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Electric Vehicles Could Work For Almost 90% Of Car Trips Today

But we’re going to need new ways to access gasoline cars for the rare longer road trip.

Electric Vehicles Could Work For Almost 90% Of Car Trips Today
[Photo: Flickr user mariordo59]

Electric vehicles have a reputation for inducing “range anxiety,” or the fear that you’ll run out of charge before getting to a charging station. But we may be worrying unnecessarily. According to new research, EVs are quite suitable for the vast majority of journeys you might want to make.

The research, led by Jessika Trancik at MIT, analyzed millions of car trips across the U.S. using survey and GPS data. The researchers found that EVs could potentially replace 87% of the cars on the road and still get home again. And that’s just a basic model Nissan Leaf, price $30,000. If batteries continue to improve as official estimates say, 98% of vehicles could be replaced by EVs by 2020, the paper says.

“Roughly 90% of the personal vehicles on the road daily could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available on the market today, even if the cars can only charge overnight,” Trancik says in a press release.

[Photo: Flickr user mariordo59]

At those levels, the U.S. could see a 60% reduction in gasoline use and a 29% reduction in transportation-related carbon emissions by 2025. “The adoption potential of electric vehicles is remarkably similar across cities,” Trancik says, “from dense urban areas like New York, to sprawling cities like Houston.”

So, if EVs are suitable for most driving trips, why haven’t more people bought them? Unfortunately, even though 87% of trips are covered, the research shows that 13% aren’t covered. Individuals are turned off EVs not because of the trips that are covered, but by the ones that aren’t (like the long road trip we might make, even if we rarely do).

Trancik told The Guardian she was working on an app that could predict when drivers need a petrol engine car and when they can get away with an EV. “The prediction would be based on factors such as distance, the amount of time spent traveling at high speeds on highways, and whether the weather will require a lot of heat or air conditioning,” the article says.

Second, Trancik says we need services that complement EVs, which are good for most days around cities, but may not work for longer journeys in hot weather. “We still need a little bit of business model innovation, with community car sharing, or car sharing [businesses] where you could maybe order one the night before on that small number of very high-energy days,” she says.

EVs can work as replacements for most existing cars, but only with a little help from existing cars.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.