February 14, 2012
Troubles With Electric Car And EV Battery Companies

A pair of articles by Kevin Bullis in Technology Review underscore hard times for electric vehicle makers and their battery suppliers.

After failing to meet the milestones required by a loan agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy, Fisker Automotive, a startup making high-end hybrid electric cars, announced this week that it will stop work on a factory in Delaware and lay off 26 people. Fisker's troubles could prove disastrous not only for Fisker, but for A123 Systems, which supplies the automaker with lithium-ion batteries.

It never made sense to me that companies should be started up to make electric cars. The major obstacle has been and continues to be battery cost. The big car companies weren't being slow to develop electric vehicles (EVs) due to corporate lethargy. As long as batteries cost too much as compared to the price of gasoline and conventional vehicles the prospects for EVs will remain dim. Start-ups will have a hard time of it until costs come down.

Ener1 filed for bankruptcy.

The U.S. government's effort to create an electric-vehicle battery industry suffered a setback last week when one of the companies it funded as part of this effort saw its parent company file for bankruptcy protection. Battery maker Enerdel had been awarded a $118.5 million grant to build a lithium-ion battery factory in Indiana as part of a $2 billion grant program for electric-vehicle component and battery manufacturing; its parent company is Ener1.

If oil can get up to $200 per barrel and stay there then the prospects of EV makers will brighten somewhat. But it is questionable whether the global economy can support sustained high oil prices. As long oil prices dampen demand below the level at which EVs become competitive it is hard for EVs to become an effective substitute for oil-powered cars.

Between them the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf did not even sell 20,000 cars in 2011. Buyers find the Chevy Cruze to offer a far more compelling economic benefit with a much faster pay back. People are shifting toward smaller cars with more efficient conventional drive trains because the higher costs of EVs take many years (if ever) to pay back.

People are finding many other ways to adjust to higher oil prices. For example, high oil prices are cutting demand for air travel in the US back to levels not seen since 2002.

The overall number of flights by U.S. airlines have steadily declined since 2008, when the recession dampened travel demand. Most recently, stubbornly high fuel prices have prompted airlines to further cut capacity to reduce costs and maintain higher fares.

Until technological advances enable a big shift away from oil at fairly low cost most adjustments to high oil prices will come in the form of lowered living standards. Fly less, drive less, drive smaller cars.

Update: Kevin Bullis has also written a piece on whether Tesla can survive and in what form.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 February 14 11:04 PM  Energy Electric Cars

C said at February 14, 2012 11:27 PM:

Because obviously, things like range and access to power at your parking space have nothing to do with it?

Plenty of people buy expensive cars with novel features, but who wants to pay through the nose for a vehicle with huge trade offs.

PacRim Jim said at February 15, 2012 1:01 AM:

Is it my imagination, or does it seem that innovation has slowed, seemingly asymptotically?
The 60s through 90s abounded with inventions, space exploration, the Human Genome Project, new hardware and software, including the Internet and the Web.
Since the millennium, though, is seems that little of major import has resulted.
Perhaps the low-hanging fruit has been picked.
Perhaps scientists have retreated to basic research, to fill in the gaps.
Perhaps I am jaded and have misinterpreted the situation.

Mercy Vetsel said at February 15, 2012 7:43 AM:

The major obstacle has been and continues to be battery cost. The big car companies weren't being slow to develop electric vehicles (EVs) due to corporate lethargy.

Yes, exactly! This is what happens when the left-wing echo chamber diverts too far from reality and people actually start to believe their own propaganda. Of course if some billionaires want to blow their OWN money on a trendy dead-end, good for them. What I find infuriating is that I'm being forced to pay for this crap.

I'm still amazed that people don't realize that paying the equivalent of $15 - $20 per gallon for fuel is not a viable business model without taxpayer support. So should we short Tesla? Well, it's dangerous to bet on the Obama administration spending money wisely, but the political winds have been shifting. I have to think at some point that taxpayers may tire of bailing out billionaires even in trendy, ill-advised ventures.


LarryD said at February 15, 2012 8:00 AM:

Bureaucracy and regulation are barriers to entry, and government subsidies are intended to benefit the well-connected. And special interests are always already established, their vested interests is to keep competition down.

The environmentalists, in particular, want to not only freeze everything, they'd actually like to roll society back to the 18th century.

Fat Man said at February 15, 2012 11:25 AM:

"Is it my imagination, or does it seem that innovation has slowed, seemingly asymptotically?"

Battery Electric Vehicles are not an innovation in the 21st Century. They are a 19th century innovation. In the early years of the 20th Century they were a major part of the automobile market. By the mid part of that century they had been relegated to niche duty, e.g. golf carts and warehouse lift trucks. The current mania to produce electric cars is part of the ongoing war against mobility by the "environmentalists", who, like the Duke of Wellington, believe that it is a very bad idea to let commoners go farther afield than they can walk.

The biggest problem with technological innovation now is those "environmentalists" who can be relied on to choke innovation with law suits and federal regulations. The fear that drives them is not for the gaia that they worship, it is fear for their own power. When I was an undergraduate, I took a world history course from William McNeil, a great man with a great mind. I remember him discussing the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in class. They made it a point to suppress technical and scientific innovation. He said that if technological innovation threatened to upset the social order, as some sociologists claimed in the 1960's, our mandarins would do what the Ming did to stop it.

PacRim Jim said at February 15, 2012 11:42 AM:

@FatMan The name Wm. McNeil brings back memories. Long ago I had one of his history books on my bookshelf, which I finally got around to reading. The scholarship required for such comprehensive understanding is beyond my feeble efforts.

hamerhokie said at February 15, 2012 12:43 PM:

I am probably going to buy a Mitsubishi MiEV when they become available in my area. With state and federal incentives the cost is under $20k for me, and the current range meets my suburban commuting needs very well. Nightly recharging will be required but pretty easy to accomplish.

The replacement battery is surely a concern. I'm looking at 10-12k miles per year so the battery last for nearly ten years. Hopefully by then the cost of next gen batteries will be a lot less.

Regarding the 'culture wars' sentiments expressed above - I'd love to live in a community where I could walk to work and the store and the shops and all the restaurants but that is only a reality for about 5% of the US population. The adoption of EVs will increase that not one iota. Planning and zoning in the suburbs ensures that cars are required to do anything worthwhile.

Da55id said at February 15, 2012 3:01 PM:

I already have an electric car. It's called the internet.

RS said at February 15, 2012 3:34 PM:

I suspect that the consumer reaction to the hours wasted in line to be searched and probed by the TSA has more to do with the decline of air travel than fuel prices.

Jerry Martinson said at February 15, 2012 5:44 PM:

> Since the millennium, though, is seems that little of major import has resulted.

Moore's law has steadily advanced. This is what enabled new wireless (the new efficient modulation tricks require a lot of DSP and error control coding) and video compression technologies. The software for the internet has matured and it is now much easier to blog and for educators to use it. I think these are pretty big advancements.

Battery technology is always going to be hard compared to liquid fuel since most most of the weight and bulk used with liquid fuel engines is in the air all around us and batteries (most of them anyway) can't use that.

Randall Parker said at February 15, 2012 8:52 PM:

PacRim Jim,

I'm a big fan of William H. McNeill's history books such as Plagues & Peoples and The Pursuit Of Power. He's one of these people I think of for why I want aging defeated. It takes so many years of study to become a first class historian (assuming you are even smart enough - he was). Then you don't get to produce for enough decades before the brain ages you down to lower productivity and death.

Slowed innovation: Seems that way. I can point to exceptions such as the rapidly declining costs of DNA sequencing and other manipulations of biological molecules. But overall it seems like the rate of progress has slowed.

We need innovation more than ever. Natural resource depletion raises costs. I believe a rising fraction of innovation goes toward just running in place. Just to break even in living standards we need a steady stream of innovations and probably an accelerating rate of innovations.

Since battery costs obviously haven't dropped enough to make electric cars viable we are still at the mercy of oil production rates. A few readers have argued that innovations in battery tech will happen at a rapid rate and save our bacon. But I'm not seeing it yet. I'd like to see convincing evidence of this. I'd be greatly relieved by such evidence. Still waiting.

Jerry Martinson,

Gordon Moore puts us at about a decade away from hitting a wall on Moore's Law. The rate of progress has already slowed.


Ha ha. I certainly think that electronic devices are reducing the need and desire to travel. Since I expect Peak Oil to reduce the ability to travel I think we are lucky that electronics advances are partially compensating.

Engineer-Poet said at February 15, 2012 9:27 PM:

The hell with batteries.  Use Hanazawa's transmission scheme and power EV's from the roads.

Ronald Brak said at February 15, 2012 10:14 PM:

At $500 a kilowatt-hour for batteries I think electric cars might be viable where I live. But gasoline is more expensive here than in the US and the cost of getting a car serviced is extremely high. One thing that should help electric cars is that when produced in bulk, an electric car without a battery is cheaper than a similar car with an internal combustion engine. An internal combustion engine is quite expensive and requires a muffler, fuel tank, sound proofing, etc. An electric motor can get by with an air cooled radiator and doesn't even require a transmission. That's probably a saving of a couple thousand dollars or more right there. Of course, for a car with a 24 kilowatt-hour battery, that makes the electric car about $10,000 more expensive. That's a lot of extra money to the average consumer, but to someone like me who revels in putting their primary school mathematics to use, it's not such a big deal. Let's say I drive the Australian average of 15,000 km per year. Even with our high electricty prices that still saves me over $1,000 a year in fuel costs. But that alone doesn't makes it worthwhile. What pushes it over the line is savings in maintenance. According to the RACQ a small car driving 15,000km will require over $780 in servicing and repairs. Ouch! I'm pretty sure I don't spend that much per year, but anyway, if electric cars have significantly reduced maintenance costs, which they definitely should, then they can be competitive with internal combustion engine cars even with $500 a kilowatt-hour batteries. Or at least they should be for anal retentive Australians or Europeans who don't demand a large premium for driving a more range limited vehicle. Of course, the real question might be, can electric cars be competitive with highly fuel efficient internal combustion engine cars or hybrids? I guess I'll wait and see.

Fat Man said at February 15, 2012 10:15 PM:

PacRim Jim: Professor McNeill is a brilliant man and he was a marvelous teacher. He is still going strong at 95.

Ronald Brak said at February 15, 2012 10:41 PM:

Let's see, cost per kilometre of a $500 a kilowatt-hour battery that lasts for 10 years of average Australian driving = about 6 or 7 cents a kilometre for a small car. Cost of agriculturally absorbing CO2 emitted from a gasoline powered small car per kilometer and dumping it in the ocean depths = about 1 cent.

Note that this approach is not entirely without problems.

Engineer-Poet said at February 16, 2012 4:48 AM:

One of the problems being that it takes far more agricultural land than we have to absorb the CO2 we're emitting; the biological productivity isn't there.

bmack500 said at February 16, 2012 5:24 AM:

Fat man, just what is your view of what an "environmentalist" is? I would consider myself one, in the sense that I wish to push the bounds of technology towards cleaner energy.

What is it about you that wants to turn all our back yards into your personal toilet? Why is wanting clean energy "radical"? Well, vested interests, of course. The sheep who follow the right wing view of fossil fuels at any cost!

Renaissance Nerd said at February 16, 2012 10:40 AM:

Those who want to "push the bounds of technology towards cleaner energy" are conservationists, not environmentalists. Environmentalists have no intention of pushing the bounds of technology. Their focus is always on restrictions, not innovations. They trick us into paying for Solyndras and things like that, but they know perfectly well it's not going to work. They simply want to restrict the freedom of us dumb common folks.

I am a conservationist--I've been up in the mountains cleaning up trash and reclaiming Jeep trails with the Boy Scouts and Forest Service. I've never seen an environmentalist there. Innovation is antithetical to environmentalist beliefs, therefore, you're not an environmentalist. Environmentalism is just fascism dressed in green shirts instead of brown or black.

The shock of moving away from oil will cause a depression--more like a Dark Age--unless it is handled well. It can't be done overnight, and it can't be done at all except through innovation. Nobody is going to complain when you can buy a Suburban that gets the equivalent of 200mpg. Nobody will complain when somebody comes up with a battery for the house that lasts 10 years. Oh wait--environmentalists will complain, because it reduces their power over other people. Just check the list of environmentalist solutions...no need, there's only one: world fascism NOW! They've never proposed anything else.

uncleFred said at February 16, 2012 11:23 AM:

The notion that electric vehicles are "cleaner" than one powered by internal combustion, ignores the impact of making and disposing of the vehicle. It also ignores the impact of producing the electricity to charge its battery. Taken together over the life of the vehicle (assuming that in real use it will actually provide the expected battery life) the electric vehicle has a greater impact. This of course assume that man's CO2 contribution to the environment is actually a problem, an assumption that appears more doubtful every day. Should human generated CO2 prove not to be a problem, the electric vehicle comes off much much worse.

Wanting cleaner energy is a very nebulous term. Cleaner by what measure? Measured by its life time impact a 3/4 ton suburban is "cleaner" than a prius.

Fat Man said at February 16, 2012 11:51 AM:

Bmack500: Tag yourself.

"Why is wanting clean energy "radical"?"

Men in hell want ice water.

Do they get it?

Hell, no.

amir said at February 16, 2012 12:33 PM:

The solution may be to separate the car from the battery as in Shai Agassi's "Better Place" model. That way car makers can concntrate on making cars and companies like Better Place can concentrate on managing the battery and energy reducing the up front cost and spreading it out over many years.


wagnert in atlanta said at February 16, 2012 2:06 PM:

If oil goes to $200 a barrel, what will the cost of lithium for the batteries be? Especially if coal can't be used for refining the materials or charging the battery.

Ronald Brak said at February 16, 2012 4:12 PM:

Wagnert, very roughly refined lithium might be 10% of the cost of a litium-ion battery. A small portion of the cost of litium is oil used in extraction and transportation, but the main costs are probably those of capital and electrolytically refining it. So if the cost of oil doubled the cost of producing lithum would increase, but not by a huge amount as oil represents only a small part of the cost of lithum.

Not being allowed to use coal is a bit odd. Australia uses solar and wind power at Mt Cattlin to mine lithium, but it gets sent to China for refining and the energy they use probably comes from coal, possibly coal shipped in from Australia. Australia could refine the lithium itself without using coal, but the price of lithium would have to be high to justify our high capital costs and energy costs. Australia or Australia/China would be high cost producers of lithium. But South America is the world's largest lithium producer and I presume they use hydroelectricity to refine lithium, so no change there.

Note that cost is different from price. If the demand for lithium increases the price may go up while the cost of producing it might stay the same, with the price coming down once lithium production increases to meet demand.

Ronald Brak said at February 16, 2012 4:18 PM:

To prevent confusing I went to the trouble of looking up the definition of environmentalist for everyone. Apparently it's:

1. A person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment.

2. A person who considers that environment, as opposed to heredity, has the primary influence on the development of a person or group.

Now, if you excuse me, I have to go and make myself seem better than I am by pretending that my enemies, the heinous Teletubbies, are completely evil.

Wolf-Dog said at February 16, 2012 6:05 PM:

Let us review the cost calculations for electric car batteries.

1) If all cars and trucks were electric, then the electric grid in the US or EU needs to be expanded by only 10 % to accommodate these electric cars.

2) Although the batteries are expensive if the price is paid upfront, by dividing the price of the battery by the life of the battery which can range from 10 to 20 years depending on which current technology is chosen, then we can actually recalculate the cost more accurately by absorbing the latter number into the annual cost of driving the vehicle. But then, because the cost of electricity is much lower than gasoline, then suddenly it becomes clear that if the electric companies simply rent the battery to the electric car owners, then the electric car becomes competitive.

Here are some cost estimates. By 2020 it is reasonable to expect that a $15,000 battery will last 20 years and will have a range of 200 miles. (Currently such batteries exist but these are much more expensive.) Now let us divide the price by the life of the battery and we see that the annual cost of using the battery is $15,000/20 = $750 per year. But this article says that charging the battery of a plugin hybrid vechicle would be equivalent to $0.03 per mile, which means that it would cost $0.90 to drive 30 miles. But if a gasoline car has an efficiency of 30 miles per gallon, then since the cost of gasoline is nearly $3 per gallon, we can see that driving an electric car is $0.10 per mile. Thus if the ordinary citizen drives 13,000 miles per year, then the cost of using gasoline would be ($0.10) X 13,000 = $1,300, but the corresponding cost of driving an electric car would be:
[ ($0.03) X 13,000 = $390 for annual electricity ] + [ $750 for the annual cost of renting the battery ] = $1,140, which would be cheaper than driving the gasoline car at the fixed gasoline price of $3 per gallon.

Separately, the maintenance cost of an electric car is much lower, because an electric car has a lot less moving parts and the moving parts would be cheaper and more durable, and significantly cheaper to operate than a gasoline car, since there are no exhaust pipes, rotting fuel lines, starters, air filters, oil changes, etc.

These calculations show that it is incorrect to say that an electric car is too expensive because if we take into account the cost of operating an electric car is compared to the cost of operating a gasoline car for the long term, then a much better picture emerges.

The Better Place Company in Silicon Valley has this business model of renting the battery to car electric car drives who will be buying the car without battery.

Currently a 200 mile battery is at least $30,000, but within a decade the price will surely decline by at least 50 %.

Already the air-breathing zinc-air batteries are very cheap but you need a capacitor as a buffer to accelerate because the reaction time of this kind of battery is slow. This has already been done, but so far there is no investment for zinc-air systems.

bmack500 said at February 16, 2012 7:49 PM:

Fat Man, your intellect is boundless...

Wolf-Dog said at February 16, 2012 11:22 PM:

Let me further emphasise that without battery, the life expectancy of an electric car is much longer than a gasoline car. If a gasoline car lasts 10-15 years, an electric car can last 20-30 years with minimal maintenance because there are very few moving parts and electric motors can be replaced very easily (each wheel gets its own independent electric motor and often is no transmission or gear box).

So if the longevity of an electric car without battery is twice the longevity of a gasoline car, this would further reduce the cost of driving an electric car in the long run.

The misconception is that the battery must always be bolted into the electric car. The truth is that the battery can be viewed as part of the fuel, and as such it can be rented, so that the buyer simply pays by the number of days or miles driven.

Fat Man said at February 17, 2012 3:56 AM:

bmack500: You said it, and it is true.

anonyq said at February 17, 2012 5:23 AM:

200 mile batteries will never be sold. It is to much for local travel and to little for long distance travel. What will be sold is 100 mile batteries after 10 years. Which probably needs to be able to do 200 miles brand new

Engineer-Poet said at February 17, 2012 7:21 AM:

Quoth Fat Man:

Measured by its life time impact a 3/4 ton suburban is "cleaner" than a prius.
Why do you post things that are both unsourced and clearly wrong?  All of the slurs against the Prius are based on apples/oranges comparisons, such as un-scrubbed sulfide ore smelting vs. impact of petroleum.

Perhaps Fat Man and bmack500 can take their mutual admiration society to an echo chamber somewhere else, and let the adults have a conversation.

Fat Man said at February 17, 2012 2:47 PM:

Engineer Poet: Tutti Respecto. Uncle Fred wrote about prii, it is not a subject I would dilate upon.

As for Bmack500, I have tried the gentle treatment towards his incoherent rage. Besides, given the asynchronous nature of web logs, I am hardly interfering with anybody else writing whatever they wish to say on this topic.

Wolf-Dog said at February 17, 2012 5:55 PM:

Anonyq wrote:
"200 mile batteries will never be sold. It is to much for local travel and to little for long distance travel. What will be sold is 100 mile batteries after 10 years. Which probably needs to be able to do 200 miles brand new"

But it seems that you are assuming that batteries will always be slow to charge, even after 10 years from now. This is not true, as major improvements are being made, to make it much faster to charge a battery. So a 200 mile or 250 mile battery will not be too little for long distance travel if it takes only 5 or 10 minutes to charge it at the gas station.

Also, as I mentioned, the batteries will never be sold, but they will just be rented from the electric company. This will make it possible to absorb the cost of the battery into the annual cost of driving the electric car.

Let us assume the most pessimistic case that a 250 mile battery will still cost $30,000 even in the year 2020. Now if we assume that this battery will last 15 years:
then the annual cost of using this battery would be $2,000,
while the cost of electricity for driving this electric car for 13,000 per year would be ($0.03) X 13,000 = $390.
Thus the total annual cost of driving this car would be $2,000 + $390 = $2,390.

But by 2020 the cost of gasoline will probably be at least $4 per gallon, while the efficiency of an average car will have improved to about 30 miles per gallon, so that the annual cost of driving a gasoline car will be
(13,000 miles ) x ( $4 per gallon ) / (30 miles per gallon) = $1,733. On the surface it looks as if this is nearly $600 cheaper than the annual cost of driving the electric vehicle with a battery that costs $30,000, but if we also take into account the fact that the electric car will need far less maintenance (no transmission, no engine oil, no radiator, no exhaust, no air filter, etc), and given that an electric car can last 30 years with minimal maintenance (easy to replace cheap motors and also the expensive battery) while a gasoline car would last 15 years, then it becomes apparent that the net annual cost of using an electric car will be competitive with the gasoline car even if the price of the 250 mile battery does not go down.

Note that the Better Place company's business model in Denmark, Australia, California and Israel provides the means to rent the battery, and by 2020 batteries will be charged faster for sure.

Also IF the batteries are manufactured in the USA, then this would provide a hidden net benefit to the US economy, as it eliminates the oil component of the foreign trade deficit..

Brett Bellmore said at February 17, 2012 8:20 PM:

The companies like Fisker aren't in the business of manufacturing cars for sale. They're in the business of laundering money back to politicians. They'll keep cropping up, regardless of battery technology, so long as they're an effective way to do this.

Brett Bellmore said at February 18, 2012 5:04 AM:

The same, obviously, is true of alternative energy firms with products nobody can afford without subsidies. They'll never be gone as long as they're a useful way of laundering tax dollars into the pockets of politicians and their friends. That's the real product of companies like Solyndra, not panels.

Mercy Vetsel said at February 18, 2012 9:40 AM:

Wolf-dog said: "By 2020 it is reasonable to expect that a $15,000 battery will last 20 years and will have a range of 200 miles."

Yes, in much the same way that by 2020 gasoline engines will be 70% efficient and an SUV will get 60 mpg.

Randall Parker said at February 18, 2012 9:47 AM:

Regards environmentalists:

The problem is that terms get loaded up with multiple meanings. The term "environmentalist" covers a lot of ground.

I consider myself an environmentalist because I don't want toxic pollution in my body. I want to breathe less diesel exhaust. Whenever a truck or bus or train zips by belching smoke that smells disgusting I ask "why aren't more people opposed to this" and I want more environmentalists to support tougher emissions restrictions on diesel engines, coal-burning power plants and the like.

Does anyone here seriously think diesel exhaust is harmless? Does anyone here seriously think emissions regulations are doing a net harm?

Renaissance Nerd,

I'm a conservationist. I applaud your cleaning up the environment. But I think "environmentalist" covers a wide range of positions, not all of which are objectionable. I'm a big supporter of cleaner air. I just think a large fraction of the general public and certain political activists don't do a very good job of looking at full system costs and effects when proposing measures to make the air cleaner. It isn't possible to have constructive environmentalism without having foolish environmentalism too.

Regards Priuses versus Chevy Suburbans:

I think it very unlikely the Burb costs less over the full life time of the vehicle. Granted, the Prius has some expensive parts on it (including very expensive headlights btw). But its brakes last longer, it costs much less for gasoline, and it has a battery small enough that the battery costs for it aren't that high. Supposedly Toyota got its cost down to the point where they even make a (small) profit on it.

uncleFred and Ronald Brak,

A substantial fraction of the cost of making anything is energy cost. Every step of mining, refining, and fabrication uses energy. Capital costs go up when the price of oil goes up.

One should think about ways of saving energy in terms of a ratio between energy saved and energy consumed to create the more efficient product. For example, would a titanium car save energy over its lifespan? Probably it would for a cop car, especially since the titanium can be recycled. But one has to delve into the details to know for sure.

Fat Man said at February 18, 2012 1:26 PM:

Randall, you are not a real environmentalist because you love technology. Real environmentalists hate technology and want to deindustrialize the world.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. is a real environmentalists. He wants to stop using fossil fuels. He is adamantly opposed to nuclear energy and is striving to shut down the Indian Point reactor. When someone wants to put up wind turbines to produce electricity, without fossil or nuclear fuel, he is against that too. He likes to go sailing there.


Alice carefully released the brush, and did her best to get the hair into order. "Come, you look rather better now!" she said, after altering most of the pins. "But really you should have a lady's maid!"

"I'm sure I'll take you with pleasure!" the [White] Queen said. "Twopence a week, and jam every other day."

Alice couldn't help laughing, as she said, "I don't want you to hire ME--and I don't care for jam."

"It's very good jam," said the Queen.

"Well, I don't want any TO-DAY, at any rate."

"You couldn't have it if you DID want it," the Queen said. "The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday--but never jam to-day."

"It MUST come sometimes to 'jam to-day,'" Alice objected.

"No, it can't," said the Queen. "It's jam every OTHER day: to-day isn't any OTHER day, you know."

anonyq said at February 18, 2012 1:59 PM:

"Randall, you are not a real environmentalist because you love technology. Real environmentalists hate technology and want to deindustrialize the world."

Classic example of a straw man

Ronald Brak said at February 18, 2012 3:11 PM:

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
-Lewis Carroll

Engineer-Poet said at February 18, 2012 10:04 PM:

The cleverness is amusing, but does anyone have anything to say about EV and battery companies?

Fat Man said at February 18, 2012 10:55 PM:

I thought Mr. Bellmore above pretty much nailed the subject of EV and Battery companies.

As Mr. Wolf-Dog notes, BEVs are mechanically much simpler than ICE vehicles, of course this was true in 1915, when my great grandmother bought a Baker Electric. I don't see that the disadvantage has harmed the adoption of ICE.

However, Mr.Wolf-Dog is wrong to think that much can be done about charging times. The problem is not technology, it is math. Watts = Amps x Volts.

On a 240 Volt 30 Amp circuit, 7200 watts can move through the line. In one hour you can charge up a battery with 7.2 KWh, assuming against the laws of thermodynamics that there is 100% efficiency. The Nissan Leaf gets 4 miles/kKWh optimistically, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Leaf. So a one hour charge can take you 29 miles -- a charging velocity of 29 mph. You are going to need more electric service if you want to get to freeway speeds, and that might not be cheap.

Your idea of powering cars from the roads might have merit, but can you handle 100,000 cars/hour like many busy urban freeways do?

Ronald Brak said at February 19, 2012 4:03 AM:

I guess I don't have anything in particular to say about the current state of EV and battery companies. But I will say that given current costs and technology, plug in hybrids with 30 or so kilometre all electric range seem to be a logical design, but no one seems to be building them. We have either all electric cars or the Volt with a large battery pack. I think the reason for this is these cars are designed to appeal to first adopters who don't mind paying a premium. I expect that at some point we will see more vehicles with electric motors designed to appeal to the median consumer. If battery prices are slow to come down in price I guess we will see plug in hybrids with small battery packs, and if there is a moderate drop in battery costs we might see some relatively low cost all electric cars that will still be fairly range limited, but which will mostly be used as a second car by two car families. Of course just what will happen depends on many factors. If oil prices go through the roof we might be happy to start using lightweight lead acid batteries.

Engineer-Poet said at February 19, 2012 1:44 PM:

Freeways handle 1500-2000 vehicles/lane/hour maximum (without platooning, which could probably triple that).  I don't see how a single urban freeway can handle 100k cars/hour past any point; it would need 50 lanes.

If you figure 30 vehicles/lane-mile (rush hour loadings at speed, essentially one-way) and 15 kW per vehicle, a 4-lane section of freeway would require 1.8 megawatts.  That's not very much; a single GE gas turbine peaking plant can produce 300 MWe, enough for about 170 miles of that freeway at max load.  In stop-and-go traffic, power demand plummets unless it's diverted to charge batteries.

Engineer-Poet said at February 19, 2012 1:45 PM:

Make that 1.8 MW per mile.

Fat Man said at February 19, 2012 9:28 PM:

My apologies, the figure I was using was 160,000 vehicles per day on an 8 lane stretch of highway. That would be less than 1,000 per lane per hour.

Your figure of 30 vehicles per lane mile strikes me as low for crowded urban highways. That would seem to give 10 car lengths between 16 ft (192 in.) vehicles. I think that is a lot of separation by urban standards.

Ronald Brak said at February 19, 2012 9:47 PM:

Selling vehicle to grid services could also make electric vehicles more attractive by bringing in some money. Sometimes electricity spot prices go over $5 a kilowatt-hour here. If the car is selling electricity back to the grid that was bought for 10 cents a kilowatt-hour off peak, that's going to result in quite a profit margin. More than enough to pay for wear and tear on the battery. Maybe an EV or plug in hybrid could bring in a few hundred dollars a year this way. A plug in hybrid could might be as good as an EV in this regard even though it has a smaller battery because it's not a real problem if the plug in hybrid's battery gets drained.

Engineer-Poet said at February 20, 2012 5:21 AM:

30 vehicles per mile @ 60 MPH = 1800 veh/hr. Then again, maybe at those densities they're doing 15 MPH, not 60 MPH.

Ronald, I suggest you dig through the whitepapers section of the AC Propulsion website (use the wayback machine) and read the ones on vehicle-to-grid.

anonyq said at February 20, 2012 8:22 AM:


With the Better Place model the question is why run under normal circumstances with a 200 miles battery with its high cost and heavy weight when you can also use a 100 mile battery. Depreciation should be lower and miles/kWh would be higher. Only when the expected trip is long will there be a need for a large battery. But 200 miles is in that case small. A 300 miles battery with only a life of 3 years would be a better option

anonyq said at February 20, 2012 8:27 AM:

Urban freeways can be partial car battery operated. The electric highway is more a proposal to solve the interurban transport problem and interurban transport is much less time of day dependent. It can also be steered much more to time when electricity demand is lower. (i don't mean as low as nighttime but lower as on Sunday or after 15:00)

Engineer-Poet said at February 20, 2012 11:29 AM:

An electrified urban/suburban freeway network is a way to allow e.g. the worker with the 70-mile daily commute to do everything with a pure EV with a 20-mile battery.  If you can make a car with no engine and just half of the Volt's battery cost while still getting full utility, that's probably a winner.

anonyq said at February 20, 2012 2:58 PM:

A EV with a 20 mile radius is so cheap, especially if it is a single occupant vehicle, that it will create a total different car market.

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2012 7:27 PM:

Ronald Brak,

Gasoline is not yet expensive enough for many to want to put up with the inconveniences of shorter range electric cars. Look at Europe with much higher gasoline prices and you don't see a lot of electric cars there either.

Low range electric cars of the sort you mention would require people plugging in about 20-40 times more often than they now go to the gas station. Why put yourself thru that? People will move up to Priuses and the like before they go electric.

Plus, where I live now I would have to run an electric cable across a public sidewalk every time I wanted to charge up an electric car. Well, that's going to be seen as a hazard. Liquid hydrocarbons are way more convenient.

Fat Man,

I'd really like to hear what Nick G thinks of the trajectory of battery prices. We had an intermittent debate for months (years) where I took the more pessimistic position. So far I see no signs I'm wrong on my pessimism. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is forecasting a large drop in battery prices as production capacity scales up. I hope so. A lot is riding on it. But even the size of the price decline he's forecasting is still going to leave EV car prices on the high side. Though short range commuter EVs would become affordable. So Peak Oil could become much more manageable.

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2012 8:54 PM:


The problem is that for most people the 20 mile EV would be in addition to a vehicle that they drive for longer trips. So the EV cost has to be added to the cost of a longer range vehicle. This is why GM built the PHEV Chevy Volt. They tried to combine the two. That's probably cheaper than owning 2 cars. Though if the longer range car is older perhaps the 2 cars are cheaper in some cases. But then there's also parking space. Plus, there's the problem (and hassle) of how to frequently charge it. Where I live now it is not real practical to have an EV and charge it from home.

hamerhokie said at February 21, 2012 8:05 AM:

Slow recharging batteries is a red herring. Fast recharging batteries won't be the bottleneck - the size of the electric service needed to recharge large capacity batteries will be.

That's what makes the Better Place model so attractive, on paper - swapping batteries which are recharged overnight is the better solution. However, has anyone priced those 'Better Place Electric Cars Sans Batteries?' The Renault Fluence ZE is priced at $38k in Denmark and $35k in Israel - and it has no battery! I'd expect an electric car sans battery to be about half the price of a current electric car.

Nick G said at February 21, 2012 2:26 PM:

high oil prices are cutting demand for air travel in the US back to levels not seen since 2002.

That's not what the article said. Flights have declined, not the number of passengers. Airlines are increasing the percentage of seats filled, and eliminating low-utilization flights and routes.

anonyq said at February 21, 2012 2:53 PM:

$38k for a car in Denmark or Israel is cheap. You can't use American car prices in other countries. And countries without a domestic car industry really like to tax car purchase into near earth orbit.

Nick G said at February 21, 2012 3:27 PM:


I still haven't really seen good data on battery costs. Proprietary, competitive concerns seems to prevent that. OTOH, I haven't seen anything which suggests that the earlier estimates of about $25-/kWh for current pricing are incorrect.

Here's an electric truck whose battery must cost less than $500/kWh: 80kWh @$500/kWh gives $40k, more than half of the sales price of $70k.

This plumbing company expects their new trucks to reduce operating costs by about $7 per year, and capital costs must be dropping as well, as they last 3x as long:

"It's been a couple years since we first saw the Boulder Electric Vehicle prototype in action but now comes word that the company has delivered its very first production vehicle. The initial DV-500 (as it is affectionately called) has been sold to Denver-area Precision Plumbing,Heating & Cooling who have made a commitment to buy 20 of the all-electrics at a very reasonable-sounding $70,000 apiece.

In addition to obvious changes in appearance, its performance also differs slightly from the original. The production version boasts an 80-kWh battery pack made up of China-sourced lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) cells that weigh in at 1,300 lbs and are said to be good for 120 miles of range. Power comes from an 80-kW AC motor that gives the 7,000-lb truck a 70 mile-per-hour top speed. Charging can take up to eight hours.

Precision Plumbing's Tom Robichaud says that despite the higher up-front costs, he expects to save $6,000 to $8,000 per vehicle per year in lower operating costs and anticipates the trucks to be good for 300,000 miles. Currently, he says, the Sprinter vans he uses now are replaced after 100,000 miles. In anticipation of the electric fleet, the company has also installed a solar array at its facilities.

Boulder Electric Vehicle reportedly has five production lines set up and is busy building the vehicles for Precision and other customers. The company also has plans for a bigger truck that doubles the 500 cubic foot capacity of the DV-500. Hit the jump for a couple clips featuring Mr. Robichaud and his new promotionally wrapped plumbing van."


"electric vehicles can markedly lower the costs of a fleet of delivery trucks. Thatís the conclusion of a new MIT study showing that electric vehicles are not just environmentally friendly, but also have a potential economic upside for many kinds of businesses.

The study, conducted by researchers at MITís Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL), finds that electric vehicles can cost 9 to 12 percent less to operate than trucks powered by diesel engines, when used to make deliveries on an everyday basis in big cities.

...there have been ďno real surprises from a reliability perspective, but I was surprised by the driversí acceptance, to the point where they do not ever want to drive a diesel [truck] again.Ē


Ronald Brak said at February 21, 2012 10:57 PM:

EP, thanks for the reading suggestion, I will check it out. It occurs to me that if one was paying spot prices it would be possible to save money without involving the electricity distributer simply by storing electricity when it is cheap and using it for one's own purposes when the cost was high.

hamerhokie said at February 23, 2012 6:46 AM:

Read an article today about Tesla Roadsters 'bricking' - i.e., sometimes becoming totally disfunctional, unable to recharge, when the batteries are discharged to zero. The only fix is a non-warranty $40k replacement pack. This seems to be mainly a problem when the car sits idle for weeks at a time. I would have thought most owners would be in the habit of connecting their car to a charger when not in use.

Fat Man said at February 23, 2012 9:35 PM:


"I would have thought most owners would be in the habit of connecting their car to a charger when not in use."

Sure, but men fail. All the time. Betting on vigilant maintenance is betting on an inside straight. Engineers who build systems that fail hard, (A bricked Tesla cannot even be towed) have not done anybody a favor.

Like I said above, there are many good reasons why BEV lost out to ICE almost a century ago. This is another.

Engineer-Poet said at February 24, 2012 5:38 AM:

Bah.  I'd bet that I could un-brick the car given a couple of days and less than $50 in parts so long as the batteries were not physically damaged.  Automatically un-bricking the car would be as simple as installing a stock PC power supply connected to the charging port to supply alternative power to the electronics.

If failing to manage the battery properly is a warranty violation, it serves the owners right.

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