A Modern Fear: Range Anxiety

Since I am now in the market for a car, I’ve been reading far more about cars than I ever have in my life. I also attended my first auto show a few months ago in NYC’s Javits Center, hopping into all kinds of different makes with 3 rows.

As I have been doing so, I’ve been fascinated by the marketing challenges posed by the nascent field of electric cars. (Not something I’m considering right now, given my space needs, but an idea I find fascinating nonetheless). The Nissan Leaf is all-electric. It has no tail pipe. Its range is about 100 miles per charge (or a little lower). Anyone buying a Leaf would install a charging station in his garage, and some 90% of us drive less than 100 miles a day. So this would seem to be “not a problem” for most of us if we decided we wanted to be electric car drivers. One could also anticipate that, in the next 3 years, a bigger network of charging stations will come into existence in your hipper urban areas.

Yet competitors (in the existing hybrid market) have been getting traction with the idea of “range anxiety.” This is the fear that you’ll run out of juice before getting back to your charging station. Given that it wouldn’t be a problem for most of us — the vast majority of our days feature driving to work and the supermarket and home — I’ve been pondering why this is.

I think it has to do with the whole idea of cars and freedom. In American culture, we really, really like the idea of freedom. We hate cutting off options. People who run storage facilities will tell you that 90+% of their customers show up twice — when they move the stuff in, and move it out. Yet 24/7 access remains a selling point, even with the higher prices that necessitates.

Likewise with cars. Even if we are total creatures of habit, we like to entertain the idea that today might be different. Despite our usual habit of going to work and home, today is the day we’ll drop everything and drive to Atlantic City and spend the night hitting the casinos before conking out on the beach. You can’t do that if your car only gets 100 miles to the charge. Hence the notion of range anxiety.

(Photo courtesy flickr user mariordo59)

3 thoughts on “A Modern Fear: Range Anxiety

  1. interesting thoughts. I too will drive a hybrid when I no longer need the mini-van. for car pooling. The Leaf probably wouldn’t even have to be charged every day in most cases. Nissan was giving Leaf test drives at Jones Beach yesterday. The field was packed, and you make me wonder if they had a back-up car in case the first one “ran out of juice.” If 100 people drove 1 mile each…

  2. It seems a car with a 100 mi range would only work as a second vehicle for most families. Though on an average day, it would be adequate, who would want to be limited to 100 mile range? Especially in the West, where people routinely drive 100 mi to an airport or medical specialist (and where public transportation isn’t available), it just isn’t practical.

    Of course, I see “next gas 88 mi” signs routinely…

  3. we have a different kind of range anxiety too, as my husband drives a 13 year-old car. I am anxious when he gets too far away, in case something happens to the car.

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