Brasil estabelece recorde global de autonomia do Bolt EUV

Utterly Unrealistic Range Tests Are Uninforming and (Mostly) Useless

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In a recent press release from GM Brazil, the story of a wild range test of the Chevrolet Bolt EUV was shared. To commemorate the launch of the vehicle in Brazil, GM’s South American division worked with a local university to wring out as many miles as possible from the vehicle’s battery pack. The result? Just over 900 kilometers, or 560 miles.

But, there’s one big problem: that the journey around and around a test track took 28.5 hours. The average speed was just under 22 miles per hour, making for some really slow going on the track, which was designed to simulate an infinitely long straight, level line (no details on what that means, exactly). The temperature was 28 degrees Celsius (just over 80°F) at the end of the range test, so we know that temperature conditions were likely pretty much ideal for the test.

This is what the Bolt’s energy display looked like at the end of the test:

The energy display at the end of the ride. Image provided by GM Brasil.

As you can see, there was no energy used for climate control or for battery conditioning, so it’s pretty clear that things were absolutely ideal for this test.

What I Like About Tests Like This

I don’t want to be a total naysayer, so I’m going to start out with the things I like about ideal conditions tests like these. Like anything academic and theoretical, utility is limited, but not zero.

The biggest useful thing these kinds of tests do is show us a good path forward for EV development in the future. They show us that if we can free the vehicle from the things that rob it of energy, even a budget EV’s drivetrain can deliver a LOT of range. In this case, keeping the vehicle below the threshold of major aerodynamic resistance yields more than double the range! Other losses are also almost nothing, which contributed heavily, too. This ideal range is even double the unrealistic WLTP range.

The other benefit is also scientific. Gathering data on the top possible efficiency of the vehicle under ideal conditions gives scientists, researchers, and students of all kinds data they can use for things most of us don’t think of. One thing I can think of right off the bat is that a researcher studying the use of EVs in emergency evacuations can get ideas on how to aid such evacuation efforts.

Finally, hypermiling and ecomodding hobbyists will like this data. Like with EV development, it will give them a North Star to aim for.

What I Don’t Like About These Tests

The biggest problem I see with these kinds of tests is their potential to unintentionally mislead the public.

One way they can mislead the public is in a positive way. When people hear that a Bolt EUV can go over 500 miles, it could lead someone to think that maybe they’ll get 500 miles out of it if they buy one. In other words, this risk is a lot like the EPA ranges of EVs, but on a pretty healthy shot of steroids. The reality is that in the real world, even with “every hypermiling trick,” you’ll struggle to get 6 miles/kWh out of a Bolt EUV. I’ve personally done 4.8 miles/kWh in a city. In this ideal range test, they got about 8.6 miles/kWh.

So, no, you’re not going to go 560 miles in a Bolt EUV in the real world. The laws of physics and the desire to not get yourself killed in traffic just get in the way, and it’s good to make sure people know that they’re not going to achieve it on public roads.

The other way these results can mislead is in the negative. I haven’t gone looking for it, but I’m sure some bozo somewhere is telling people that you’ll only be able to road trip in an EV if you drive 20 MPH. Never mind that there’s DC fast charging, because that’s a fact that EV haters just can’t let get in the way of telling their story. And their fans? They’ll gladly lap it up because it fits their biases and worldview. Such disinformation readily spreads in crowds that are fertile to it.

How We Can Make These Tests More Useful

Personally, I don’t think such tests should be conducted alone. There should always be some other data collected and disseminated along with these sorts of tests to put them in proper context.

One way to add context would be to test multiple cars under ideal conditions. When people see that EVs of all shapes and sizes have very different energy usage under ideal conditions, we at least inform people by giving some data to compare. Driving something like an Aptera prototype, for example, would probably yield some insane range numbers that dwarf those of more traditional EVs. This lets people see that design does matter.

Another better way to improve on this data would be to collect test data on the car at different speeds and in different conditions. By being able to see how much things like speed, stop-and-go traffic, wind, and temperature affect range, drivers and potential buyers can be truly informed and educated about the vehicle in useful ways.

Finally, it’s a good idea to test cars under real road trip conditions with real charging infrastructure. EV enthusiasts already do this quite a bit, but including real-world city and highway experience testing can give the public an idea of how well EVs actually perform, even if they aren’t getting 560 miles of range on a 65 kWh battery on a fake road.

Context Is For Kings

Ultimately, the important thing we need to learn from this is that context is important. When we collect data and give it to the public, we should do as much to inform as we can to make sure that people know what the data really means. Buying decisions, driving behavior, and the future of the industry are all made better through educational efforts.

This obviously won’t stop disinformation artists and fools from spreading information robbed of context for nefarious ends, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try to make the whole truth, or as much of it as we can put out there, available for people who decide to Google it.

All images provided by GM Brasil.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1953 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba