Consumers’ concern for efficiency is going mainstream. While some new EVs don’t get as much range on a large battery as you might expect, buyers seem to understand that poor efficiency means a host of other problems, too, like limited towing range, more stops on road trips, and a higher cost of ownership. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that people are paying attention to which EVs are the least power hungry, and this list of the Top 10 Most Efficient EVs shows that interest in efficiency is hitting the mainstream.
Who Landed In The Top 10 Most Efficient EVs?
Among the 10 most efficient EVs (according to EPA/DOE data) were three of Tesla’s four models. The Model X (Tesla’s heaviest and largest current vehicle as of March 2021) didn’t make the list, but the Model 3 leads the list, and the Model Y and Model S also land in the top ten. What this really shows us is that Tesla takes efficiency seriously. Given that the company was basically the only girl in town for people who wanted an EV, and that it is still the top EV automaker, it would be understandable if Tesla were to coast a bit and take it easy on efficiency. Instead, it was careful to keep on its toes and make sure it has some of the most efficient vehicles.
Another interesting thing was to see the new Lucid Air on the list, coming in just behind the Tesla Model 3. I don’t have much experience with Lucid other than being run off by their security guards when I tried to get pictures of their facility in Arizona, but it does appear that Lucid takes range fairly seriously, and didn’t just rely on slapping a bunch of batteries into it to get there. This means Tesla is going to see some serious pressure to keep improving!
What did surprise me was that the Bolt EV, with its not-so-great drag coefficient, made #3. The stretched and lifted version of it, the Bolt EUV, came in at #7. What they don’t do with a slippery body* they must be making up for with efficiency in other areas. The refreshed bumper and other minor changes for 2022 reportedly didn’t make for any big changes in efficiency, so this means they’ve done pretty well since 2017. It uses 3 more kWh per 100 miles than the Model 3, so it’s not a giant difference.
* Editor’s note: aerodynamics are a tricky thing, and what may not look like a ‘slippery body’ may, in fact, produce a surface that’s favorable for reduced drag by reducing angles of incidence, employing smooth underbellies to maintain fast-moving boundary layers, and by carefully sculpting the wing mirrors, which can account for as much as 20% of a passeger car’s overall drag.
Efficiency Doesn’t Always Equal Range
Looking at the list of most efficient EVs, it’s quite apparent that efficiency doesn’t always mean you have the highest range. For example, the #1 car on the list goes 358 miles on a charge, while the #2 car goes over 500 miles. Why? Because battery size differs. The Lucid Air has a much bigger battery than the Model 3 and the Bolt EV (which gets 259 miles).
I know many readers are aware that efficiency differs from battery size, but for those unfamiliar, I want to introduce a few units to keep in mind:
kW – kilowatts of power, like horsepower
kWh – kilowatt-hours, the capacity of the battery, like the gas tank in a gas car. More capacity = more range.
kWh/100 miles — This is like MPG in a gas car, but in reverse. A lower number is better. There is also eMPG that attempts to state efficiency in terms of equivalent to MPG (The Cars.com article gives these numbers further down).
So when you’re comparing cars, be sure to look at all of these to get an idea of what the car can do for you. An efficient car with a tiny battery won’t go very far, and an inefficient car with a giant pack also won’t go far. These factors work together to produce the vehicle’s range.
Why EV Efficiency Matters
Battery packs hold a lot less energy than a gas tank, but EVs get around this by not wasting the energy the way a gas or diesel car does. When you burn gasoline in an internal combustion engine, most of the energy becomes waste heat, with only around 25% actually moving the car. This isn’t a deal-breaker because you can put a lot of gas in a tank and you can refill the tank quickly.
The downside to EVs comes in the form of weight. To contain the energy of just a few gallons of gas, you need hundreds or thousands of pounds of battery cells. This make the vehicle heavy, which means it’s harder to move. Also, an object in motion stays in motion, so the heavy battery pack tries to go straight when you get to a turn, making handling suffer compared to something light like a Mazda Miata.
If you can make things efficient and keep the battery pack small, you can achieve curb weights close to comparable cars. For example, the Model 3 isn’t much different in weight than a BMW 3 series. But GM didn’t aim for efficiency with the Hummer EV, and made up for it with the brute force of a big giant battery pack. This makes the vehicle weigh as much as more than two Model 3s. Ouch!
Where The Industry Is Going
On the efficiency side, you’ll see manufacturers like Aptera aim for extreme efficiency. The slippery airplane-looking vehicle will be two to three times more efficient than the best car on this year’s list. This makes for a vehicle that will go 1000 miles on a charge with a battery pack a little smaller than that of the Model S. This will lead to more competition for efficiency, and everyone will benefit.
On the other hand, trucks are following their old ways into the EV world. They need to be optimized for strength and towing capacity, which makes for lower efficiency. On top of that, you get buyers who want a traditional-shaped truck and don’t care at all how that happens, with the Hummer EV being probably the worst example. On the other hand, the F-150 Lightning is shaped like a normal F-150, so there’s a lot more to it than just aerodynamics and looks.
As buyers, it’s important to make sure we’re putting pressure on manufacturers to get this right. I’m not saying that we need to be demanding every vehicle get the efficiency of the upcoming Aptera, but at the same time, we also shouldn’t let the industry go the other way without being mocked a bit. Hopefully the 10 most efficient EVs will be even more efficient next year!
Featured image: a Model 3 and a Bolt EV, both cars that made the 10 most efficient EVs list. Photograph by Carolyn Fortuna / CleanTechnica.
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