The Achilles Heel of electric cars has been the limited range they can travel between charges. Compared with a gasoline engine, which can travel hundreds of miles on a tank, electric vehicles are often limited to 100 miles or less. Perhaps that drawback has been exaggerated—considering that American drivers usually drive less than 40 miles or so per day. But the matter gets worse when you compare the time it takes refuel a car with an internal combustion engine—about five minutes—and the ticks on the clock to recharge an electric car—several hours.
The Subaru R1e could help change that. The diminutive two-seater, about 20 inches longer than a Smart ForTwo, is anything but revolutionary during its time on the road—top speed of 65 miles per hour and a range of 50 miles. However, the time to recharge the 346-volt lithium ion battery pack has been reduced to about 15 minutes. NEC Corporation and Fuji Heavy Industries, the maker of Subaru vehicles, said that its new rapid recharge technologies has whittled that time down to about five to eight minutes—not far off from a visit to your neighborhood gas station.
Furthermore, the Subaru R1e fast-charge eliminates the typical battery issue of charging memory loss, allowing partial charges and quick charges that do not decrease battery life.
Here’s the hitch: To get the faster charging time, you need a special stationary charger. Using the onboard standard charger puts the electricity refueling time back to about eight hours.
Subaru has about 40 R1e electric cars in fleets in Japan, and plans to expand that number to 100 in the next year. The company has also begun evaluating two R1es in the United States, working in collaboration with the New York Power Authority, the agency that manages the power use in city departments.
Don’t expect an R1e to arrive anytime soon at your local Subaru dealership, but if the fast-charge technology continues to improve, one of the biggest obstacles to an electric car future will be eliminated, which could make visits to the gas station seem like a much bigger waste of time and resources.