Bear with me on this one, because I’d like to talk about data. Yes, a dry old series of numbers does occasionally throw up something interesting.
I was on a call with Mercedes-Benz this week, talking about the new C-Class plug-in hybrid. This all-new car has a considerably larger battery than before, doubling the potential electric-only running from 30-odd miles to around 60. And one of the reasons Mercedes has chosen to do this is customer data.
The figures it pulls from all its customer feedback is that 60-odd miles of electric range is perfectly adequate for what its customers need most of the time. This gives them the flexibility to run in electric mode most of the time, with only an occasional need to resort to the petrol or diesel engine.
As Ruben Voigtländer, responsible for development of the C-Class PHEV, pointed out to me, the customer data is clear: "We check our data from our vehicles and see the daily driving behaviour. From that, you can guess at an optimum what you will need to cover most of your daily commuting trips, and if you look at our data, [customers] cover most of their trips with 100km [62 miles] of range."
Statistics from the UK back this up: the average journey length is just over eight miles. Cars spend hours simply parked up, idle for 96% of their lives.
It makes me wonder if range anxiety shouldn’t be the concern it is. When the Honda E came out, many people queried why it had such a small battery, giving a theoretical range of about 125 miles. But the data shows we shouldn’t be worried. We know the charging infrastructure is improving and we know that electric cars are increasingly able to suck in that juice at ever-faster rates.
Why are we buying cars for the rare, 1% journey? People don’t buy houses on the basis that one day you might throw a party and need to squeeze 60 people in the garden. So you could argue that a car that is built correctly for 99% of your life requirements is all you need.
I’d argue we all need to buy for the majority case and be flexible for those rare occasions you need more. The data says it’s possible.