Have range anxiety? Jaipur man who drove electric vehicle to Indo-Pak border has some tips

Aakash and his wife Kaushal had several tricks up their sleeves to overcome range anxiety during their 300 km trip to Longewala in a Tata Nexon EV. 
Aakash and his wife Kaushal in front of the electric vehicle they drove in. (Photo | Special arrangement)
Aakash and his wife Kaushal in front of the electric vehicle they drove in. (Photo | Special arrangement)

Imagine you have 1 litre of petrol left in the tank and there’s a distance of 100 km left to cover with no sight of a petrol station in a 100 km radius around you. Now, replace the petrol with battery capacity and the petrol station with a charging station and you’ve got a case of range anxiety. 

It is one of the biggest foes of the electric vehicle (EV) industry right now. In European countries, range anxiety is almost non-existent for two reasons: EV models with higher battery capacities and the mushrooming of charging stations everywhere in recent years. 

In India, the maximum distance you can cover in an EV with full charge is 350-400 km in a Mercedes EQC but this car is beyond the common man’s reach owing to its Rs 90 lakh price point.

The other good option is the Tata Nexon EV (the best-selling EV car in 2020) which reportedly has a real-world range of 180-220 km. You could stretch that to 270 km if you know some of the tips and tricks used by EV pioneers in India. 

Using such tips and really “good mathematical skills”, Aakash and his wife, Kaushal, overcame range anxiety in their 300-kilometre trip to Longewala on the Indo-Pak border in a Tata Nexon EV. The couple covered a distance of 1,508 kms in four days.

They were more than excited to share their insights on how EV owners can take their car on long distance trips. 

Aakash's checklist for trip to Longewala

  • Charging set-up

He has a charging cable and also carries an earthing kit along with it because a lot of the hotels he had visited earlier did not have proper earthing. EV owners often resort to making DIY earthing kits (an iron rod covered by copper wire is inserted into the ground) which Aakash has since made into a product. He carries a multimeter to help figure out the rate of electricity per unit in order to pay the hotel for charging. And in case of emergencies, he has a towing cable often used as a last resort (which he had to use in this trip).

  • Route map with stoppages

While drawing a route map, he planned his stoppages and marked charging stations along the route. He advises that one must call the hotel/resort in advance to check if EV charging is allowed in their premises.

On the rates of charging, he adds that there is no benchmark for charging EVs in hotel premises. Each hotel will behave differently, he says.

 (Photo | Special Arrangement)
 (Photo | Special Arrangement)

How can one overcome range anxiety?

  • Knowing the car

Knowing your electric vehicle and how to drive it is one of his top recommendations. Having driven more than 7,000 km in the car, he knows that it is predictable, which gives him the confidence to go on long distance trips. He adds that you can figure out how the vehicle reacts and use suitable driving techniques to extend its range.

He says, "For example, while going towards Longewala which is 280 km ahead, there was a point where we hoped to get charged, but didn’t. So we started to drive very slowly for 40-45 km, and got excellent range. We reached our hotel in Jaisalmer with 3 percent charge left. The thing is, I could predict that this would’ve happened at least 80 km in advance."

  • Planning

When it comes to driving electric vehicles on long distance trips, "planning is everything," says Aakash. He adds, "From charting your route on Google Maps to identifying the various breaks needed along the way and keeping an eye on the battery while driving, careful mathematical planning will help you reach safely.

"Normally the car consumes 100 watt hours per km, if nothing is on, but when we turn on the heater, the electricity consumption goes up by 200-250 watt hours per km.

"So when we would have travelled 3 km per percent point, now with the heater on, we would only travel 1 or 1.1 km. By using 2.5 times the energy, you realise heating becomes expensive. It’s just an eye-opener on how much we take for granted. 

"Every unit of electricity consumed for air conditioning or heater or speed change or braking will find its way into your plan," he adds stressing on the importance of planning.

  • Great support from EV community and Tata Motors

One of the things he is grateful for is the support of a great community of Tata Nexon owners (referring to a WhatsApp group) -- some 250-odd people who are crazy about their cars. "It’s a very active group of people who are looking out for each other, very good for knowledge-sharing."

He mentions that the people at Tata Motors were very helpful during the trip. About his trust in using them as his first back-up, he says, "They’re very proactive. They’d keep the dealers (in the area we are passing by) informed in advance when we embark on a trip. I want to thank Mr Amit Goyal and Mr Vivek of Tata Motors because they are the people whom we'll call when we're stranded."

  • Charging station 

One of the most important aspects of dealing with your range anxiety, he says, is to ensure that there’s a charging station every 200-250 km. "There needs to be a back-up plan, be it for towing or calling your fellow EV owners or letting your car dealers know in advance that you will be taking the trip," he adds.

Tips on driving techniques to get more range

  • Speed control

"Maintaining a constant speed is important. The lower you keep the average speed of the car, the longer range you can achieve. If you maintain 40 km/hr, you’ll get a range of 310-330 km. But if you’re driving 80 km/hr, your range will drop down to 220," he says.

  • Google Maps prediction

Another good tip relates to the distance shown on Google Maps. He sheds light on something he discovered during one of his trips -- if Google Maps tell you 100 km, your car will show 105 km real distance. "For example, I was keeping a 15 km extra buffer for the distance. If Google Maps showed that the hotel was 130 km away, we’d see it as 145 km away," he adds. 

  • Practise single pedal driving

One gospel truth of being at the wheel of electric vehicles is to practise single pedal driving to save battery, which Aakash agrees with. In single pedal driving, the driver controls the speed of the EV with just the accelerator, using braking to the minimum.

Other Nexon EV owners echoed his views and added that you need to anticipate turns, speed decreases and stops. 

  • Regenerative braking

He says that for downhill driving, you should embrace the regen by braking. 

  • Driving mode

Using the eco-marker in the energy board of his car also helps, he adds. "So if it shows that it's using up 50 per cent of the energy, I make a point to never cross that. The eco mode is the least aggressive mode," he says.

Meanwhile, another Nexon EV owner from Pune, Samir, shares an interesting insight -- shutting the windows of the EV can help reduce the aerodynamic drag on it.

Aakash's feedback for TATA Nexon EV makers

While sharing his feedback on the Nexon EV, the electronics engineer says, "We need cruise control because on the highway I would actually want to drive, for example, at 50 km/hour. Without cruise control, it's so painful. A tiny line of code could have easily solved this problem. Now, we have to strain and glue our eyes to the speedometer."

To add to his suggestion, he says that one should be able to turn off the regenerative braking system.

Downsides of taking long distance trips in EVs

It’s not all sunshine for EV owners wanting to take long distance trips. Vivek Ahuja, a Tata Nexon EV owner from Delhi who has not gone on a long trip yet shares his inhibitions about it.

“You need reliable fast chargers. So far, the experience isn’t good. They don’t work and the dealers refuse help as cars from other states are not allowed,” he says.

While explaining how some EV dealers are not cooperative, Vivek shared a story of a Tata car owner from his EV community who was first refused help from an MG Agra dealer.

He adds that they later offered help but "charged a flat rate of Rs 600 for the connection, whether charging took 1 minute or 1 hour."

Another problem he highlighted is that EV owners often face situations where fast chargers don't function at all or are not live. In such cases, these travellers will have to add 6-7 hours to their plan because of the time slow chargers can take to get the car juiced up. 

EV communities mushroom online, paving way for early adopters

People like Aakash and Vivek are part of a community that is slowly emerging in various corners of the country with a mission to put more and better electric vehicles on the road.

Owing to the dearth of real-world driving information on electric vehicles, WhatsApp groups and Twitter pages have turned into little communities of support for EV owners.

There are multiple 250+ member groups on WhatsApp and Twitter with EV veterans helping each other out -- like ‘EV pioneers - Mumbai’, ‘EV owners - Pune & West’ on WhatsApp,  Tata Nexon owners’ groups and similar communities like the @Teslaclubin and the @NexonEVOwnerClb on Twitter. Some of whom are migrating to Telegram owing to various limitations.

So much so that there’s an EV app called Pulse Energy which focuses on building this community. One of its co-founders, Devang Mistry, a software engineer, says, “Potential buyers can get real-time feedback from folks who already own EVs. With more users being interested in EVs and more auto manufacturers launching them, traditional platforms like WhatsApp chat groups or Facebook groups can't scale. There is too much noise.”

On the importance of having such communities, he adds, “Moving a country like India from fuel cars to EV cars requires a lot of reprogramming and support. It's similar to learning a new language. The longer you hang around in an EV community, the more you learn about taking care of your EV car.”

The great thing about these groups is that, as Aakash puts it, “even if you don’t want help, there will be 10 people standing by for support.”

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