One question that many households ask themselves is: “will an electric vehicle work for me and my family in my everyday life?”
Battery electric vehicles (BEV) have their advantages and disadvantages. They have the potential to become much cleaner, certainly, than their fossil fuel counterparts, they are quieter, they have a smoother drive and accelerate much faster (not just Tesla but even less expensive BEVs such as the Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf ). The drawbacks are that they are more expensive and have a limited range. So one question that many households ask themselves before taking the plunge is: “will an electric vehicle work for me and my family in my everyday life?”
To answer that question, we set up a research experiment in which we asked 25 households living around Gothenburg, Sweden, to substitute one of their cars with an E-Golf for three to four months. The E-Golf had an official range of 190 km but closer to 130 km in real driving. All households had two cars and two commuting adults whose driving habits we measured with conventional care compared to the E-Golf, in order to see if they had changed their driving behaviour.
You could expect the driving both to increase — since driving on electricity is much cheaper — and decrease — since the range is limited and thus might hinder the families from doing all the driving they would want. We also interviewed the members of the family before and after trying the BEV to understand their impressions and if they liked the car or not.
A good impression and quick adaptation
Most families didn’t change their driving pattern much. Some increased the driving of the EV compared to the conventional car by a little, while others had a slight decrease. The range limitation didn’t stop them from doing what they wanted to do as they reportedly said that they could manage all their driving.
The different households found different strategies to deal with the limited range such as re-planning trips and switching cars between the drivers away from home. Some families also rented or borrowed a car from someone else on single occasions. If the limited range was seen as one of the major disadvantages of the car, most families said it wasn’t a major problem, and acknowledged that the car worked for everyday life and that they could go on living as usual. It should be pointed out that the cold weather reduced the range of the vehicle.
The overall impression from the households was positive. People liked the car, its silent and smooth drive, and the fact that it was environmentally friendly. “I don’t have to feel bad when I’m taking the car,” said one of the interviewees. Another aspect that was appreciated was the acceleration capacity. One of the family members told us about the joy of being able to accelerate quickly at the red light next to a BMW.
Even if the EV worked for everyday travel and the limited range was experienced as a minor problem, most households still expressed that they would prefer a longer range. Many would have wanted something around 300 km. This was especially a concern since they were not always convinced that they could get the actual range, i.e. had they known for sure that independently of weather and driving conditions that they would get 130 km range they would have felt more comfortable with it.
One family started leasing a BEV at the end of the trial and another one signed up for a Tesla model 3. For most of the other households, the higher price was the main reason for not wanting to purchase an EV at the present moment.
Will the future be electric?
The future BEV that car companies are discussing should have longer and longer ranges, but we must acknowledge that a larger battery also implies a larger environmental impact. Our experiment shows that even with a range of 130 km, families with two cars can manage their driving without any major problems. While most families would have wanted a slightly longer range this was still not close to the range of a normal combustion engine. This shows that there is room even for shorter range BEVs keeping the environmental footprint at the vehicle to a lower level, especially if we consider that the charging infrastructure will be further developed and will allow for users to a larger extent to charge at work or during other stops.
Frances Sprei is an Associate Professor in Sustainable Mobility at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. She uses interdisciplinary research to assess sustainable mobility options such as electric vehicles and shared mobility. She is passionate about spreading research outcomes to general public and various stakeholders.