The case for cheaper short range EV's and controlling our "what if?" tendencies


When we bought my wife her first car, the 2020 Kia Soul S, I expected we would keep it for many years, probably 10 as that is how long the Kia drivetrain warranty lasts. Of course if the rest of the car started to fall apart maybe we'd get rid of it after the 5 year bumper to bumper expired. But here we are just a little over 2 years in and we're going to sell it. Why would we do such a thing?

Well, we live in unprecedented times and just like our Land Rover Discovery, that I previously blogged about, her car is worth a lot more than it should be. In short we have been offered just shy of $20,000 which is amazing considered we only paid $21,500 for it over 2 years ago. So this, combined with the fact you can get a brand new electric Mini for $30k, and the fact that we should be eligible for a $7,500 federal rebate on it means that we can hand her Kia over and walk away with a nicely built EV from a more premium brand for about $3,000. With the currently proposed changes to the EV rebate and the likelihood that the car shortage (and subsequent used car price bump) can't last, it's now or never to get my wife into an EV for next to nothing out of pocket.

An electric Mini for the same price as a similarly gasoline Soul seems too good to be true. Yes, the Soul is larger and has two more doors and can sit adults in the back, but the Mini is a much more premium feeling car, handles better and has the performance benefit that being an EV brings. The base model version of the Mini costs the same as the Soul EX (a trim level above ours) and they both get keyless entry/go, 8" screens and heated seats etc so spec wise they are broadly similar although the Mini lacks blind spot and rear cross traffic warning, two safety features my wife has made extensive use of and we're sad to see go. No, the real reason the Mini can be had so cheaply is because of its small and thus cheap battery (vs other EV's).

A small battery means a small range and the US EPA standard, which largely focusses on highway driving,  says the Mini will only do 114 miles before running out, while the EU WLTP test, which focusses more on in town driving, says is will do 140 miles. Anecdotal evidence from YouTubers who own one suggest both these figures are pretty accurate with 130 miles in mixed use being about normal and 170 miles being possible if you hyperbole but I ignore that.

Whichever figure you go with, it's not a lot as EV's go today, in fact it's the shortest range of any EV on the market in the USA at the time of writing. I think a lot of people will simply dismiss it out of hand and look longingly at a long range Tesla before dismissing EV's as being too expensive for this reason but I think that's a mistake.

Most (although not all) US households have more than one car. Certainly those with the means to buy a new car. So realistically speaking a small car like the Mini is likely to be the 2nd or even 3rd car in the household. This being the case, and it certainly is for us as our main car is a Tesla, is 110 miles of range enough?

A knee jerk reaction from most people would be to say no. But 100 miles per day would be 36,000 miles per year. Most people do not do that kind of mileage. In fact, official statistics say that whatever we think, Americans actually drive an average of 29 miles per day. Some days are more, some days are less, but on average 29 miles is it. If you're double the average and actually travel 30 miles each way to work then that's still only 60 miles leaving you 40 more for getting groceries in the evening or whatever it is you do. And that's with 10+ miles still in hand and doing no charging all day. I get that an average is an average and we my travel much further at the weekend than we do on a weekday for example, but how much further on most weekends? On on the rare weekends where we do travel a lot further, could we just charge the Mini at a fast charger while we're out?

Everyone has different needs but I would encourage you to write down every day how far you drove, that way you can see what you actually need. I was always interested in switching to an EV so we've done this for the past 2 years. Every mile was logged. We know exactly how far we've driven on a daily basis and to where. We also know where we've gone with the Soul on the weekend. Now remember, this is our second car, we don't go on interstate road trips in it.

On a regular week day we did 17 miles.

On some week days we did 23 miles.

On the weekend the most we ever did in one day was 70 miles.

I knew we didn't go far, but the real numbers are lower than even I thought, which just goes to show how we overestimate our needs...

I used A Better Route Planner to see how far the Mini Cooper SE could go if we left the house on a full charge and wanted to get back home again without charging. I ran the numbers for destinations further and further away in every direction until I found how far we could go and still get home with 3-5% of charge left, and I then joined those points up. The black dot represents the center of Plano and the largest area shaded in the lightest red is the result. For scale, if you're not familiar with how big the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex is from looking at a map, North to South in the lightest red shaded area covers a distance of about 125 miles or 2 hours of Interstate driving. As you can see we can go anywhere we like in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex and several miles out into the surrounding countryside and its small towns:

So what is the darker red patch in the middle?

That represents everywhere we have been in my wife's gasoline car in the 2+ years that we have owned it. It may carry enough gas to have a 400 mile range between fill-ups but we have never travelled further than 70 miles in a single day, and we only did that twice in 2 years...

We have been further afield of course, we did a 2 week 4,000+ mile road trip back in June but we didn't take her small car, we took the bigger one as it was more comfortable and suited for such a trip. In fact, every time we leave the Metroplex we take the bigger car so we just don't need much range in our second vehicle.

Once you realize how you actually use your vehicle and stop doing the "what if's" like "what if I need to drive to Canada?" you may find that a shorter range EV can work for you and you'll save a lot of money once you realize that as those big batteries in the long range cars are what makes them so expensive!

But I'll entertain a couple of "what if" scenarios just for extra reassurance and for the benefit of those who may have a genuine need to travel further during their average day, or on the weekend to see family for example.

What if we don't travel far in a straight line but make several stops in a big circle?

This is the most likely of all the what-if's and more likely than needing to travel out to some small rural town for no apparent reason.

Let's imagine we have a house guest from out of town and my wife drives them into Dallas in the morning to take them to the Museum of Art, then on to the AT&T Stadium so they can pickup some sports souvenirs and grab lunch, then on to Fort Worth Zoo in the afternoon before dropping them off at DFW airport and going by a grocery store on the way home. Even if she braved the 75mph interstate roads that would save a lot of time but use more battery, that's still over 2 hours of driving covering over 110 miles across the Metroplex! Could the Mini handle that?

Yes, and with 6% battery to spare when she got home so no need to charge anywhere. She would have plenty of opportunity to do so though, as you can see by those grey DC fast charger pins dotted around where she could add 20% to the battery (around 25 miles worth of driving) in less than 10 minutes if she wanted to.

What if we want to travel further away on the weekend?

I can't imagine a situation where my wife would need to do this, but let's pretend she needs to drive to Austin and back for some reason and the main car is in the shop and the Mini is our only vehicle. Could she do it?

In her gas car it would take 3.5 hours of driving each way and while I would just drive each leg non-stop my wife would want to stop at least once on the way there and again on the way back just to stretch her legs, use the bathroom and probably buy a coffee and snacks. Experience tells me that all that would probably add nearly 30 minutes to each direction. We'd use one of these stops to get gas as well because the car couldn't make it there and back on one tank. So all said we'd get there in about 4 hours in the gas car and it would be another 4 to get back.

For the electric Mini I used A Better Route Planner to calculate the route (and charging) needed to make it to Austin and back, a round trip of 430 miles. It knows the Mini's capabilities and plans accordingly:

The route above shows that the Mini with its tiny battery would need to stop 3 times each way, so on average every hour or so. The shortest stop is just 8 minutes, the longest would be 32 minutes, but overall it would add 40 minutes each way to give us an average time of 4 hours 40 minutes vs 4 hours flat in the gas car.

Slower? Sure.

Realistically do-able? Absolutely.

And remember, this is a hypothetical situation for us, in reality we'd use the other car so we shouldn't be dismissing the Mini and spending thousands more on a longe range EV as our second vehicle or worse sticking with gas.

What if we want to travel really, really far?

My wife has friends in Albuquerque, New Mexico which is some 650 miles or 11 hours away by car assuming you make a 1 hour meal stop and two 30 minutes break/fuel stops. 

Could she do it in the electric Mini?

For her to even consider doing this the Mini would have to be our only vehicle (maybe the main one is in the shop) combined with being unable to get a flight out there for whatever reason, because that would be her preferred way to cover that sort of distance. I can't even imagine her ever tackling such a trip on her own for any reason so we've totally abandoned reality here but let's take a look at what A Better Route Planner says:

Well, it can be done but it's completely impractical. While trips of this distance may be possible on the coasts with short distances between chargers, out here in the South / South West it's a problem as distances are huge, speed limits are consequently high, we have major elevation changes and chargers are far apart. The sections colored in orange are where the Mini could not make it between chargers without traveling at less than the speed limit, generally due to the long uphill conditions combined with a high speed limit which really use a lot of energy. In most cases that means having to travel at 55mph which wouldn't feel very safe on a 75-80mph road and the slower speeds combined with the 7 charging stops turn an already long 11 hour gas car trip into a 17.5 hour slog.

If we were moving house and driving the Mini was the only way to get it there then sure. But to take 2 days and have to travel at reduced speed on the interstate is not something I would choose to do for any other reason.

This kind of trip is where a long range EV with a big battery and fast charging, like our Tesla Model Y, is much more suited and is what we would actually use to make that kind of trip. It would actually get there in the same 11 hours our previous gas SUV took, just with more frequent (5 vs 3) but shorter stops:

My wife on the other hand, if needing to make this trip alone, even if the Tesla or a gas car was available, would drive her Mini the 30 miles to DFW airport and fly to Albuquerque in 90 minutes...


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