March 04, 2011
Bill Ford: Pace Of Electric Car Development Big Unknown

Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford does not know how fast electric car technology will develop and doesn't believe anyone else knows either.

"We still don't know what the winning technology is going to be...

Ford continued: "We've made a big bet on electric... but the pace at which that develops, I think anyone who can tell you that is lying."

I'm with Bill Ford on this one: We do not know. One can certainly find confident claims of rapid electric battery cost reductions. Even the White House makes claims of coming rapid battery cost reductions. But the people who make the most confident statements are too often those who know the least or have motivations to deceive. How about the year 2020? Predictions are all over the map.

Skeptics include some major car companies and researchers.

Alex Molinaroli, president of Johnson Controls Inc.'s battery division, is confident it can reduce the cost of producing batteries by 50% in the next five years, though the company won't say what today's cost is. The cost reduction by one of the world's biggest car-battery makers will mostly come from efficient factory management, cutting waste and other management-related expenses, not from any fundamental improvement of battery technology, he said.

But researchers such as Mr. Whitacre, the National Academies of Science and even some car makers aren't convinced, mainly because more than 30% of the cost of the batteries comes from metals such as nickel, manganese and cobalt. (Lithium makes up only a small portion of the metals in the batteries.)

Governments are currently subsidizing electric car purchases. The hope is these subsidies will lead to economies of scale and incentives for faster rates of innovation. But note that similar subsidies for many years have not yet made photovoltaics competitive with other means of generating electricity.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 March 04 09:15 AM  Energy Electric Cars

Fat Man said at March 4, 2011 10:19 AM:

From the WSJ article linked first above:

"Prior to the Model T, a third of all vehicles in this country were electric … this isn’t a new technology. The reason it died away was the ubiquity of charging. Today, we have the same issue."

Every time we have a BEV thread, I remind everyone that my great-grandmother owned a Baker Electric before the Great War (WWI). BEVs got beat out by superior technology 90 years ago, nothing that could change that verdict, has happened, nor will it happen.

juan234 said at March 4, 2011 11:15 AM:

This effort to kill off hydrocarbons is an eco-jihadi attempt to reduce the standard of living of the middle class. The rich eco-jihadi ruling class will still have access to all the energy they want - private planes, SUVs, huge houses, etc, etc -- but they want to force the rest of us to live like peasants. Human scum is what they are.

PacRim Jim said at March 4, 2011 6:38 PM:

I have faith that nanotech research will solve the energy density problem.

Nick G said at March 8, 2011 4:19 PM:

Read the WSJ article closely. You'll see that Whitacre is quoted as saying that the DOE's goal of a 70% cost reduction from 2010 costs will take 10 years. On the face of it, that appears not unreasonable to me.

70% reduction in 10 years is a 11.3% reduction per year. That's roughly a 50% decline in 5 years. That's roughly in the range of the 14% annual decline seen historically with lap top batteries, as reported by Deutche Bank.

Nick G said at March 8, 2011 4:24 PM:

Sadly, the quality of WSJ articles seems to be declining quickly under Rupert Murdoch's ownership. The previous owners allowed the editors to say any crazy thing they wanted on the editorial pages, but there was a real firewall between the op-ed pages and the real journalistic content. IIRC, That's why the Jones family (of Dow-Jones) almost refused to sell to him, but money won out in the end.

The end of a real institution. Very sad.

Bruce said at March 8, 2011 6:11 PM:

Nick, he said "it will be a decade at least" which is very, very different than what you suggest he said.

"Lithium-ion battery cells already are mass produced for computers and cellphones and the costs of the batteries fell 35% from 2000 through 2008—but they haven't gone down much more in recent years, according to the Academies of Science study."

"It likely will be 20 years before costs fall 50%—not the three or so years the DOE projects for an even greater reduction—according to an Academies council studying battery costs. The council was made up of nearly a dozen researchers in the battery field."

It appears Lithium-Ion cost savings will not magically appear. All the cost savings have been wrung out ...

Nick, bad mouthing the WSJ because they won't write fantasy articles about magic battery fairies that make cost savings appear even when "hundreds of millions to billions of ... [battery] cells already are being produced in optimized factories. Building more factories is unlikely to have a great impact on costs," is quite sad.

Nick G said at March 9, 2011 7:56 AM:

Nick, he said "it will be a decade at least" which is very, very different than what you suggest he said.

He was talking the time required to get a 70% reduction.

"hundreds of millions to billions of ... [battery] cells already are being produced in optimized factories.

And those are being sold for $350/kWh or less, which is much less than the skeptics claim for batteries designed for automotive traction. Batteries for EVs will use cheaper materials, in cheaper (larger) formats.

If you read the whole article, and compare the info carefully, you'll see a lot of inconsistencies.

Bruce said at March 9, 2011 9:05 AM:

NickG: "Batteries for EVs will use cheaper materials, in cheaper (larger) formats."

Not according to the article.

"30% of the cost of the batteries comes from metals such as nickel, manganese and cobalt. (Lithium makes up only a small portion of the metals in the batteries.)

Prices for these metals, which are set on commodities markets, aren't expected to fall with increasing battery production—and may even rise as demand grows"

Nick G "And those are being sold for $350/kWh"

With cooling system? Where?

Engineer-Poet said at March 11, 2011 6:58 PM:

30% of the cost of which batteries?  LiFePO4 cells have neither nickel nor cobalt, to list just one chemistry.  The original lithium cobalt oxide cathodes (used in laptop cells) are not suitable for mass-market traction batteries due to their susceptibility to thermal runaway.

Randall Parker said at March 11, 2011 8:22 PM:


Yes, I also wondered about what the 30% cost applies to. Do NiMH batteries have higher material costs than LiFePO4 batteries? What about Lithium batteries that have cobalt in them?

I am also curious about price trends for lithium, nickel, and other battery materials. I haven't found a good lithium long term price chart. But I found a couple of others:

Nickel is about 4 times more expensive than it was 10 years ago. But it spiked much higher about 5 years ago. What does that do to an NiMH battery's price?

Copper is at a 10+ year high. What does that do to the cost of electrifying rail?

Bruce said at March 12, 2011 2:57 PM:

LiFePO4 batteries need to be bigger and heavier.

Too bad about Nuclear Power too EP. Its over.

Engineer-Poet said at March 15, 2011 7:50 PM:

There are a number of voices arguing the exact opposite, including Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!.

Gen IV designs are passively-safe and would have been immune to damage from the power failures causing the current panics at Fukushima.  Despite the current problems, the savings in foreign exchange and reduced pollution made the Daiichi reactors a good deal.  Everything is a tradeoff; let's move on.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©