The suitability of electric vehicles for daily use


Am I ready for an electric vehicle?

Electric mobility is picking up its pace — there’s no doubt about that! This is the only way that Daimler can reach its goal of having a CO2-neutral new-vehicle fleet by 2039. Nonetheless, the pace at which electric mobility establishes itself on the mass market depends mainly on the suitability of electric vehicles for daily use. In this article we take a look at the average driving behavior, the current status of the charging infrastructure, and the additional factors that are playing play a role in the transition.

7 min reading time

by Lisa Bauer,
published on September 17, 2020

In 2013 the Language Council of Norway granted second place on its "Word of the Year" list to the term “rekkeviddeangst,” or “range anxiety.”

In simple terms, this neologism refers to the fear that the battery of your electric vehicle could run out of power during a drive, leaving you becalmed in a spot that is far from the charging infrastructure. Clearly, the fear that the limited range of electric vehicle makes them impractical for daily use has spread to other countries. Nonetheless, more than half of the new vehicles sold in Norway are at least partially electric, due in part to government subsidies.

Of driving habits and concepts of freedom

The rest of the world still lags far behind Norway. Studies conducted regularly by the German Federal Ministry of Transport show that Germans drive just 39 kilometers per day on average to get to work, go shopping, or engage in leisure activities. By way of comparison, the smart EQ fortwo (electricity consumption in kWh/100 km: 16.5–14.0 (combined); CO₂ emissions in g/km: 0 (combined)**) has a range of up to 159 kilometers, and the EQC (electricity consumption in kWh/100 km: 21.3–20.2; CO₂ emissions in g/km (combined): 0**) with its 80 kWh battery can manage up to 445 kilometers. That should be enough, shouldn’t it?

The Mercedes-Benz EQC (electricity consumption in kWh/100 km: 21.3–20.2; CO₂ emissions in g/km (combined): 0**) has a range of up to 445 kilometers.
The Mercedes-Benz EQC (electricity consumption in kWh/100 km: 21.3–20.2; CO₂ emissions in g/km (combined): 0**) has a range of up to 445 kilometers.

At the international level, the statistics are very similar. On average, Europeans make three drives per day for a total of 30 to 40 kilometers. Drivers in the USA make only two drives per day for an average total of 51 kilometers. In short, even the early generations of electric vehicles have a range that covers the average daily requirements of customers all over the world. So why are many people worried that their electric car’s battery capacity won’t be enough to cover their needs? This is all the more puzzling because if we look at the future, the energy density and thus the range of the new battery generations will continue to increase.

The charging specialist Markus Bauknecht has some answers to this question. As a product manager at Mercedes-Benz, he is responsible for the digital charging service Mercedes me Charge — and this means that dealing with customers’ “rekkeviddeangst” is part of his daily work. In an interview, he told us, “Driving an automobile is only superficially about getting from A to B. In reality, a car promises freedom. […] Initially, an electric vehicle with a maximum range of 400 to 500 kilometers casts doubt on this promise.”

At Mercedes-Benz, Markus Bauknecht is responsible for the digital charging service Mercedes me Charge.
At Mercedes-Benz, Markus Bauknecht is responsible for the digital charging service Mercedes me Charge.

Is freedom the key concept here as well? Freedom to choose any parking space, freedom to make spontaneous weekend trips, freedom to make a quick detour to visit friends on the way home from a vacation. Freedom is a valuable commodity, perhaps even the most valuable one of our time — there’s no doubt about that. That’s why Markus Bauknecht aims to make it just as easy for customers to charge their electric vehicles as to refuel at a gas station. In his opinion, “Planning is a concept that is at odds with the idea of freedom.” At the very least, planning robs you of spontaneity.

Keeping an overview in the jungle of charging stations

But how is this going to work? People who are testing electric vehicles complain that the market is still not sufficiently regulated. More and more charging stations are popping up overnight. First of all, it’s not hard to find them. There are plenty of apps for that in the App Store. The real challenge occurs in parking lots, at highway service areas or in front of supermarkets, where drivers wonder, “Does the authentication certificate of my power supply contract entitle me to use this charging station? Is this electricity available free of charge, the way it is at supermarkets, or do I need to register with a payment service in advance? And what should I do if the charging point is already occupied?”

To make sure your next shopping trip doesn’t leave your nerves jangling, Mercedes-Benz is offering a vehicle — the EQC, which is practical for driving long distances — together with the right charging service: Mercedes me Charge. In conjunction with the EQ-optimized navigation system, the service plans your route and recommends appropriate breaks. Before you arrive at a charging point, the app can call up the current price and calculate the probable cost of a charging stop. As a result, you can also choose to drive to a cheaper charging point. Payment is made via RFID card at the charging point, via the head unit in the vehicle or via the app on a mobile phone.

The EQ-optimized navigation system recommends appropriate breaks.
The EQ-optimized navigation system recommends appropriate breaks.

During the drive, the system also provides updated information about the traffic situation, the weather, and the availability of charging points. The route guidance can be automatically adapted as needed. The charging ecosystem from Mercedes me Charge has already registered 97 percent of the approximately 28,000 charging points set up by various suppliers throughout Germany. Today 350,000 charging points are available worldwide. Markus Bauknecht and his colleagues in the development unit are working to raise the registration rate to 100 percent.

Let’s say that you have now found a charging point and charged your battery, and you know you’ll receive a digital bill at the end of the month. But what about the sense of freedom and the amount of time you may lose while your battery is charging? People want to reach their destinations quickly, especially if they are going on vacation, instead of spending hours waiting for their battery to recharge at a service area along the highway. Fortunately, there’s a company that is fulfilling this wish for flexible scheduling and freedom.

A high-speed charging opportunity every 120 kilometers

The joint venture IONITY is currently working on behalf of BMW, Daimler, Ford, and VW to develop a Europe-wide high-speed charging network for electric vehicles. Within two years, the new company has successfully built up a nearly 100 percent green infrastructure of public high-speed charging points along the main transit routes in Europe. By December 2019 there were about 200 charging parks with up to six charging points each. The aim is to have twice as many of them throughout Europe twelve months from now. IONITY offers a charging capacity of up to 350 kilowatts at its charging points. Even just a few years ago, 50 kilowatts was considered fast. What is the benefit of so-called "high-power charging" or “DC charging”? "Our aim is to get to the point where the charging times coincide with the natural pattern of the driver's breaks over a long distance,” explained Dr. Susanne Koblitz during our visit to the test workshop in Unterschleißheim. She has a doctorate in physics and is responsible for the charging technology unit at IONITY.

Dr. Susanne Koblitz, a charging expert at IONITY, would like to adapt the charging times for long-distance trips to the natural pattern of the driver’s breaks.
Dr. Susanne Koblitz, a charging expert at IONITY, would like to adapt the charging times for long-distance trips to the natural pattern of the driver’s breaks.

Surveys show that during long drives most people take a break every three to four hours. Many of them use these breaks, lasting between 15 and 20 minutes, to have a snack at a service area. If we apply these findings to the distance covered, we find that the consumption to be recharged at each stop amounts to between 80 and 100 kilowatts. The 350 kilowatts provided by IONITY thus make it possible to reduce the charging time to the length of a 15-minute coffee break. The EQC, with its maximum DC charging capacity of 110 kilowatts, currently needs around 40 minutes to recharge its battery from almost empty to 80 percent charge.

Apropos DC charging, what’s the difference between it and normal AC charging, and what do these abbreviations stand for? Alternating current (AC current) from the grid must first be converted into compatible direct current (DC current). This process requires a converter, whose size is in direct proportion to its charging capacity. In the case of high-speed charging, the converter’s dimensions mean that it makes more sense to accommodate it outside the vehicle. The conversion now takes place not in the car but directly at the charging point. As Dr. Susanne Koblitz explains, "The fundamental challenge that we have with this external conversion process is that the charging station must generate precisely the voltage that the battery requires. However, this voltage changes constantly according to the battery’s state of charge." She uses the image of a concert hall filling up to illustrate these fluctuations. The first audience members to arrive have to first of all get their bearings in the empty space, so they need a little longer to find their seats. Once a few seats have been occupied, people find it easier to orient themselves. However, the last 20 percent of concertgoers once again need more time to get to their seats because they have to work their way through the seated people.

IONITY provides 350 kilowatts at its charging points.
IONITY provides 350 kilowatts at its charging points.

During the charging process, the lithium ions have to find their way through the layers of molecules in the battery cell in order to occupy a free space. If the battery is already fairly full, it takes them longer to get there. The battery then calls on the charging station to reduce the flow of electricity. IONITY has made crucial progress in this area during the past two years. Incidentally, that’s why high-speed charging during long journeys is not in itself harmful to the automotive battery.

So far, so good. But how can you find out whether an electric vehicle really matches your individual driving habits? After all, none of us want to be John and Jane Doe. Keeping a vehicle log would of course be an option, but unfortunately it’s very tedious. How about renting an electric vehicle? That would certainly make sense, but the rental opportunities are still limited.

People who are still undecided can get help from the EQ Ready app

Mercedes-Benz has long had the right solution. Ever since 2017, customers who are skeptical, undecided or just interested can simply download the EQ Ready app free of charge from the App Store. By analyzing an individual’s driving behavior, this app supports drivers who are wondering whether it would make sense for them to switch to an electric vehicle. The system’s new functions are especially appealing. But let's start at the beginning…

The EQ Ready app gives drivers the most important information about a vehicle’s suitability for their individual daily driving habits.
The EQ Ready app gives drivers the most important information about a vehicle’s suitability for their individual daily driving habits.

After downloading the app, the user first selects an electric vehicle from the Mercedes-Benz family and another vehicle of any brand for the sake of comparison. At that point the seven-day challenge begins. All of the routes the user actually drives are registered and analyzed, with the user’s consent. The electric model that has been selected “drives” these routes virtually, and the user can regularly check the vehicle’s state of charge. The user also has the option of simulating the charging times for various charging solutions. In other words, the user can connect the virtual smart, EQC or plug-in hybrid into a wallbox or a household socket after coming home, for example. When the driver is on the road, the local AC and DC charging stations are available. Of course all this is virtual — but it looks almost as real as though the user actually owned an electric vehicle.

This app is already available in more than 30 countries, most recently in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. And it has already been used been used more than 1.6 million times. An analysis of the anonymized drives shows that 90 percent of the routes that were registered could have been driven entirely electrically. The benefit is obvious: The EQ Ready app supplies the most important findings about an electric vehicle’s suitability for an individual’s daily use, starting with the first test drive.

Other aspects also play a role in a switch

Even though the app’s findings would clearly recommend an electric vehicle, some people wonder whether a switch would be responsible from an environmental, or perhaps a human rights-oriented, perspective on account of the cobalt extraction that battery production requires.

In the special “Battery Life Cycle” we clear up the most common presuppositions and talk to experts about battery development and the individual phases of a battery’s life. The experts talk about the procurement of raw materials and offer insights into international battery production at Mercedes-Benz. They also provide more information about the multifaceted challenges and opportunities that the shift is opening up in vehicle production plants. And they share their insights into various options for processing and recycling vehicle batteries. Are you familiar with the term “remanufacturing”? And did you know that car batteries make an important contribution to the energy transition after they have ended their active phase on the road and have been built into large-scale battery storage units? The use of lithium-ion batteries on the road will increase significantly in the next ten years. That’s why we’ve taken a closer look at these compact power packs — and traced the path taken by batteries from the raw material supply chain to the recycling facility.

Lisa Bauer

has been working intensively on electric cars in recent months. Nevertheless, she also had to struggle with rekkeviddeangst before her first long distance trip with the EQC from Stuttgart to IONITY in Unterschleissheim – absolutely unfounded as it turned out later. Her advise to all doubters: just give it a try.

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