Analysis: Range is a red herring and we don’t need a 500-mike EV

Range is glamorous. And big batteries have a wow factor that appeals both to luxury shoppers expecting excess and to tech-savvy people for the mind-boggling amount of energy packed neatly under the floor.

It’s easy to understand the mindset. The idea of a 400-, 500-, or 600-mile range in an electric vehicle appeals to the same side of the American car-buying psyche that needs four-wheel drive for one day a year, or a high towing rating for pulling a fantasy boat to the dock…someday.

But it’s worth pointing out—and emphasizing—that big batteries aren’t the greenest way to go electric. They might not even be the best way forward to get a lot of people into electric cars.

Efficiency is good and helps EVs go farther with less

First off, let’s not confuse the push for more efficient electric cars with the idea of simply packing in more battery capacity to go more miles. Greater efficiency and squeezing more miles out of a battery is a good thing. Tesla has it mastered, with the Model 3 and Model Y standing as market leaders in how they can do what matters: wring the most miles out of every kilowatt-hour of battery capacity on board.

As the International Energy Agency pointed out this month in an annual report on the EV market, battery cells will continue to make rapid progress in energy density (in kilowatt-hours per weight of your choice). As it noted, increasing the energy density of batteries won’t just reduce the costs of the cars but also will help reduce the battery manufacturing emissions and the life-cycle carbon impact of the cells.