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U.S. electric cars set record with almost 300-mile average range

By Tom Randall, Bloomberg News
Published: March 11, 2023, 6:05am

American drivers like everything supersized: spacious SUVs, hulking pickup trucks, the wide open road. It only makes sense, now that everything is going electric, that they also demand the world’s biggest batteries.

The average electric car sold in the U.S. is fast approaching 300 miles between charges, according to a Bloomberg analysis of more than a decade of EV sales. Last year’s average range climbed to 291 miles, putting the U.S. average above all other major car markets and a third higher than the global average.America’s distaste for small vehicles is so great that automakers don’t even attempt to import many of their popular low-range models, such as the Fiat 500e city car — Europe’s fourth best-selling EV — or China’s top-selling EV, the Hongguang Mini.

The typical U.S. battery range has quadrupled since 2011, when the only widely available EV was the Nissan Leaf with just 73 miles per charge. Today there are nearly 50 EV models on offer in the U.S., and the longest-range option is the Lucid Air Grand Touring with 19-inch wheels and an estimated range of 516 miles.

Americans spend more time in their vehicles than drivers in any other country. U.S. road travel totals about 4 trillion miles a year, or 14,500 miles per person. The meager batteries in early EVs weren’t a match for that kind of mileage, which is one reason U.S. adoption lagged far behind Europe and China.

It wasn’t until Tesla Inc. introduced longer-range vehicles and established a nationwide network of faster chargers that a real U.S. market for EVs emerged. Over the past decade the average battery range in the country increased more than 13% per year, compared with a 10% annual increase worldwide.

As EV ranges grew, so did American expectations. In a survey commissioned by Bloomberg last year, nearly two-thirds of 5,500 respondents said that 300-plus miles of range was adequate to their needs, while less than 10% would settle for 200 miles or less. A 2021 Cox Automotive survey found similar results: an average desired range of 341 miles among people considering EVs.

The lineup of EVs available in the U.S. is finally starting to satisfy those preferences. Since 2020, Ford, Tesla and General Motors have each released relatively affordable long-range crossover SUVs. EV sales in the U.S. have tripled in that span, with a heavy tilt toward the longer-range models. Just five cars, with an average range of 309 miles, were responsible for 70% of sales last year:

  • Tesla Model Y
  • Tesla Model 3
  • Ford Mustang Mach-E
  • Tesla Model S
  • GM’s Chevy Bolt EUV

As more EVs are produced, manufacturers are learning how to make batteries that are more lightweight, more compact and less expensive. But there are diminishing returns to piling on the miles.

“The ideal range is going to be a little higher in the U.S.,” said Corey Cantor, an EV analyst at BloombergNEF. “I think we’ll probably ultimately end up seeing a sweet spot of something like 250 to 350 miles, depending on the location.”

EV adoption appears to have reached a critical tipping point in the U.S., with battery-powered vehicles now accounting for 7.6% of car sales.

To determine the U.S. range average, Bloomberg weighted sales by model using the average U.S. Environmental Protection Agency range across available trims. Global figures come from the International Energy Agency, which came up with a weighted average using the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). Compared to EPA ratings, WLTP tends to provide slightly longer ranges, though for some vehicles the reverse is true.