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When Will Electric Cars Reach the Tipping Point?

Some day, there could be a shiny new battery-powered car in your garage, ready to tote the family hundreds of miles before needing a high-voltage recharge. Or maybe not.

Experts, asked recently by Design News to describe the state of electric cars in 2025, were in agreement on only one point: No one knows. Next-generation electric vehicles might travel 300 miles between charges and cost just a few thousand dollars more than their gasoline-burning counterparts. Or they might serve as low-cost, short-range second cars. Or they might find their niche in the luxury end of the market, where the extra cost of the battery won’t matter as much.

“The battery is the still the wild card,” Thilo Koslowski, distinguished analyst for Gartner Inc., told us. “We believe that by 2030, about 15 percent of all vehicles will be battery-electric. But that assumes a steady advancement in battery technology.”

At the company’s new battery lab, GM engineers hope to double the energy density of lithium-ion chemistries.
At the company’s new battery lab, GM engineers hope to double the energy density of lithium-ion chemistries.

Indeed, steady advancement is critical. And by “steady,” experts mean more energy and less cost. Today’s batteries, they say, still cost too much and offer too little when compared to gasoline. “Cost is key, key, key,” Larry Nitz, GM’s director of hybrid and electric powertrain engineering, told Design News. “Battery-electric vehicles just aren’t there yet. We haven’t yet gotten the cost and range to the point where they’re appropriate for the mainstream.”

The road to 2025
The big question, though, is whether the auto industry will reach that tipping point anytime soon. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk believes it will. In 2012, Musk declared that half of all new cars on the road would be fully electric in 12 to 15 years. “I actually feel quite safe in that bet,” he said. “That’s a bet I will put money on.”
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