A vehicle for all seasons, or one for most seasons?
A recent paper in the scientific journal Nature Energy focused on a problem we have all pondered at one time or another: should you buy a car for your average driving needs, or the most extreme need? The report, based on studying thousands of car journeys around Seattle, by Jessica Trancik and others of MIT (summarized in Anthropocene magazine: link) concluded that adoption of EVs would be accelerated if it were easier for drivers to occasionally borrow/rent/share a long-range “supplementary” vehicle, even if this vehicle were a conventional car/truck. Easy availability of supplementary vehicles can increase drivers’ comfort with owning a smaller, lighter, more efficient, and less expensive EV. Otherwise, adding range to an EV requires a larger battery, which weighs more, and therefore requires even more battery to haul the heavy battery around, even though its extra range is not needed for the vast majority of journeys.
Adding more charging stations was another, and less novel, recommendation of the MIT study.
Internal combustion vehicles face the same weight versus range tradeoff, and many American car buyers have opted for the monster pickup to tow the speed boat to the lake three weekends a year, when the extra weight for the big engine and big vehicle nonetheless must be hauled around year-round, every mile, most of which are just commuting. The MIT study did not delve into the finances and practicalities of supplying drivers with the occasional long-range vehicle, but it did note that both utility companies and car dealerships might have an incentive to get creative about ways to provide supplementary vehicles on a short-term basis.
The MIT study also did not focus on PHEVs, which in a sense are the hybrid solution to this dilemma: a small battery for the vast majority of commutes combined with a modest internal combustion engine to get through the occasional or unexpected need for longer range. See (link) for a contributor’s story about one such PHEV. The alert author of that piece also directed our attention to this MIT study, and another one highlighting results from the same MIT lab showing the cost savings of EVs when compared to internal combustion cars when measured over the vehicle’s lifetime (link).