Since the days of the first Nissan LEAF, which had 73 miles of range, and actually long before that first LEAF arrive, there have been colorful debates about consumers’ range needs. On the one side, the average American drives fewer than 40 miles per day, and the average Brit or European drives about half that. However, one has to consider that you have the charge before the battery gets to 0% and you should seldom charge all the way up to 100%. Also, people may drive an average of 37 miles a day, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t regularly go on much longer day trips. Yet, as one final note: many homes have more than one car, and only one of them may be needed for longer trips.
Since that 2011/2012 Nissan LEAF, EV sales have consistently grown at a strong pace and battery costs have come down thanks to economies of scale and the magical learning curve. One result is that a new Nissan LEAF has far more range than a 2011/2012 LEAF. Here’s a CleanTechnica chart on the evolution of the model’s range:
In other words, in 10 years, the range has tripled (or slightly more than tripled).
Altogether, though, what does that mean for the fully electric vehicle market? Well, one thing it means in 2021 is that the median range of a new fully electric car model in the United States is at slightly more than 250 miles.
You can see a large bump in the median range in 2016. The range of several models increased, and we had the arrival of the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 back then. Of course, we’ve seen the tremendous popularity of Tesla’s mass-market vehicles — the Model 3 and, since early 2020, the Model Y. However, note that the median range in this graph concerns the median of available models (not the median of all cars sold). The median of all new EV sales is surely higher, since Tesla dominates the US electric auto market. Nonetheless, it does look like the Model Y bumped the median above 250 miles in 2020.
The US Department of Energy puts it this way: “Since 2011, significant improvements in battery technologies and overall EV efficiency have led to an expanding number of EV models and increased driving ranges. The median EPA estimated range for all EV models offered in the 2020 model year exceeded 250 miles. The 2020 model year also marked the first year that an EV achieved an EPA estimated maximum range of more than 400 miles.”
When this information was originally published by the Department of Energy (DOE), the Model Y Long Range (326 miles of range on a full charge) and Model Y Performance (303 miles of range) were on the market, but the Model Y Standard Range (244 miles of range) wasn’t yet available. The latter just arrived on the market. The interesting thing in that case is that Tesla CEO Elon Musk said a few months ago that Tesla wouldn’t release this model, because he didn’t see less than 250 miles of range as adequate. He said Tesla would release a real-wheel drive version of the Model Y, but not a Standard Range version. So, it’s a bit of a surprise that the Model Y Standard Range just arrived.
However, it’s also logical, in my opinion. We bought a Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus, which had fewer than 250 miles of range when we bought it but got a software upgrade to 250. We could not imagine spending several thousand dollars more for a Long Range version of the car, especially after having a 70-mile BMW i3 (with 60-mile gasoline range extender). For many people and most daily use, 250 miles is plenty. If you take a lot of long trips, there’s a good chance you have more than one car in the household. That, again, probably means that one of those cars could have 250 (or 244) miles of range and be fully adequate for your needs. Batteries are much cheaper than in 2011, but they are not cheap, so it seems logical to me to offer electric vehicles with about 250 miles of range, while also offering longer range versions of the car or SUV who feel like they need more range. At the moment, the market appears to agree with me. The story may be quite different in 2030, and I may well change my mind by then.
Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model Y, and Tesla Model 3 photos by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica