The simple steps to extend EV range

Battery life is a pressing concern for fleets. Last year’s European Electric Vehicle Battery Summit heard from its chair, Alex Johns, business development manager at Altelium, on the subject. He summed it up succinctly: “If you’re driving flat out, braking heavily, always rapid charging, you’re going to knacker your battery.”

He went on to elaborate: “It’s not just a matter of a few tenths of a percent or a few percent between a hard-worked battery and a not-hard-worked one, it’s hundreds of percent. You could see 400% more life if you run it gently,” he said.

The problems are amplified when driving in cold weather. A recent test by What Car? saw 12 electric vehicles tested in identical winter conditions until they ran out of charge.

None came very close to achieving their official range, with the least impressive car falling more than 60 miles short of its supposed 193-mile range. Even the most resilient vehicle in the conditions ended 30 miles away from its 304-mile target.

With many companies attempting to transition to EVs but needing to balance sustainability targets against operational requirements, extending EV range is becoming a critical topic for fleet managers.

Here are some simple steps for drivers to optimise battery performance.

  1. Drive smoothly

There’s always going to be the temptation to overtake slow-moving vehicles, especially if you’re on a tight schedule. But sudden acceleration and the heavy braking that often follows use more power than driving at a steady speed. 

According to Voltric, "Quick acceleration accounts for around 20% of battery consumption, so keeping your right foot under check is worthwhile."

The ideal driving behaviour is to accelerate and brake slowly and smoothly and to take any corners gently. By avoiding sudden movements, you’ll be able to save your battery and cover more miles, whilst by driving smoothly and avoiding sudden braking, you can make the most of the regenerative braking system in electric vehicles.

Additionally, if your EV has an ‘Eco’ mode, it’s advisable to engage it for more gentle acceleration. Conversely, if it has a sport mode, keep it switched off. 

  1. Don’t speed

If you’re always in a hurry, you’ll burn through your battery much more quickly. Basically, the faster you go, the more energy is required from your vehicle to achieve that speed. 

Electric cars are most efficient when driven at around 50mph and as soon as they go above this, they start to lose range. While this is also true for ICE vehicles, it’s more significant in EVs. Ultimately, driving at higher speeds to get to your destination a few minutes earlier may only result in a longer wait while you recharge. 

According to the Department of Energy, "The sweet spot for motorway driving without going too slow is 60-65mph. A good rule of thumb is you will use 14% less energy if you reduce your speed by 10mph."  

  1. Beware the weather

As we approach the summer, it’s important to remember that drivers will need to go easy on the air conditioning. While cold weather will sap battery life, with a study by AAA in 2019 finding that cold weather can cut range by over 40% when cabin heaters are used, hot weather isn’t much better if the air conditioning is on full blast. 

A Car and Driver did a test in 2020 with a Tesla Model 3 and found that with the air conditioning on automatic, it used 17% more energy than without, knocking 34 miles off the range.

If possible, drivers should try to use the fan, as opening windows will create drag at high speeds and reduce efficiency. But, crucially, the impact will be less severe than having chilled air pumped into the vehicle.

One potential option to maximise range is to pre-cool the car while it’s charging, thus helping you to reduce the need to have the AC running full blast once you’re driving. 

Other tips and tricks

While driving behaviours should be the main focus when it comes to extending range, other factors can play a part. For example, if tyres are under-inflated, it will increase the amount of energy required to move the vehicle. Take the time to check them before you set off.

Similarly, any roof racks, open windows will increase drag and reduce efficiency. And the lighter you can travel, the better – although obviously, this isn’t always possible in fleet vehicles used for transporting goods.

Finally, if possible, take time to choose the most efficient route for your journeys. A few minutes in planning can save a lot of frustration and delay in terms of outcomes.

Remember the tortoise and the hare

The pressure is on when it comes to maximising fuel efficiency. It’s good for business, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for drivers’ blood pressure.

Who wants to be anxiously checking how much charge they have left, glancing at the clock and wondering where the next charging point is?

Being proactive can solve a host of challenges when it comes to electric vehicles and fleet management. Less harsh braking and acceleration, more steady progress. Perhaps now is the time to remind drivers to slow down, stop haring from A to B, be more considered in their approach and life will be smoother in many ways.

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