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Summary:

Forget about General Motors and Nissan’s triple-digit MPG claims for upcoming plug-in vehicles. “Electricity per mile” will be the shorthand of choice for the fuel efficiency of electric cars, if the Society of Automotive Engineers has its way. As CNET’s Martin Lamonica reports this morning, the […]

MPGForget about General Motors and Nissan’s triple-digit MPG claims for upcoming plug-in vehicles. “Electricity per mile” will be the shorthand of choice for the fuel efficiency of electric cars, if the Society of Automotive Engineers has its way. As CNET’s Martin Lamonica reports this morning, the industry group, whose recommendations will likely be considered by the Environmental Protection Agency as it finalizes a rating system for plug-in vehicles, wants to see “electricity per mile” join mile-per-gallon ratings on fuel-economy stickers.

The proposal could bring automakers’ recent sky-high claims — 230 MPG for GM’s Chevy Volt, 367 MPG for the Nissan LEAF — down to earth, giving consumers a relevant and realistic shorthand for how much they would end up spending on electricity for different vehicles rather than forcing next-gen cars into the old mold of autos that run on gasoline.

Labeling vehicles with ratings in terms of “gallons per mile” or gallons per 10,000 miles has had backers among Duke University researchers for some time. The idea is to put fuel consumption and the costs of fuel front and center for new car buyers. Electricity per mile — more than miles per kilowatt-hour or miles per gallon-equivalent  — could have the same effect. The ratings could let consumers estimate fuel costs by simply multiplying the local electricity rate by the number of miles they usually drive and easily compare the costs of various vehicle models.

The upcoming generation of plug-in vehicles, which includes cars running exclusively on electricity as well as models like the Volt that will consume both electricity and gasoline, requires an expanded rating system, and SAE plans to finalize its recommendation for the EPA within six months. As the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Jeff Gonder (working on the SAE committee) explained to CNET, “There are two different fuels that are being used so you need to report what the usage is for those two fuels…If you combine them into one (number) artificially, you can’t derive a final output like annual costs” or greenhouse gas emissions.

Emission measurements present another challenge as the government works to update its rating system. As we explained in our cheat sheet on MPG claims for electric and hybrid cars, the simulation that the EPA currently uses to come up with city and highway MPG and emission ratings leaves much to be desired for plug-in vehicles. To start, estimates are based on the amount of emissions generated during the simulation, yet all-electric vehicles don’t have tailpipe emissions. NREL is now working on a new formula for the simulation to better reflect real-world performance of plug-in vehicles.

The sooner the auto industry and government settle on these rating systems and start giving consumers realistic expectations, the better it will be for the nascent electric vehicle market as it looks to move from the early-adopter stage to the mass market. In some cases, overhyping a company or tech that ultimately falls short of expectations can cause skepticism and distrust in an industry that could otherwise be quite promising.

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

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  1. waltinseattle Monday, October 5, 2009

    I must say I prefer the universal transparency of KwH/ mile formula. I’m unsure what other “electricity” figure per mile they are advocating so we can compare costs to gasoline. I buy my electricity (with added premium for a percentage guaranteed wind/green product) by the KwH and thats how my bill is put to me.

    KwH is transparent in that we can compare the energy requirements of a suit of clothes, a coffe grinder and a head of lettuce with the same metric. Granted some of the translations are first order “guess-timates”, but its a start. “Ready killowatt” cards anyone? where when you say “charge it up”, thats exactly what you mean.

  2. Dollars per thousand miles.

    What most people want to know is how much is will cost them to run a particular car.

    Use a “rough” estimate for speedy window shopping. Use the driving behavior of the average US driver, percentage of miles driven with electricity and percentage driven using liquid fuel and compute a number using current liquid fuel and electricity price.

    Then provide a touchscreen monitor/on-line program that would allow people to enter their personal percentage of electric range/gas range driving, price of electricity where they live, and their estimate the cost of gas over the next few years.

    There’s no one single hard number. Just like one has to look at city/highway mileage and adjust for where they drive and how they drive.

    People don’t want to know gallons or kWh, they want to know cost.

    1. Exactly. Congress should require all new cars to include a estimated cost meter. This will be the single most important tool to reduce emission. Once people get this information, they will visualize the benefit of high mileage car, reduce trip length and unnecessary trips, and perhaps reduce speeding

  3. waltinseattle Monday, October 5, 2009

    “percentage of miles driven with electricity and percentage driven using liquid fuel and compute a number using current liquid fuel and electricity price.” sounds like a less than direct measurement as it is driver specific and thus requires some added computations as you note. I do understand how it would be a “bottom line” figure for consumers to base a purchase/decline on, and I note that there is an underlying reliance on the “cost of electricity” i.e. kwH .

    So it seems we are all on the same page here.

  4. The standard term for EVs has been wh/mi (watt hour / mile) for years. The sky high MPG claims for the Volt and Leaf are part of a DoE formula to:

    1) Make sense of series hybrids with part-time use ICEs
    2) A formula to compare supply side efficiencies
    3) Bragging right incentives so automakers will make EVs.

    Read More @ http://electric-vehicles-cars-bikes.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-are-volt-and-leaf-evs-measured-in.html

  5. Walt – kWh works fine for a pure EV. But not so well for a PHEV. And different PHEVs are going to have different EV ranges/MPG.

    For an across the board comparison of ICE, hybrids, and EVs we need a common metric for the typical Joe/Jane. It needs to be simple, and nothing is as simple as how much money each is likely to drain from your monthly budget.

    Shoppers could be given dollars per thousand miles for three different type drivers – “almost always less than 40 per day”, “US average”, “over 40 most days”. (“Almost always less…” would be about $315 using US average kWh price.)

    Then it seems like a simple job to create a program which lets an individual input their personal statistics, pick some cars, and get a screen/printout.

    Take a look at this Project Get Ready page. And click on the Advanced Options. It goes past “MPG” and covers total ownership costs.

    http://projectgetready.com/js/tco.html

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    [...] You demand triple-digit MPG. If you expect to test drive a Chevy Volt, Nissan LEAF or Tesla Roadster and experience miles per gallon in the triple digits — as advertised — you may be sorely disappointed. Measurements of a car’s efficiency in terms of how far it can go on a gallon of gasoline, when it really runs (at least in part) on electricity, have dubious relevance. More realistic shorthand for how much you will end up spending on electricity for different plug-in vehicles may come in the form of electricity per mile ratings. [...]

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