Predicted Range and EPA Ratings – How the two do NOT go together

Saturday 23rd May 2015

Having driven Electric Cars for nearly 6 years now, I have never really thought about or cared that much about the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) ratings or my predicted range – until just recently. The EPA is the US government body responsible for testing new cars and reporting on their real-world driving range.

Our first Electric Car the Tesla Roadster with its 240 miles of range meant that ‘range anxiety’ was never an issue and I never even considered its EPA rating. I mean, why would you? The MINI E and the ActivE – were both experimental Electric Cars and the range was something that was to be accepted – there was nothing I could do about it so again, the EPA rating wasn’t relevant. Did we occasionally worry about our range? Well, yes we did but never enough to lose any sleep over. The range on these cars was what it was and that was it.

Numbers that don't add up - click to see full image
Numbers that don’t add up – click to see full image

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV was purchased/leased for the children to use and the Ford Focus Electric for commuting a fixed distance so the range didn’t really come into it either. The i-MiEV needed to get to school and the Focus Electric only needed to be able to do a 72 mile round trip where there was 120V charging at the work place so its range was just fine.

Today, we are no longer ‘testing’ Electric Cars anymore and are actually buying or leasing cars, shall we say ‘for real’ now. To compare different models, we’ve started looking at the EPA ratings and have just begun to take a moment to think, what do these ratings mean? Do they mean anything at all? Are they even accurate? I actually just looked them up on http://www.fueleconomy.gov and they are even sillier than I had thought!! They are very misleading.

The EPA rates Electric Cars on how far you can go on a fully charged battery and then lists their findings. Some points of interest below:

How the tests are carried out
The EPA don’t actually drive the car on a road, they just simulated it in a laboratory to assess the range, which we all know is just not the same. Do they take hills and the regen I get on the way down into consideration? They don’t even take into account the time of year and the differences in range due to temperature.

The range is only quoted for the combined cycle
The EPA bases the anticipated range number on its tests then reports the estimated range on the combined performance for city/motorway driving which is 55% city and 45% motorway. They quote the MPGe number separately for city and motorway but not the range. Don’t get me started on MPGe!

The EPA's testing methodology is not up to ElectraGirl standard!
The EPA’s testing methodology is not up to ElectraGirl standard!

If they haven’t been out on the roads to find a real number and they don’t show us the difference between city and highway, how can we make any assessment about how the car will perform for us in the real world?

What happens when you don’t do the EPA’s kind of driving? Well for me, 99.9% of my driving is city driving so I would see a higher predicted range surely than the person that was driving 99% motorway. I know that I don’t take the EPA rating as cast in stone but there are a lot of people out there that do – I have read Facebook!

We do all talk about our ‘miles of range‘ – rather a lot in fact – on our Electric Cars which means that it does have some relevance to us. But it is also an individual thing as we all get different mileage ranges, we all have different Electric Cars and most importantly we all drive differently.

Running flat just doing daily driving is unlikely but not because we base it on the EPA test
Running flat just doing daily driving is unlikely but not because we base it on the EPA test

While we all purchased or leased our Electric Cars knowing what the EPA rated range is, we all know that we can get better than that. However, in the winter when we are all seeing at least a 15 mile loss in range then surely the car companies shouldn’t have the EPA rating on their cars at all. I mean why bother? It doesn’t seem a useful number, only something for people to get hung up on and complain when they get in their car one day and only have 60 miles of predicted range. Now, me, as a knowledgeable Electric Car person (haha) knows that when I see an EPA rating of 81 miles on an Electric Car, that in the cold months I will see less and yet in the warmer months I will see more. So surely the rating should be listed as something more like “65 – 95 miles of range that is temperature dependent”. This should also be state/region/country dependent too. Much more accurate for people to understand. I have heard people complain that they have lost 15 – 20 miles of range in the cold winter months and hadn’t been anticipating this as they thought they would get 81 miles year round. Obviously a good car salesman will discuss this with the new car owner but there are too many that do not. This is not helping the Electric Car movement. For me the EPA rating needs to be removed for Electric Cars as they’ve tried to translate the mpg number from stinky petrol cars and you know what, it just doesn’t translate.

When you start to delve a little bit deeper you start to find even more things that just don’t add up. For instance – Looking at the calculations for the annual cost reveals a surprise too, it estimates that, over 15,000 miles, the Smart, for example, will cost $550 in ‘fuel’ at $0.12/kWh. A quick calculation reveals that equates to 3.2miles/kWh… er, not me who usually sees over 5miles/kWh. If you factor in 20% charging loss, that gets you closer at 4miles/kWh but that too seems oddly low.

The BMW i3 has an EPA rating of 81 miles range and while we saw that dip to 65 miles in the cold winter with the heat on, we are now seeing a range of over 90 miles with the occasional 102 miles of range thrown into the mix. I expect to see more range as the weather continues to get warmer. The i3 is currently averaging 5.4miles/kWh.

2015 Smart ED Interior Instruments
2015 Smart ED Interior Instruments

The Smart ED that has an EPA rating of 68 miles range is very much wrong. In the winter we saw a loss of around 20 miles of range if we used the heater, but now the warmer weather has finally arrived we reckon that we could get 100 miles out of the batteries. We have so far seen 83 miles of predicted range (rather a lot higher than the EPA rating), but after driving plenty of miles the remaining battery percentage and estimated miles are heading more in the region of a 100+ mile range. But the car won’t tell us this, it is being very conservative. Time to push the Smart Electric Drive to the limit… Let me just check where all the charging stations are first – just in case!

It’s time to re-think the EPA sticker – should we even abolish it altogether for electric cars – if it doesn’t make sense, is it doing more harm than good?

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