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(Some) Progress on Price and Range for Electric Vehicles

The two most important barriers to the successful adoption of electric vehicles are price and range. It may well be that both are overcome in the next few years, but there’s certainly no guarantee.
Optimism at the Conference

At the SWSX Eco conference in Austin, Texas last week, there was evidence that progress is being made. “I’m a big believer in electric cars,” said Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND). Eric Toone, principal deputy director of the federal ARPA-E program, an arm of the Department of Energy, told an enthusiastic gathering that Envia Systems (a battery company it funds) could soon deliver a 300-mile-per charge battery at an affordable price—half that of current packs.

Envia’s pack, if it meets its goals, will “completely resolve the range anxiety issue,” Toone said, and put us on a path to “revolutionize transportation in America.” When it happens, the revolution will indeed be upon us, but it may not be all that close.

General Motors took part in a $17 million equity round for Envia last year. And last February, Envia said that it had achieved a breakthrough energy density of 400 watt hours per kilogram, which had been confirmed in lab tests at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indiana.
Coming, But When?

OK, those are lab tests. Other battery developers, including several colleges have achieved great results in the lab. That doesn’t mean that Envia’s batteries won’t perform as advertised, just that we may need to temper our expectations as to when they’ll be on the market and change history. But they’re working on it: Atul Kapadia, Envia’s CEO, told me confidently months ago that the company had multiple ongoing programs with major automakers, testing its battery packs in cars.

But talking to GreenTech Media in May, Kapadia was more circumspect, saying that much integration work lay ahead. “Kapadia estimated it will take five to six years to get a full battery pack with the entire 400 watt-per-kilogram system,” GreenTech said. It’s promising, but around the corner it isn’t.

“I’m a bit leery of claims made from lab testing,” said Tom Gage, the EV pioneer behind the BMW Mini E and the AC Propulsion tzero sports car, which evolved into the Tesla Roadster. “If you’re at the molecular level, I hear it takes seven years until you have an acceptable prototype cell and another seven to develop the production battery and put it into mass production.”
Car Prices Dropping

Car prices will certainly come down with cheaper battery packs, but they seem to be coming down anyway. Last week, Smart introduced its new Electric Drive (ED), which will be on the road this coming spring with a stunning price of $25,000 ($28,000 for the Cabriolet). Add in the $7,500 federal income tax credit and a $2,500 California rebate and we’re looking at a $15,000 car—on a plane with the gasoline car. It’s cheaper than the Mitsubishi i, or any other mainstream car you could name.


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