Electric Cars ARE Coming, But It Will Be Slow: Why Is This So Hard To Grasp?

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2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

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Major evolutionary change takes a long time.

That's as true for electric cars as for opposable thumbs--though it will be measured in decades, not millennia.

We frequently have to say that declaring plug-in cars a sales failure after 14 months (as certain commentators have done) is wildly premature.

So let's do a bit of context setting, shall we?

About 17,000 plug-in cars were sold in 2011. In their first year, the Nissan Leaf (9,674 sales) and the Chevrolet Volt (7,671 sales) both outsold the Toyota Prius hybrid on its first year in the market (5,562 sales).

Dueling headlines?

We expect plug-in sales roughly to double for 2012. That produces two possible headlines:

  • Electric car sales double! or
  • Buyers continue to shun electric cars

Each one is defensible, because the latter is accurate in the broader context of the market: Sales of tens of thousands of cars in a total U.S. market of perhaps 14 million vehicles this year are still an unimportant fraction of the market.

We'll likely see dozens of headlines this year, as we did last year, touting the predictions of one industry analyst or another on the increases in electric car sales this year, next year, and through about 2020.

Those estimates vary by almost an order of magnitude.

Utopians vs pessimists

On the one hand are what we think of as the "green Utopians" who believe that by 2020, 5 percent or more of the new cars on sale will have plugs.

On the other hand, the dour pessimists (with German diesel makers heavily represented) say that even 10 years hence, far fewer than 1 million plug-in vehicles--perhaps no more than 500,000--will be sold globally out of production that will have reached 100 million vehicles a year or higher.

Beyond 2020, by the way, we don't pay much attention to forecasts.

Many unknowns

A decade hence, there are just too many variables in play. Factors affecting the cost and range of plug-in cars (the main factors that affect their market prospects) include:

But overall, plug-in vehicles won't be a noticeable fraction of the overall market--by which we mean 1 percent or more--for several years.

In the U.S., that would mean 150,000 plug-ins a year sold out of a 15-million vehicle market.

Doubling every year?

Plug-in sales would have to double each year in 2012 (to 35,000), 2013 (to 70,000), and 2014 (to 140,000) even to approach that level. It took hybrid cars until 2005 to reach that level--or almost six years after the first one went on sale late in 1999.

And the U.S. may be one of the faster-adopting markets for plug-ins. Cost-conscious China isn't likely to be that accepting of pricier electric cars, nor are India, Brazil, Russia, and other expanding economies.

Three Nissan Leafs

Three Nissan Leafs

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And those nations are where all the growth in global auto sales is coming from. The U.S., Western European, and Japanese markets are little more than replacement markets by now.

So, most analysts predict that plug-in cars won't reach 1 percent of the global market, or 1 million plug-ins a year, until 2018 to 2020.

Still, they ARE coming

While analysts vary in their estimation of the slope of the adoption curve, virtually all reputable analysts acknowledge plug-ins will come. But, it will be a slow emergence.

This should hardly be news, except to breathless commentators eager for gloomy headlines or particularly uninformed automotive journalists.

One of the big questions is when the tipping point in prices will be reached that consumers can comfortably compare a plug-in car to a gasoline vehicle of equal size and capacity.

2011 Nissan Sentra

2011 Nissan Sentra

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Right now, a 2012 Nissan Sentra starts at $16,250, while the 2012 Nissan Leaf starts at $35,200. Those two cars largely won't be cross-shopped--despite the Leaf's much lower cost-per-mile and reduced maintenance costs--because one costs more than twice as much.

Electric cars cheaper, gas cars pricier

But as battery prices fall and electric-car production volumes rise, the plug-ins will get cheaper. And to comply with increasingly stringent fuel efficiency regulations, the price of gasoline cars is likely to rise in real dollars.

That means that, several years hence, today's $17,500 compact sedan getting 30 mpg may be a $19,000 car that gets 40 mpg (note: That's an example, not a prediction). Meanwhile, the plug-in car may fall from $35,000 to $25,000.

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Comments (78)
  1. Definite cheap bastard here, I drive the wheels off every car I own, currently shooting for 250k miles on my 98 Camry. I'm strongly considering a Tesla simply because I know that on the out years it will be well worth it.

  2. Another cheap bastard here too :-)

    For cheap bastards the only viable option is the LEAF. The Volt and Focus will follow as cheap bastard options once the price can come down $5,000, or the price of gas sky rocket, whichever comes first as they say in auto industry.

  3. I definitely agree with your analysis John. Carlos Ghosn of Nissan is pragmatic and the Leaf was created as a relatively inexpensive yet high quality EV with a price of $38,299 along with the Federal $7,500 tax credit at $30,799. The Leaf was never intended for people who drive more than 75 miles per day and Nissan chose a range of 75-90 miles so they could market the car in this price range. Tesla on the other hand plays to a much different market and the Model S at $57,500 will be $50,000 after the $7,500 tax credit. Both cars will influence people’s views about whether an EV will work for their driving habits. Tesla could be a game changer because its performance and styling is consistent for the price range of ICE cars it's marketed in.

  4. It still seems to me that the Leaf has about a 50 mile practical range. If it had 50% more...

  5. "If it had 50% more" it would be more expensive.

    They are trying to find a balance between range and price. The most beneficial use of the Leaf is as a second "commuter car" for families that already have a car they can use for longer trips. Most commuters drive less than 35 miles round trip in one day. For them it is better to have a range that matches their needs at a lower price rather than spend more on range that is not needed.

  6. The Leaf would make a fine second car. I think Nissan wanted to enter the market at a lower price then Tesla and chose less range since they know that the the average person will not try to use the Leaf as their primary only car since it rather range comprimised. This allowed them to enter in the mid 30k range where as Tesla wanted to make a higher end luxury sedan with more range so the had to go $57,500 just to make any money on it. Like John Voelcker said that Li/ion battery prices are going down 6 to 7% per year so in 5 years you could get a midsize like the Ford Focus EV or the Leaf with better range for the same price. I expect Tesla to raise the bar for how good an EV can be and this could be the game changer America needs.

  7. All the better reason for them to price it in the 16,000 dollar range....second car.The price of anything for sale should be based on cost of materials,labor, etc...not on the desire of buyers. This is the way to have a happy, prosperous society for all.

  8. nothing else in society is priced this way - why would you expect a car to be priced like this ?

    they get what they can - part of capitalism and supply and demand.

    a point about a "second" car - most people are talking about an ev as a second car, in that the family unit does not want to give up the ownership of a car that has a higher range.

    however, that "second" car (if it is an ev) will get many more miles driven than will their "first" car.

  9. If I'm the CEO of an automotive OEM, I'm far less concerned about a "happy, prosperous society for all" and mostly concerned about profitability, especially for OEMs which were near dead in recent years.

    And the cost of an EV is nowhere near $16k, as you apparently believe it is. Contrary to what so many here believe, at this stage of development, EVs are more expensive than ICE vehicles. I would think that would be obvious by now.

    So, instead of selling an EV and losing $10k per vehicle, now the OEMs shoudl sell for $20k less each, triple the loss and then increase volumes?

    Yeah, that's a winning strategy. EV credibility over profits isn't a long-term strategy.

  10. My experience, one month an an EV owner, is that 50 miles is insufficient. I've found 80-100 miles to be more comfortable. I completely agree that increasing range will increase cost without necessarily providing a corresponding benefit. Slightly improved range is expected in the next model year and will make the car much more practical.

  11. I think 50 miles is understating the LEAF capability a little. I would put the upper limit on a daily commute at 60 miles round trip with no opportunity to charge at the destination. Of course if one can charge at work then 120 miles is the practical range, even in the frozen north.

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  13. It also wasn't intended for people that have life threatening emergencies, forgetful people (forget to plug the thing in), people that like to organize their time around events, family outings, and going to work rather than charge time. I guess that leaves only Greenies that think they are saving the world when they are really just burning coal and natural gas instead of gasoline.

  14. Randall, you seem to harbor ill feelings about the EVs for some reason. I've been driving an EV for almost ten years and about 106,000 miles. Not once have I had a problem getting to where I need to go. There have ben emergencies, but hospitals are pretty close to anyone living in a city, and then we have these things called "ambulances" that will actually come and pick you up if you can't get there on your own.

    As for family outings, going to work, or other normal driving needs. the EV is perfect. There is no need to get upset about whether your car will make it because when you bought the car, you already knew that it would be fine for the kind of driving you do.

  15. The operative word here is "city". I live in a world where cities are separated by huge expanses of empty space that exceed the limit of a single charge of an e- vehicle. I can just see it: a man on the side of the road unfolding a sheet of solar panels that appears to be a picnic blanket. He can get now catch some shut-eye in his trailer tent while the his Leaf recharges. He will have to repeat the process every 200 miles. e- vehicles are silly things that don't offer any significant advantage over a diesel vehicle that can justify the cost. I don't harbor ill feelings toward e- vehicles. They are inanimate objects. I find people who buy the snake oil and Doublethink pedaled by websites like this to be irritating and gullible.

  16. @Randall: Do explain further what exactly is "snake oil" and "Doublethink" in the article above. I thought I'd laid out pretty clearly that plug-in vehicles will arrive relatively slowly, that they will be restricted to certain types of buyers, and that battery electric vehicles are not likely to be bought by single-car households.

    So, do please enlighten me as to which statements (provide quotes, please) constitute "snake oil" in this article? I'm curious.

  17. I think that we have discussed before of how e- cars are not what they are made out to be. To refresh your memory, the process for making the motors of hybrid/e- cars is quite a dirty and poisonous process. It could be likened to nuclear power. The "clean" energy generated from nuclear power is like manna from heaven...except one catch. The pollution left over is very toxic for a LONG time. Difference is: the toxic waste from nuclear power is dealt with very carefully; the toxic waste from e- motor production is dumped into the drinking water of the Chinese people. You preach the wonders of e- cars, the only virtue being that they don’t pollute. I have demonstrated to you that they do pollute.

  18. ("Snake oil" is: 1. A worthless preparation fraudulently peddled as a cure for many ills. 2. Speech or writing intended to deceive.) Therefore…you peddle snake oil.

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  20. What if the "ambulances" are all e- vehicles that are charging when you need help? Hope your illness can wait.

  21. @Randall: I must have missed the part where I wrote that all emergency vehicles would become electric ...

  22. Paul mentioned emergency vehicles...not your article.

  23. As we often discussed before, when the utility, performance, cost and styling thresholds are met, there will be a dramatic turn towards plug-in vehicles. Utility will be determined by the rate of improvement in the power / energy density of batteries (gain 3rd rear seat, more cargo). Performance is adequate / good for now, but will improve with battery energy / power density. Costs will improve with volume manufacturing, and look to be significant in just a few years. Styling falls into two camps: 1) car must look as radical outside as tech inside (LEAF, Prius), 2) car must look conventional but good (Tesla, Fisker, Volt, Focus EV).

  24. I fully agree with you Jason. Radical styling doesn't sell Aptera anyone? The Coda looks like any generic 4 door sedan and by all means is practical but a bit expensive at 37,250 or $29,750 after the Federal tax incentive. The Coda is expected to have a range of 88 miles which is a bit better than the Leaf's average of 75 miles range. The Leaf and the Prius have a bit of look at me I am an enviromentalist shout to their styling but at none the less are not ugly or clown cars. The Tesla on the other hand has a sexy luxury sport sedan styling and at 5.6 second zero to 60 the muscle to back up that claim. If Tesla can deliver on its promise of up to 20,000 Model S's per year after the first years run of 6000 cars it will be a game changer.

  25. Mark your obviously a conformist of conventional styling by your belittling remarks ( in this the second thread I've seen ) aimed at anything out of the norm. I for one welcome a fresh innovative approach to vehicle design that addresses intended use. References to clown cars,environmentalist cars etc. is not relevant,useful or needed and indeed seems juvenile in todays multi faceted choice of shapes and types. You find the Tesla to your liking but would you accept others could be repelled by it? I get the impression you work for Tesla or would like to!

  26. I bought a Dodge Stratus ES back in 1996 because I liked the styling. It was bold and new with the cab forward look and I drove it until it had 258,000 miles and sold it about 3 years ago. I don't mind small cars as long as they are well made and can hold 4 adults comfortably even 2 doors are fine with a back seat. I do not like cars that look like a Shoe on wheels like the Smartfortwo. And the Think looked cheap and I for one would not spend $38,000 for a plastic shoe on wheels. I would like to buy a Leaf or a Coda. However I drive just under 40 miles one way to work and have a cabin 57 miles away and family 60 miles away. Why would I want to buy an EV that is less of a car than my Hyundia Elantra?. Tesla is the only highway capable EV now

  27. Your needs determine your choice but mine for instance dictates a different solution.I own a five seat car and we live in a small village four miles and ten miles from main towns. Our second car has been a Smart but recently traded for a Toyota IQ. My wife and I have found after a years use of the two seat shoe as you refer to it our five seater has had little use and may even get sold. The clown car always finds a parking place where others can't,has managed to carry everything needed and much surprise to us serves our needs, We have even taken it on a trip. There is a place for micro cars and most negative remarks seem to come from individuals who have absolutely no experience with them and think its clever to slag them off.

  28. Stage One – Back Roads Results (334 miles @ 50-65 mph)
    1.VW Jetta TDI – 47.3 mpg
    2.Toyota Prius – 46.0 mpg
    3.smart fortwo – 43.9 mpg
    4.Ford Focus – 36.9 mpg

    Stage Two – City Driving Results (132 miles, stop and go)
    1.Toyota Prius – 52.4 mpg
    2.smart fortwo – 34.0 mpg
    3.VW Jetta TDI – 32.6 mpg
    4.Ford Focus – 23.6 mpg
    The prius gets better fuel economy and seats 5 adults and its a hatchback and can carry their luggage. In my family I have wife 2 children and 2 dogs. Why would anyone buy a Smartfortwo when there are other cars that get better fuel economy hold 4-5 people and their luggage?.

  29. As I stated ones needs determine's the choice.Interesting you mention the Prius since that is my five seater which gets little use.
    Yes the Prius will get slightly better mpg than the Smart but in congested towns here in the UK the Smart or IQ wins on maneuverability.Add to this there is only the two of us so taking anything bigger is a hinderance and is the very reason I choose the city car mostly.I do have a choice and find in our particular case its more practical size wise,in fact if it was electric all the better even with limited range.You seem reluctant to accept there are specific designs for specific jobs.I do know parking in America is nothing like here so a Smart is wasted but there "is" the rest of the world to consider!

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  31. i will say it once again.

    prices will come down, range will increase - whatever is needed to sell the cars that have been manufactured.

    it all comes down to 2 points, that are somewhat tied together.

    1) how fast do the car companies want to sell evs ?

    2) how fast can the car companies make the vast change in their manufacturing business.

    if the bigwigs plan is to get off oil in one year, we would see this happen in one year.

    if the bigwigs plan is to get off oil in 25 years, we will see this unfold over 25 years.

    i am holding steadfast to my 10-year prediction. by then, i think that the price will have decreased enough such that few people will be buying NEW gas cars.

    there will still be a lot of used gas cars sold.

  32. So your basically saying that the big wigs have decided on a major shift towards electric motoring in 10 years time? Nissan was actually hoping to ramp up EV production to hundreds of thousands of units per year long before that while the oil companies predict a marginal role for plug-ins for decades to come. Seems not all the bigwigs are on the same page then...

  33. hopefully many companies are ramping up production to hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

    but in comparison, how many ices will be produced ?

    what i am guestimating is at what point will evs be dominant ?

    that question all depends on price. range is only a small item, even today.

    by that i mean that if an ev and an ice cost the same today, very few people would buy an ice.

    of course not all bigwigs are on the same page.

    but what the oil companies say is not really much of an argument.

    what if in 10 years times, the oil companies said that plug-ins are here to stay ?

    you gotta realize that what the bigwigs say is what they want you to think AT THIS MOMENT.

    most everything you read is paid advertising of one sort or another.

  34. What would you expect from the oil companies. Even with a great product like the Tesla Model S it will take some time before Ev's make up more than 1 to 2 % of the market. It's an uncertain market and designing a practical sytlish car that people would want whether its gasoline or electric is what needs to be done. Elon Musk said his goal is to make an EV that is not just as good but better than any ICE car and then you will be sucessful. A tiny under powered plastic shoe on wheels(Clown Car) is not going to sell well. Build a a great car that happens to be an EV and it will. Why does an EV have to be less of a car than a gasoline powered car. Build it and they will buy it "parking lot of dreams"

  35. What I haven't seen addressed is the mix of gas/hybrid/electric cars that dealerships will need to display. We have a problem with too many style options: pickups, SUVs, minivans, sports, compacts, mid-sized, luxury, convertibles. And too many power train options. Car companies can't offer everything to everybody. It will be nice in a few years when most, if not all, car companies have at least one EV option. If my case, preferably one that is similar to a BMW 330.

  36. Bigger cheaper hybrids will allow gas/electric cars that get decent fuel economy. Full Electrics will be a nitch market for 5 to 10 years until battery prices decrease enough to allow them to compete directly with cheaper gasoline and gas/hybrid cars. The Tesla Model is is nice but most people can not afford it so it will never compete against the $20,000 people movers out there like the Civics and the Elantras and the Corrolla's.

  37. Battery prices dominate the cost of EVs and will determine the speed and timing of EV predominence. Excepting battery costs, EVs are far more cost effective, easier to maintain, and cheaper to build (despite current beliefs to the contrary). Until someone can tell me when and to what extent battery prices will fall, I have zero confidence in their arguments concerning the future sales of EVs, because all other factors are , essentially, irrelevant.

  38. @Kent: It was linked in the article above, but here's my writeup of the consensus from Li-ion cell industry companies I've spoken with:

  39. no true expert would be willing to give his prediction.

    nor would any expert give a prediction based upon prior numbers.

    but as with most topics, "experts" usually have no idea what is "gonna happen".

    i still recall how "all the experts" were predicting chaos when the calendar struck 2000 - just a bunch of news hype.

    as a computer person, i knew exactly what needed to be done to the programs. it was a minor fix.

    there is one huge factor not accounted for, by basing any sort of prediction on prior events.

    all of a sudden, we have a product that will ultimately use more lithium batteries than everything else put together.

    a much better prediction is the old adage NEED IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION.

  40. "No true expert would be willing to give his prediction."


    "Nor would any expert give a prediction based upon prior numbers."

    Gosh. So history has nothing to teach us?


  41. you really made yourself sound foolish on that one.

    i gave you a perfect reason why predictions on past numbers were meaningless. and you completely bypassed it because you had not comeback.

    so you decided to give me some LOL comeback ? well LOL back at ya.

    and just to make your argument even look more ridiculous - one could very easily show that prior sales had very little to do with other items IN HISTORY when they were revolutionary products.

    such as the computer, the ipod, and the cell phone.

    come back when you actually have an argument.

  42. @"EV Enthusiast": This will be my last response, since words like "ridiculous" discourage debate based on facts.

    The salient fact to this discussion is that improvements in PCs, iPods + mobile phones all benefit from Moore's Law, which says that the processing power of silicon circuits doubles roughly every 18 months.

    There is no Moore's law equivalent f/Li-ion cell improvement that anyone in the field knows of. As covered earlier, the best estimates of Li-ion cell improvement in price-performance appear to be 6 to 8 percent per year. You choose to disbelieve that.

    In my eyes, the argument that because iPods improve at a given rate, Li-ion cells should do so too is simply fallacious.

  43. Better definition of Moore's Law: The number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every 2 years.

    The period often quoted as "18 months" is due to Intel executive David House, who predicted that period for a doubling in chip performance (being a combination of the effect of more transistors and their being faster).

    Source, slightly edited: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law

  44. I used to work in the disk drive business and had access to all the industry predictions going back many years.

    Looking at our market segment for the (then) current year, the experts predicted a hockey stick growth with linear extrapolations for the next 12 months followed by explosive rapid growth after that time.

    Looking back through the previous five years, they predicted the same thing each year and each year it did not come true. So the next year they would predict even more radical growth 12 months out. So they were very bad a predicting...except

    Eventually, their predictions did come to reality. So perhaps, "good" predictions with a time shift error.

    Amusing to have both "linear growth" AND "explosive growth" forecast.

  45. @John. Price plays a role as to how fast things are adopted. Look at the smart phones for example. Back in mid 2008 the Iphone came out and it was very pricy $499-$599. About 1 year later the Android phones came out and they offered better prices and now smart phones are big bussiness. Tesla may be the Apple of the Ev market. Sure its expensive but it is a great product. This will spark competition since if Tesla does well the Big auto maakers are going to get into the market and there will be more competition and better prices and more sales of EV's. And If battery prices continue to drop 6% per year after 5 to 10 years EV prices could be on par with gasoline vehicles and if gasoline is $5+ a gallon EV sales will take off really big.

  46. The factors are completely relevant. EV battery tech is currently in its infancy. The cost, weight and packaging improvements in the the past 3-5 years are significant. With mass production, increased supplier base, and incremental tech improvements, the "battery factor" will undoubtably close the cost gap that currently makes EV more expensive than gas powered cars. Simply ignoring predictions is perilous.

  47. Bob Lutz a man who you think would have no interest in EVs has said that the "electrification of the automobile is inevitable". He actually made an interesting statement about EVs on Real Time With Bill Maher, he was responding to a question in the over time portion after the show, in episode 239. Check it out.

  48. Sales would soar if the States put their military oil flow protection costs onto a gallon of gas. $10 per gallon is probably too low. Right now the costs are externalized....


  49. Absolutely - imagine what the trillion dollars spent in Iraq and the billions we spent guarding the waterways so far could have done for clean electrification technology and infrastructure. It's staggering what the public accepts as business as usual.

  50. What John Voelcker doesn't consider in his otherwise pretty fair analysis is the effect of peak oil on EV adoption.Global oil production hasn't seen any substantial increase for 6 years in a row now and might have hit a ceiling. What does show significant increase however is global car sales. This means that gasoline will increasingly become a very expensive commodity indeed for those countries that depend on buying oil at market prices (not China...). Along with dropping battery/EV prices this could shift consumer attitudes towards EVs a lot quicker than one might expect. I think if Nissan introduces it's next gen Leaf in 2015 with the better nickel based batteries at lower prices that could mean the sales hockey stick right there.

  51. Better "nickel" batteries? Tell me more about that.

  52. Sorry, what I meant was Lithium-nickel. lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide cathode battery, or NMC to be precisely:


  53. To clarify a bit further, "lithium-ion" actually refers to a family of batteries in which lithium ions that move from the negative electrode (cathode) to the positive electrode (anode) release electrons that provide the electricity.

    The cathode is generally graphite, but the anode may be one of several different chemistries:
    - lithium cobalt dioxide (LiCoO2), used in mobile-phone & laptop cells, also the Tesla Roadster
    - lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (LiNMC), as Chris O describes
    - lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), as in A123 cells
    - and there are others

    Each Li-ion chemistry has different energy capacities, power characteristics, and decay rates. [cont.]

  54. [cont.] Cobalt dioxide is considered the most dangerous, because it contains enough oxygen that it will self-oxidize (burn) even in the absence of air. That's why only Tesla uses that chemistry, and then only in 2,600 Roadsters.

    CoO2 also decays with time *as well as* with usage, meaning that it starts losing energy capacity the day after it's fabricated--and then it further decays with use.

    Other chemistries do not decay over time nearly as rapidly, and are relatively less likely to self-oxidize. That's why no other carmaker uses CoO2.

    Hope this helps a bit.

  55. Thanks for clearing that up John. The fact that lithium ion is actually an extended family of chemistries with widely varying characteristics is sadly lost on most people/media commenting on EVs (not meaning John Briggs, just mentioning the dominant ingredient besides lithium makes it hard to follow for anyone, my bad).

  56. Since it doesn't seem clear what you mean with "dangerous", I'd like to point out that there hasn't been a single fire of a Roadster battery, so there isn't any basis to assume it would be even nearly as "dangerous" as the gasoline in a hybrid. Tesla uses the 18650 format (which separates cells) and sophisticated battery management/cooling.

    Regarding the article: So the variables are cost and torque?

  57. I watched the overtime episode of Real Time with Bill Mahrer and Bob Lutz said that electrification of the automobile is inevitable. He said that Li-air could allow for up to 400 miles of range within 10 years and you would have a full charge each and every day when you leave your garage. I am looking to buy a $30,000 EV that would have at least 160 mile range for I do quite a bit of driving since I have a cabin 57 miles away from my home and family that lives over 60 miles from me. I would say in a 30 day period I drive 7-8 trips of greater than 120 miles round trip. I however seldom drive more than 160 miles round trip. I will hold off on buying an EV right now and will wait to see the upcoming $30,000 Tesla Bluestar has to offer.

  58. john,

    first off, i do think that history is an excellent teacher.

    but like anything else, it needs to be applied correctly.

    if you want to provide an argument that is useful, you need to present something of a similar notion.

    your argument about past events on lithium has a HUMONGOUS HOLE in it.

    we now have a product that will use more lithium batteries than everything else put together.

    any prediction minus that fact is totally worthless.

    as i said previously, a much better adage is that NEED IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION.

    people make all sorts of predictions, which are almost always wrong. but what the heck - no one remembers anyway.

  59. in 10 years, is anyone gonna remember what the oil companies said today ? what the lithium predictors said today ?

    of course not. so they can basically spout off whatever they want without really any consequences.

    i did not see anyone predicting the humongous computer take-off until it was already happening. the same is true with many, many products.

    just a little bit of simple advice that i am sure you will not take to heart - dont put so much stock in what you hear.

    another old adage - believe half of what you see and nothing what you hear.

    most of these old sayings have a lot of truth to them - which is why they became old sayings.

  60. if you want to test both what i am saying and what you are saying - wait 10 years and examine how accurate the past 6-8% numbers were in predicting the future.

    i wouldnt give you 2 cents on the dollar for your stance to be correct.

    there was once a time when oil was a new commodity - at least one before it was being used to make our cars go.

    now all of a sudden, we start making cars that use oil - a brand new product that will use more oil than every other product put together.

    and you think that prior oil numbers are gonna have anything to do with future oil numbers ?

    your argument just has a hole that the grand canyon can fit inside.

  61. here is yet another problem with the lithium argument.

    it assumes that we will still be using lithium batteries in 10 years.

    i doubt that. we will have a lot of jumps in the next 10 years with battery technology. i dont even want to guess just what the bigwigs will decide to release - except that i think it is likely that we will have bypassed lithium altogether for some other sort of technology.

    if that is true, then lithium numbers would not have anything to do with ev growth, since they would no longer be powering the vehicles.

    10 years is a LONG, LONG time for this sort of evolutionary product.

  62. What a GREAT article. Now if only the boneheads out there criticizing EVs would read it. Even if they did, they are probably those who are using EVs as a political ploy and would not change what they are saying.
    Thanks, John. This needed to be said and probably will be many times over.

  63. It's the driving experience that'll drive sales. Once you go electric, gas powered cars seem to be very uninteresting.

  64. "Just as an aside, the cost of lithium-ion cell fabrication plants to produce 1.5 million car's worth a year (assuming 20-kWh battery packs) could run as high as $5 billion itself."

    Did you know that an LCD plant for large screen TVs costs upwards of $3B?

  65. There was a lot of discussion about the validity of using past gains 6%-7% /yr as a prediction of future battery performance.

    First John Voelcker was careful to say that this was not a linear progression, but went in jumps as new technologies matured. This process is expected to continue but the timeline discussed, 3 to 7 years is short enough that one or two jumps will make a big difference and will thus come short of or be much more than the 7% linear improvement. Just how dramatic these improvements are and how soon they will reach market will make a big difference. Most people agree that the holy grail is the lithium-air battery and that this will not be commercially available until well after 2020.

  66. To continue...
    Lithium-Air is also presently considered to be a theoretical limit, that is batteries will not significantly improve after the lithium-air battery is perfected. Maybe yes, maybe no. I can remember when "experts" stated unequivocally that hard disk drives would never exceed 1GB because of theoretical limits. Problem is that the "experts" are usually from academia and talk about the limits of the current designs and approaches, but the engineers building hard drives just looked at that as a challenge to figure out how to alter the design to get around those limits.

    Nearer term we can expect 3 times range improvement at same cost and size in about 5 years. A big jump is coming.

  67. The theoretical limit of Lithium-Air is about (I think) ten times higher than the plans IBM announced as a real world goal. Meanwhile it has been shown that twice as much can be achieved (in the lab). However in neither case has it been shown yet that the remaining problems are solvable.

    I think the theoretical physical limit using electrons is still *much* higher.

  68. Does anybody know if planarenergy.com is still in business? I have long considered them front runners in next generation lithium batteries, but have not heard any news since one year ago, and am beginning to worry if things have collapsed.

  69. Get used to it. After making waves most new concepts for "super batteries" are never heard from again. It would be fascinating to know what really caused these ideas never to translate into a product.

  70. I'm not sure that I buy into the rationale that a price decline in batteries will all that significant in the adoption of the EV. I've heard some wildley varying estimates in the cost of batteries today - so let's just say they cost $8,000. With the federal subsidies in place today, that means the cost to the consumer is $0. How much lower can you go than free?

    Of course if you argue that the subsidies must continue ad infinitum to equalize the cost - then the arguement makes sense.

    In my opinion (I'll admit - not researched) unitl we see increased range, reduced battery weight, rapid recharge, and larger cars, the EV will play a nitch role as a commuter car. Until then, hybrids will continue to be the mainstream alternative to ICEs.

  71. I think it will happen. I heard that the 300 mile battery pack in the Tesla Model S signature edition cost nearly $30,000 and if the cost was reduced in half to just $15,000 if would mean cars with at least 150+ mile ranges at much cheaper prices than what is possible today. I think that EV's are the answer since electricity is totally renewable and anything that can turn a generator can be used to make it or it can be made from the sun its self with photoelectric panals. I see a day where most homes will have large solar panal arrays on them that will be responsible for most of the electricity generated in the home as well as being used to charge the EV.

  72. On a clear summer day there are about 100watts of solar power / sq' hitting the earth. Today's mainstream technology can generate somewhere around 5 - 10 watts under those conditions. You can expect about 6 hours of peak conditions but after that the solar power drops off dramatically. So just for argument sake - today 30 - 60watt hrs / day / sq'. Potential is 600 or .6kwh / sq' during the summer. Combined with passive systems I can see where your prediction could come true in the sunbelt around the world.
    But I don't know who is going to shovel off my solar panels during these pesky midwest winters.

    I'm no engineer but I can see the potential improvement there.

  73. As a solar panel owner in Massachusetts, I can tell you that I never shovel off my panels. The wind usually blows off one corner of the panel, then the sun heats things up, and the snow slides right off the panel making an incredible noise.

    The larger issue is that there is very little sun in the winter which shows the true benefit of fossil fuels (or liquid fuels if you like). Their energy can be stored away for use at another time months from now. That is not an easy thing to do with solar.

  74. Just posted a link to this article on Plug-In 2012's social media sites. Appreciate the perspective.

  75. Electric cars are going to need a major leap in technology to become mainstream. I can just see the lines of people around the block demanding vehicles that make one wait for hours to respond to an unforeseen emergency like going into labor, cutting an artery, heart attack, etc. Well...why don't we call an ambulance...an electric ambulance that has does not have the range to respond to multiple emergencies without a 4 hour time out to charge up. Yes...the world WILL stop running when you need to charge that car.

  76. I have already started writing a book of excuses to tell the boss man why you forgot to plug the car in last night and will miss work for the day. Bicycle sales will go up in conjunction to sales of electric cars. How's that for foretelling the future?

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