The autonomy of electric cars, a false problem?

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photo: Eric Dupin

Éric Dupin shares with you every Tuesday his thoughts on a topical issue or the latest trends in the automotive world in his “Green Zone” section.

Charging networks are multiplying, to the great satisfaction of electric motorists. But is the autonomy of electric cars really the priority issue?

When I rode frequently (or even exclusively) on a motorcycle, the various machines that I had the chance to own or to pilot were far from being camels since their consumption generally was between 5 and 8 liters per 100 km and their tank contained between 11 (yes!) and 20 liters of fuel, reserve included.

You are familiar with calculations of autonomy in kWh but I am sure that it will not be very difficult for you to find the range of action of the motorcycles in question: between 220 and 250 kilometers in the best case, without too much wringing. handle, and if possible wind in the back.

A little bit rickety autonomy, therefore, since equivalent if not less than that of many current electric cars. And yet that was never a shadow of a problem. Including on the occasion of long roadtrips as we practiced them at the time in wild horde mode, to get to Corsica, Italy, England or anywhere else in Europe. I even remember a fiery trek of more than 3,500 kilometers in the American West with Suzuki Intruders (very small tank too – 13 liters – as is the rule on this kind of chopper) where the “recharge” in essence never asked a shadow of the start of a question, even deep in Arizona. Well sometimes it was a bit hot, but we always ended up finding a truck stop in the middle of nowhere to redo the levels.

Why ? You have it: because the infrastructure was there to secure us and reassure us. Basically – and this is still the case today, even if the number of service stations in France (and probably in Europe) has been divided by 4 since 1980 – we were and we are still certain to find a gasoline whenever we need it, anywhere, anywhere. On the other hand, we are sure that it will work and that we can refuel in a few minutes. Finally, we know that we can pay it easily, with our credit card or in cash.

Which gives an equation with four variables.

The question is above all a question of infrastructure

Suddenly, without wanting to relaunch for the umpteenth time the subject of the range of action of electric vehicles in chicken or egg mode, it seems to me more and more obvious that the question is above all a question of infrastructure ( charging points), before being a matter of technology (batteries and their management). Tesla has understood this, even if the Californian brand is playing on two tables, technology and infrastructure. In the same movement, the European consortium Ionity is following suit with the aim of quickly catching up, which it is doing with 70 stations in France to date.

To put it simply, imagine that we had a network of chargers as dense and easy to use as the current network of gas stations. In this context, would owning a car that offers only 250 to 300 kilometers of range be a problem? It seems to me not. Just, at worst, a little annoyance of having to stop every two or three hours to recharge, which ultimately is good enough since the recommendation for safety and comfort is to take a break every two hours. So of course we all dream of an electric car with 700 or even 1000 km of range (or at least 500 real km at 130), but is it really essential?

Not sure. This approach would then allow manufacturers to focus on recharging speed with smaller batteries, therefore less heavy, and therefore more eco-friendly, and recharging operators to take care of their network in order to make it as dense and reliable. and easy to use than a common gas pump since the 1930s.

Idyllic, isn’t it? Unfortunately, this is without taking into account the market’s propensity to complicate what could be very simple in order to catch the customer, lock them in a proprietary system, and keep them against their will. In this respect, recharging operators still operate with reflexes from the past, faced with customers who are nevertheless in search of modern commercial behavior, such as those which would consist in making things open, interoperable, and above all in leaving the customer free of his choices. , which in the end always pays off for all parties involved.

Perhaps this is where the politician must intervene, whose role would be to promote a standard and harmonize the market without falling into counterproductive interventionism. It seems to be on the right track with the CCS standard in particular, but it takes time.

Let’s summarize: manufacturers optimize, operators deploy, and governments harmonize.

And maybe we’ll never talk about autonomy again?


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