully these blog posts have helped to give a real view of what those considerations are and how much of an obstacle they may, or may not, prove to be to different individuals.

    Hopefully, as the technologies improve, they may be viable options for more and more people, but discussions like this should help to inform manufacturers on the issues that are still proving to be sticking points.

    Thanks very much for your input; we hope you’ll also give us your thoughts and questions in a few weeks when we start our next series of blog posts which will be on the topic of sustainable retrofitting.

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