Battle of the Batteries: Comparing Electric Car Range, Charge Times

Your mileage will vary — that’s one of the basic truths about driving, and it’s not about to change for electric vehicles. Depending on the climate, terrain, your driving style, vehicle maintenance and other factors, you can eke out, more or less, miles per gallon of gasoline. With electric vehicles, these factors will affect how far you can drive before it’s time to plug in and juice up.


With a gas station always at hand, it’s easy not to sweat how many miles you get on a full tank of gas. But with the upcoming generation of plug-in vehicles, automakers are battling what’s commonly referred to as “range anxiety” — prospective buyers’ valid concern that they might get stuck with a fast-depleting battery without a charge point in sight. As these vehicles have progressed through the development process, some data and anecdotes have emerged about how real-world performance compares to the range promised for various models.

Most recently, BMW found in a survey of drivers participating in its demo of the electric Mini E last week that the model’s range has been coming in with about a third fewer miles than the automaker had estimated. Here’s the rundown on 12 upcoming and currently available plug-in models, their batteries and charge times, and some hints on what to expect as electric cars hit the road.

Vehicle Battery Claims Real World?
BMW Mini E 35 kWh lithium ion. Air cooled. Range: 156 miles (ideal conditions), 109 miles (normal city driving), 96 miles (normal highway driving). Charge time: 26 hours at 110V/12 amp outlet. 4.5 hours at 240V/32 amp. 3 hours at 240V/48 amp. Drivers in BMW’s demo fleet have gotten closer to 100-110 miles per charge. In below-freezing temperatures, range has dropped in some cases to 55-80 miles.
Chevy Volt 16 kWh (plus 1.4L gas engine). Liquid cooled. Lithium manganese cells from LG Chem. Electric range: 40 miles. Total range: “Hundreds of miles.Charge time: 10 hours at 120V, 4 hours at 240V. Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has said he got 28 miles worth of juice from the battery when he drove a Volt for a weekend in Detroit last winter, explaining that the car’s range, “can vary on any given day depending on temperature, terrain, driving conditions and so forth.”
Coda Sedan 34 kWh Range: 90-120 miles. Charge time: <6 hours at 240V. Expect data to start rolling in later this year when the car launches in California.
Fisker Karma 22.6 kWh (plus 2.0L gas engine). Lithium ion cells from A123 Systems. Electric range: 50 miles. Total range: 300 miles. Unknown. Expect more info during the next six months, as the Karma’s slated to launch in September 2010. As with the Tesla Roadster, Karma drivers tempted by the model’s sports car aspects may sacrifice some electric range for sportier performance.
Ford Focus EV

23 kWh. Lithium ion tri-metal cells from LG Chem. Range: 75 miles (prototype)

Charge time: 6-8 hours at 230V.

Unknown. Fleet trials underway; launch slated for late 2011.
Mitsubishi iMiEV 16 kWh Range: 80 miles (half that if the heater’s used). Charge time: 12-13 hours at 110V, 7 hours at 220V, 2.5 hours fast charge. Some reviewers driving at highway speeds and in mountainous terrain have drained the battery after about 55 miles.
Nissan LEAF 24 kWh Range: 100 miles (city driving). Charge time: 8 hours at 220V. 80 percent charge in 30 mins with fast charge. Darryl Siry, adviser to Coda Automotive and former Marketing VP for Tesla Motors, takes issue with Nissan’s 100-mile claim, as it’s based on the optimistic scenario of driving in stop-and-go city traffic in temperate climates. Expect data from earliest buyers and lessees by year’s end.
Smart Fortwo ED 16.5 kWh lithium ion Range: 85 miles.Charge time: 3.5-8 hours, depending on starting charge level and voltage used (100V or 220V). In early 2008, the UK’s Top Gear eked out only 22 miles in a road test “before the indicator was reading a paltry 30 per cent.” Update: Smart said the car in this test “was probably ill.”
Tesla Model S 42 kWh standard (larger premium batteries optional) Range: 160 miles base model (230-300 miles with premium pakcs). Charge time: 3-5 hours at 220V/70 amp, 80 percent charge in 45 mins at 440V. Unknown. Deliveries scheduled to begin in 2012.
Tesla Roadster 56 kWh lithium cobalt. Liquid cooled. Range: 220 miles (combined city/highway). Charge time: 3.5 hours at high power. Driven like the sports car that it is, the Roadster has delivered closer to 95-120 miles of range. Driven conservatively, the Roadster has in some cases delivered about 140 miles of range. Update: There are also examples of the Roadster getting much more range — in one instance up to 313 miles.
Think City 24.5 kWh lithium ion batteries from Ener1 subsidiary EnerDel. Range: 160 kilometers (about 99.4 miles) in Europe’s ECE-R101 drive cycle. 112 miles for the U.S. market.

Charge time: 8 hours at 110V. Working on 80 percent charge in 15 mins at 220V with Aerovironment.

Think City models sold in Europe have come with options to use either a sodium-based battery (designed for use in very hot or very cold climates) or lithium-ion. Drivers with the sodium battery reportedly have encountered few problems even after thousands of charging cycles.
Toyota Plug-in Prius Three 96-cell lithium-ion battery packs: one main pack for hybrid operation and two sub-packs for all-electric mode. Electric range: About 13 miles, depending on conditions and driving style.

Charge time: About 3 hours at 110V, 100 minutes at 200V.

Demo vehicles now undergoing testing.
Volvo Electric C30 24 kWh Range: 150 kilometers (about 93.2 miles) New European Driving Cycle.

Charge time: <8 hours at 230V, 16 amp

50-vehicle test fleet slated for Sweden.

Images courtesy of the automakers

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