Electric vehicles require more frequent, and longer stops than ICE vehicles. Many EV advocates suggest this is a positive for EVs as it forces stops and therefore manages fatigue. I disagree, and this is why.
The short answer is that EVs tend to force the driver to stop at times, places and for durations that the car needs, whereas ICE vehicles allow the stops to be tailored to the driver, not the machine.
Happily, this situation is changing as more chargers are installed and EV ranges increase, but it’s still a problem. Here’s the detail.
Electric vehicles generally have a signifcantly shorter range than ICE (petrol/diesel) cars, and that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. The standard for EVs is WLTP (World Harmonised Light vehicle Testing Procedure) and EVs typically score ranges from 400 to 600km. Of course, just like the ADR81/02 standard for testing ICE vehicles, in real-world conditions you typically won’t achieve the WLTP range, but again just like ICE you can drive in a way and in conditions which means you exceed it without too much effort.
Let’s take the Tesla Model 3 as an example, and here’s the stats from Tesla.com:
The best case there is 602km. The older NEDC standard is agreed to be too optimistic, which is why everyone is quoting WLTP. As a comparison, the BMW 3 Series petrol has a combined consumption of 6.3L/100km and a 59L fuel tank for a range of 936km.
Neither of those ranges accounts for real-world conditions, nor a reserve, but the point is EVs have shorter range than ICE. This isn’t any problem for around-town use where you come home and charge each night, or maybe grab a charge whilst you’re parked. Many city-dwelling EV owners never need to use public chargers, and I never needed to either when I’ve had EVs for review, although I did for the sake of the test.
Now my tests show that you can easily take 25% off the WLTP range if you’re cruising at speed, especially at 110km/h, using heating, or there’s hills – I drove an IONIQ5 and that was a typical result, similar to what I found when I drove a Model X and Kona EV. So the Model 3 range is now say 450km. The IONIQ5 AWD goes down from 430km to 330km. So at 100km/h an hour that’s over 3 hours of driving in the IONIQ5, and over 4 in the Tesla.
The guideline advice is, as repeated on many government websites, stop every two hours for 15-30m. And EVs can comfortably go beyond 2 hours running, except maybe when towing. I asked my Facebook followers, most of whom do a lot of long-distance driving, and they said their typical driving time between stops is 2 to 4 hours.
So what’s the problem?
If there’s plenty of fast chargers along the way which will zip your battery from 10% to 80% in under an hour, and those chargers are in places where you want to stop, and you’re not in a hurry, then there isn’t much of a problem…but that’s a lot of “ifs”. The good news is more chargers are coming on line, and my recent trip from Melbourne to Adelaide was quite different in 2022 compared to 2019.
But that perfect situation is not often the case in rural Australia, away from the main intercity routes, for a few reasons:
Chargers not ideally spaced – ideally, a charger would appear just as your EV reached 1% battery charge, or better yet, when you yourself need to make a stop. But of course it won’t, so you may need to stop earlier, a lot earlier, maybe after just one hour so you can jump to the next charger. Is that a problem? Yes, because it adds to the overall journey time, and fatigue management isn’t just about stopping every two hours, it’s also about total journey time (RACQ advises no more than 8-10 hours a day), and also when the driving is done – shouldn’t ever be when you’d normally be asleep.
Slow chargers – the government advice is stop for around 15-30 minutes every two hours. Even with a fast charger you’re not necessarily going to get all you need in 30m, and an AC charger would barely make the stop worthwhile if you’re looking at hundreds of kilometres a day. So you need to stop for longer. This increases journey time. My 2019 trip from Melbourne to Adelaide required 7 hours of slow (3-phase) charging. That’s way beyond any reasonable stop time, and while there’s now fast chargers along the way, there’s other routes where they’re not available.
Chargers not along your route – there are servos everywhere, but not chargers. Example – driving from Adelaide to the Clare Valley I wanted to stop for coffee and then continue. I thought I’d charge whilst I did so, as any time the car is stopped, I would like it to be charging. Not essential, but nice. So I diverted into Gawler. What I found was the the energy used to divert from my route was less than what I gained from the AC charger, so I was at a net loss. I could have stayed longer, but I was an hour out from Adelaide and only wanted a quick stop. So chargers off your route increase journey time, and require longer stops.
Not where you need/want to stop – the town of Keith has DC fast chargers and Tesla superchargers. When the kids were small we often stopped there because it has a really great playground. If we needed to refuel the car, that was a five-minute job and then we’d relocate to the playground for lunch. The car had our food, nappy changing gear, all our stuff, although we made sure to buy things in town too.
The chargers in Keith aren’t very close to the playground, so it’s a case of lock the car and leave it, which can of course be done but it’s just easier to have it nearby. And that’s Keith – there are other examples where the charger is a long way from anywhere, notably community centres which aren’t anywhere near cafes or playgrounds.
Waiting to charge – if someone else gets to the charger just before you, then you will need to wait for them to finish. This could be some time, and that assumes they’re even around and haven’t just left their car. At the moment, I feel that supply exceeds demands. I have had to wait for an charger once, and on my most recent trip had two occasions where people were waiting for me. They had to wait 5 and 45m minutes respectively.
Can’t just leave the car – chargers are a finite, shared resource and you shouldn’t just leave your car plugged in when you’re finished charging as it prevents others charging. So you need to be somewhere close by to come back to the car, unlike an ICE where you can refuel, park up and not worry about needing to move for anyone else. In Mildura, I needed to leave the car charging and walk into town for a meal…that was 15m to walk to town, 15m back, total 30m. The car wanted an hour to charge. So I had 30m to find a restaraunt, order, and get back…or, I could leave my charged car occupying the bay.
Can’t do quick stops – on a long trip with an ICE you can simply not refuel – remember the BMW vs Tesla ranges? Many people who answered the Facebook question are experienced long-distance drivers and can drive 4 hours at a time then take short breaks, and of course driving can be shared. With EVs, you have to stop more frequently and for longer. You don’t have the option of short, infrequent stops and I reject the argument nobody every needs that or should use it – if that’s not your job or lifestyle then fine, but for some of us it is. I should also say that sometimes it’s better to stop before the 2 hour mark – I’ve done this myself a number of times when I just feel it isn’t right to continue.
So for all these reasons I think that EV touring will take longer and potentially be more fatiguing than ICE – it comes down again to stops should be dictated by the needs of the human, not the machine.
Now some may say but you’re on holiday what’s the rush? Well, not everyone is on holiday when they long-distance drive, and sometimes you have a limited holiday time which you want to use at your destination. So, you drive quick to your long-distance destination, then slow down. For example, let’s say you’re in Melbourne and want to visit Uluru. You drive there fast as you can, minimal stops, then slow down and start cruising. When you’re done, you drive quick back to Melbourne. This is how I personally do a lot of trips.
And if someone wants to be an idiot with fatigue they can do that by not stopping at all in an ICE, or driving well into the night in an EV…and merely stopping doesn’t necessarily help if you do all the wrong things like filling yourself with hard-to-digest foods, caffeine, and not taking any exercise.
Now all that said, EVs can absolutely do long trips. It just takes longer and more planning than an ICE vehicle, and every week that goes by things become easier with more, quicker chargers, and longer range EVs.
And the main thing holding back EVs for long-distance touring isn’t range, it’s lack of fast-charging infrastructure. When fast chargers are at every playground, public toilet and at every motel parking spot, then electric vehicles will have reached a form of parity with ICE vehicles for long-distance driving…and then we just need recharging in minutes not hours.
Building the charging infrastructure is one of those things that benefit society in general but not enough for individuals to make the investment, which is why it’ll be down to the government to help things along.
In the meantime, synthetic fuels might be the go for those of us who tow and travel in 4×4 remotely, or possibly hydrogen. The recent annoucment of a new plant ‘fuels’ that hope, but I suspect it’ll be so expensive people start to use EVs, and that’ll drive the charging infrastructure. Wish I could time travel to 2040 and see!
Here’s an interesting rebuttal comment from a reader:
For me, your article is a mixed bag. Some reasonable points, but the overall thrust and tone seems a bit too negative and pessimistic. There’s no doubt that EVs don’t yet meet the needs of all vehicle operators, particularly long distance commercial drivers, 4WDers, and some remote area travellers. But as someone who owns an EV, and uses it regularly for road trips around NSW, the picture is already pretty rosy. There are plenty of high speed chargers available, reliably covering a high portion of bitumen routes (at least by reference to traffic volume), and for a large percentage of road users, I would venture to guess a hypothetical EV not adding too much time or inconvenience. I’ve only ever had to wait for a charger once (NRMA in Scone). The supply of high speed charging points anecdotally exceeds demand, and a lot more capacity is scheduled to come online in the short to medium term. For example, the NSW government has recently announced EV fast charging grants, which will co-fund charge point operators to install and operate ultra-fast charging stations at 100 km intervals across the state, and every 5 km in metropolitan areas. Based on the pace of development in charging infrastructure over the last few years, I have no reason to doubt that the limitations of EVs will continue to rapidly diminish over the coming months and years. Couple of final points 1.) Not all “high-speed” chargers are the same. Most Tesla superchargers are currently 120kW which comfortably charges my dual motor Tesla Model 3 from 20% to 90% in less than 40 minutes. However, new 250kW chargers are being rolled out (e.g. Kirrawee in NSW and Geelong in VIC) and this will cut the charging time substantially. 2.) Charging and resting don’t have to be concurrent! EVs usually have enough range to accommodate a rest break sans-power, particularly if your overnight stop has a destination charger (which many increasingly do).