Range anxiety: Worried your electric vehicle will run out of battery?

Solutionaries team tests EVs and the infrastructure

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – No doubt - electric vehicles are slick.

They’re not only seen as eco-friendly and nifty, but they’re fast and fun! For this story, we rode in several electric vehicles to determine the pros, cons and the future.

As a journalist and someone who loves the environment, I’ve always wanted to know more about electric vehicles and their viability. Are they truly practical? Can Americans really get around without stopping at gas stations? To find answers, I embarked on an electric vehicle voyage, testing out the practicality and challenges first-hand.

EVs traditionally cost more than vehicles with combustible engines, but prices are dropping. A new Chevy Bolt EV has an MSRP of $26,500 before potential tax rebates. From there, EVs run all price ranges into costing more than a hundred thousand dollars. However, they save owners fuel costs and typically cost much less to charge than it would cost to fill a tank with gas.

We met Felix Feliz, a Tesla owner, who shared his experience: “It drives smooth. The performance. I mean, there’s really nothing bad about it. If I’m honest.”

He was traveling from Orlando to Charlotte with his wife and children. He said he had no concerns about running out of battery, noting he planned his charging stops ahead of time.

However, Mickelson Civil, another Tesla owner, pointed out a major concern: “When you’re on U.S. 17 going to Green Cove Springs, there’s a lack of chargers there.”

He’s referring to a commute just outside of Jacksonville, where EV infrastructure is lacking.

This raised the question: Is there enough infrastructure to support these green machines?

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I had the opportunity to test drive Volkswagen’s ID.4, one of more than 50 electric vehicle models flooding the market. The small SUV starts around $42,000, with some drivers being eligible for a tax break of up to $7,500. Erik, the dealer representative, highlighted the learning curve for those transitioning from gas-powered cars. But it didn’t take long for me to hit the road and experience an emissions-free weekend.

Driving the ID.4, I couldn’t help but wonder about the charging infrastructure and range limitations.

That’s where Bill Bortzfield comes in. He is a long-time journalist turned EV blogger who took us in his Ford Mustang Mach-E. He shared his passion for electric vehicles, which began on a story and a test drive while reporting for The Florida Times-Union.

“I never felt anything kick me in the hands like that Tesla,” he said of the ride, which was nearly a decade ago. “I couldn’t afford to run out and buy a Model S, but I could afford to get a [electric] motorcycle. So that’s how I got started.”

Bortzfield now has two electric cars -- the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Mini Cooper SE -- and an electric motorcycle made by Zero. He also writes reviews on other EVs.

Bill’s experiences piqued my curiosity further. He explained the convenience of planning routes using charging apps.

“You punch in your destination, and it’ll plot out the route, adding the chargers along the way,” he said. “It thinks I would have two charges that would take a total of 55 minutes for a trip of 380 miles.”

While planning ahead seemed relatively easy, I learned the hard way that not all chargers are equal. Many are level 1 or level 2, providing only a trickle charge of 4 to 5 miles per hour. “Range anxiety” quickly crept in as I realized a full battery could take days to charge using these slower options. That would essentially deem the car useless for a weekend.

Relying on superchargers became essential, but my first attempt turned out to be a disappointment. The charger I had planned to use in Jacksonville Beach was out of order, leaving me scrambling to find an alternative. I found a good one operated by Florida Power & Light in Yulee, Florida. There’s another well-reviewed supercharger between Jacksonville and St. Augustine. However, there are few between, save for a few lone stations and car dealerships. It was clear that charging infrastructure still has room for improvement.

To address the issue, the White House aims to have half a million electric vehicle charging stations nationwide by 2030. The recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law allocates $7.5 billion for charging station networks, and automakers are also investing heavily to alleviate range anxiety.

Brian Bush, VP of the Tom Bush Family of Dealerships, believes in the future of EVs. He said companies across the country, including his, are investing in chargers and infrastructure.

“The range is getting better, the prices are getting cheaper. And the infrastructure gets better every day,” he said, adding that most of the charging concerns should be fixed within the next several years. He said plug-in hybrids, which use battery then gas, are good options for families who worry about going fully electric.

Throughout my electric vehicle journey, I discovered the significance of personal charging infrastructure.

Bortzfield, the experienced EV blogger, emphasized the convenience and efficiency of installing chargers in his garage.

“We have no trouble keeping all three charged, and the electric bill is not crazy,” he said, noting he has no desire to go back to gas-powered vehicles.

This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at SolutionariesNetwork.com.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.