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Electric cars: How many miles will kill 'range anxiety'?

Most electric car charges last longer than 95 percent of the trips made in the US, but 'range anxiety' is still a major drawback for many potential electric car buyers. How many miles will it take to curb that fear?

Solt/TheDallas Morning News/AP/File
A Nissan Leaf is charged during a demo at the first ever quick charge electric vehicle charging station in the state of Texas in this 2011 file photo. One major drawback for electric cars is 'range anxiety' – the fear that a car's charge won't last an entire trip.

Range anxiety, or the fear that an electric car will run out of charge before you reach your destination. is a real and present fear for many first-time electric car drivers and buyers. 

Even though research clearly shows that present electric cars can satisfy the requirements of 95 percent of all trips made in the U.S., many car buyers say electric cars need to travel further per charge before they’ll consider buying one.

Of course, not everyone who thinks electric cars need to travel further per charge actually needs the extra range, but how many miles are enough to kill electric car range anxiety for good? 

120 miles 

At the recent Plug-In 2012 conference in San Antonio, many experts there admitted that a target range of 120 miles per charge would be more than enough to eliminate range anxiety in most drivers. 

At highway speeds, that equates to around two hours of driving, more than enough to cover even the most extreme of daily commutes without requiring a mid-day charge. 

With direct-current fast charging technology, a battery pack that large could easily be recharged in under an hour at a rest stop, theoretically making a 240-mile trip easily possible in one morning. 

While that’s still a little short for the most intrepid of long-distance drivers, a 240-mile trip in five hours is about the limit of most what most drivers -- especially with young children or pets -- can handle. 

Within reasonable costs

Current electric cars, like the 2012 Nissan Leaf, manage an EPA-rated 73 miles per charge. 

With battery technology improving, building an electric car with a range of 120 miles per charge within the next few years seems technologically feasible. 

More importantly, with electric car battery prices already dropping faster than analysts previously predicted they would, a larger capacity battery pack capable of 120 miles of range per charge is much more likely than it was even two years ago. 

Will 120 miles be enough?

Talk to most current electric car drivers, and they’ll tell you that their car’s range per charge is more than adequate for everyday driving. 

In fact, some advocates joke that the range of their electric car is ‘always enough’, because they modify their driving styles to match the type of trip they are making. 

However, there’s a risk that, like computer hard drives, the more you have, the more you want. 

As of yet, most electric cars cannot compete with most gasoline cars on range. The only one that can -- the 2012 Tesla Model S -- is prohibitively expensive for most Americans. 

More range, or something else?

 Do electric cars need longer ranges, or do car buyers need to be shown how electric cars already satisfy most of their driving needs? Are more rapid direct current charging solutions needed instead of expensive, heavy, large capacity battery packs? 

Or should automakers follow the lead of Tesla Motors, Mitsubishi, and Coda automotive, by offering a range of battery packs to consumers when they buy an electric car?

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