2012 September 27 Thursday
German Government Backs Away From 2020 Electric Car Goal

It is all about the cost of batteries.

The German government is going to scrap its goal of having one million electric cars on the roads by 2020, Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported Saturday, citing a report from the country's Ministry for Education and Research.

As Nissan Leaf electric car sales drop sharply Nissan has cut lease costs to try to get more buyers.

Nissan Motor Co. sold only 4,228 Leafs this year through August, almost a third fewer than a year ago.

Nissan also introduced discounts for buyers of over $3k. If you happen to have a long commute and the ability to recharge while working the discounted Leaf might make economic sense for you. But conventional hybrids offer a better value proposition for the vast majority of drivers. The Toyota Prius and Ford's greatly improved Fusion hybrid seem most compelling.

In the run-up to the point where world oil production goes into permanent decline what matters is how soon the decline comes, how steep is the decline, and how many technologies we have in hand to compensate for it once the decline comes. The bumpy plateau of world oil production has lasted longer than some pessimists predicted. But advances in car battery technology have come slower than some optimists predicted. These two developments have effectively canceled out each other.

The longer lasting bumpy plateau of world oil production has been beneficial because it has caused the higher oil prices needed as incentives for development of alternatives. But the development of alternatives has been slow so far. Will that continue to be the case? A lot rides on the answer.

By Randall Parker    2012 September 27 08:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2012 September 23 Sunday
Big Chevy Volt Discounts Boosting Sales

GM loses some unknown amount per Chevy Volt sold.

Sales rose mostly because of discounts of almost $10,000, or 25 percent of the Volt’s sticker price, according to figures from TrueCar.com, an auto pricing website.

Combine US federal rebates, in some cases state rebates, and GM's discount, and it becomes an affordable car. But since GM is losing some undisclosed amount per sale and taxpayers are footing another part of the loss we obviously have a long way to go before PHEVs make the grade. How big is GM's manufacturing cost loss per car?

Fred Schlacter reports that All-Electric Cars Need Battery Breakthrough. Agreed. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office finds that electric vehicles cost more to own even after cutting their cost by a $7,500 subsidy. Cut $12000 out of the cost of an electric car and then it becomes competitive.

At current vehicle and energy prices, the lifetime costs to consumers of an electric vehicle are generally higher than those of a conventional vehicle or traditional hybrid vehicle of similar size and performance, even with the tax credits, which can be as much as $7,500 per vehicle. That conclusion takes into account both the higher purchase price of an electric vehicle and the lower fuel costs over the vehicle’s life. For example, an average plug-in hybrid vehicle with a battery capacity of 16 kilowatt-hours would be eligible for the maximum tax credit. However, that vehicle would require a tax credit of more than $12,000 to have roughly the same lifetime costs as a comparable conventional or traditional hybrid vehicle.

Using 16 kwh of expensive lithium ion battery capacity in a pluggable hybrid Volt seems a waste of expensive battery capacity. Consider by contrast the new 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid which manages to get 47 mpg with just 1.4 kwh of lithium ion battery capacity. The same amount of battery capacity as used in the Chevy Volt capacity can be used to make 11 conventional hybrids with a far larger net fuel savings. That's a far more cost effective use of expensive lithium ion batteries.

Ford's use of lithium in the Fusion hybrid will provide lots of demand for battery manufacturers to develop better batteries, probably more total lithium ion battery demand than comes from the far lower production volume Chevy Volt.

By Randall Parker    2012 September 23 10:16 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2012 July 28 Saturday
Plug-In Hybrids Beating Pure Electric Cars

Pluggable Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are beating pure electric vehicles in sales in the United States by a ratio of over 3-to-1.

Thanks to a resurgent Chevrolet Volt and Toyota's introduction of a plug-in version of its popular Prius, sales of such vehicles have jumped 381 percent to more than 13,000 in the first half of this year, according to Edmunds.com.

4 thousand EVs and 13 thousand PHEVs are both small potatoes in a car market where total volumes range between 10 million and 15 million cars per year. The high costs of batteries continue to block EVs and PHEVs from making major inroads. At current battery prices (see below for a $652 per kilowatt-hour estimate) PHEVs will not become competitive until gasoline gets up near $6 per gallon.

More PHEVs are headed to market. Ford's new PHEV will go 20 miles on battery. With half the battery range of a Chevy Volt (and hence a cheaper battery) the C Max Energi's price comes in comes in at several thousand dollars lower than the Volt.

As Ford detailed last night, its first plug-in hybrid will retail for $33,750, has a combined gasoline + electric range of 550 miles, is expected to get a combined EPA rating of 95MPGe, and will go on sale later this year.

A McKinsey report predicts a 70% decline in electric battery prices by 2025.

The 23-kilowatt-hour battery used in Focus Electric, Ford Motor Co's first electric passenger car, can cost between $12,000 and $15,000, Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally said at a conference in April. That suggests Ford paid as much as $652 per kilowatt hour.

Even if true, that's 13 years from now. A 70% price decline would put the electric Focus's battery cost in 2025 near $3600 at the low end.

By Randall Parker    2012 July 28 08:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (56)
2012 May 01 Tuesday
Ford CEO Alan Mulally Sees Higher World Energy Prices

HIgher costs of energy coming our way.

“The point of view we have is that we are all going to be paying more for energy worldwide.”

With oil producing countries consuming more oil domestically and developing Asian countries such as China and India importing more oil the West has less available net exports of oil to buy, as Jeffrey Brown points out.

Mulally says batteries for electric vehicles (EV) still are very expensive.

“Right now a battery costs $15,000 for a 100-mile range,” Mulally says. “Now, as energy goes up, you can start to make a case for the economics of all-electric. But the most important thing is finding a way to manufacture electric batteries in a cost-efficient way.”

A few years back we had debates in the comments about how far and how fast electric battery prices would fall. I was on the pessimistic side on those debates. $15k for enough battery capacity to provide 100 mile EV range in 2012 seems like confirmation of the more pessimistic view.

Hybrids still seem like the way to go even up around $7 and $8 per gallon gasoline. A huge reduction in battery costs would change that calculation. But when will enough batteries for 100 mile range hit a more reasonable $5000?

By Randall Parker    2012 May 01 10:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2012 April 08 Sunday
Long Payoff Time For Most Hybrids And Electric Cars

The New York Times and TrueCar.com take a look at payback times for hybrid and other higher cost but more efficient drive trains.

Except for two hybrids, the Prius and Lincoln MKZ, and the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the added cost of the fuel-efficient technologies is so high that it would take the average driver many years — in some cases more than a decade — to save money over comparable new models with conventional internal-combustion engines.

The full article gives a number of combinations of car models and gasoline prices with estimated payback times. What's surprising is just how high gas prices have to go for many of the hybrids, pluggable hybrids, and pure electrics to start making economic sense.

Hybrids have a number of appeals beyond the dollars saved over X years. Some people simply like being more efficient and less polluting. I can't argue with that. Less pollution is good.

Driving range matters too, especially if you place a high value on your time and the convenience of not having to think about refueling for long periods of time. For some cars the hybrid version has a substantially higher driving range. Check out the Ford Fusion and Buick Lacrosse in hybrid and non-hybrid versions. The Fusion has just as big a fuel tank in its non-hybrid counterpart. So the hybrid version goes over 200 miles further on average than the non-hybrid version. I personally find that very appealing. I spend money in a variety of ways to lower my overhead of chores and to free up my mind to do more mental work both at my job and at home (e.g. to write blog posts). I want my next car to have higher range than what I drive now.

The Lacrosse has a smaller tank in its mild hybrid version. Yet the hybrid still manages to go 70 miles further per tank. Note that the mild hybrid is actually cheaper than the 6 cylinder version. GM needs to sell more high MPG cars to meet rising CAFE standards. So pricing of cars to meet regulatory mandates is going to narrow the gap between conventional and hybrids, most likely by taking higher prices for conventional drive train cars to provide cash to lower the prices of hybrids.

By Randall Parker    2012 April 08 07:40 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2012 February 14 Tuesday
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.

By Randall Parker    2012 February 14 11:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (63)
2012 January 09 Monday
Nissan Scaling For Electric Car Production

In an interview with Technology Review Mark Perry, Nissan America director of product planning, discusses how Nissan is scaling up their Smyrna Tennessee factory to make 150,000 cars and 200,000 battery packs.

We have a complete assembly line in Osaka, Japan, built up from scratch, especially for the electric motor. The battery construction is done in a clean room—that's also new for an automotive factory.

We're now re-creating all that here in the United States, in Tennessee. It will be the world's largest battery assembly plant—our engine plant will actually be winding away electric motors this time next year. And at full capacity it'll be capable of putting out 200,000 battery packs a year.

What I'm wondering: What price point do they think they need to reach to get 150k of demand for electric vehicles? My guess is they are counting on CAFE standards to force all manufacturers to charge so much for pure gasoline and even hybrid vehicles that non-EVS rise in price to make EVs competitive. In other words, personal transportation is going to cost more.

Another possibility: Peak Oil will drive up the price of gasoline so high that EVs will seem a bargain due to lower fuel cost. But again personal transportation becomes more expensive.

So what are the odds of a substantial reduction in vehicle battery costs? When? We are in 2012. Where are the signs that EV batteries cost less now than a year ago? Anyone seen indications that EV battery costs are coming down?

By Randall Parker    2012 January 09 10:15 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (20)
2011 December 12 Monday
Easy Fix For Chevy Volt Fire

The problem of a Chevrolet Volt (a pluggable hybrid electric vehicle) which caught fire a few weeks after being totaled in a US government side crash test was due to a leaking coolant line from coolant that cools the battery.

The critical response to the Volt fires in the press seemed a bit over the top to me. Okay, so you trash the car in a crash test and, in a condition such that humans won't try to use it, the thing catches fire. So what?

We should be so lucky that battery safety is our biggest problem with PHEV and EV cars. As things stand, we aren't driving them because they cost so much.

On the bright side, the kinks are getting worked out and risks identified while the EVs and PHEVs are not yet in wide use. But I'd already drive one now if money was no object. Easily beats getting the latest iPhone or iPad for geek coolness.

By Randall Parker    2011 December 12 11:21 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2011 August 29 Monday
Ford Focus EV Comes With Home PV Recharge Option

If you want to get an electric vehicle (EV) obviously it will cost more due to expensive batteries. Look at the price of the Nissan Leaf at $35,200 USD before tax rebate (and I emphasize costs below before tax credits and rebates because a solution can not scale if it depends on taxes to fund it). One could get a similar-sized compact for half that price. Not cheap. Well, with the forthcoming Ford Focus EV you'll have the option to buy solar panels at the same time.

Dearborn, Mich., Aug. 10, 2011 – Ford and SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWRA, SPWRB) have teamed up to offer customers a rooftop solar system that will allow Focus Electric owners to “Drive Green for Life” by providing customers with enough clean, renewable energy to offset the electricity used to charge the vehicle.

For a one-off $10k investment you get the cost your electric car's power paid for about the next 25 years. Never pay for fuel again. This assumes you do not need to go more than 100 miles at a time and even less under conditions (e.g. very cold) where your range will be even lower.

The 2.5 kilowatt rooftop solar system is comprised of the SunPower® E18 Series solar panels that produce an average of 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. These high-efficiency solar panels generate approximately 50 percent more electricity than conventional panels and utilize a smaller footprint on the roof. The system was sized to accommodate a customer who drives about 1,000 miles per month.

The complete SunPower solar system is offered at a base price of less than $10,000*, after federal tax credits. Local and state rebates, along with other incentives, may drive the system cost down even more, depending on a customer’s location. Included in the purchase is a residential monitoring system, which includes the ability to track the performance of their solar system on the web or through an iPhone application. Affordable financing options for the solar system are available through SunPower. This price point does not include local sales tax.

The US federal tax credit looks to be about 30%. So the solar panels before tax rebate come in at about $14k.

You might opt to spend about $1500 for a 240V home recharging station to get 3-4 hour recharging time. But if your house electric wiring is too old you might need to pay substantially more for a home wiring upgrade to support the 240V to the recharging station.

All these dollar numbers above let us come up with a ballpark figure for what it would cost in in 2011 or 2012 to end your direct reliance on oil and even your reliance on fossil fuels to generate electricity. For about $35k for the car, $14k for the solar panels, and $1.5k for the recharge station we are at about $52k for an electric car that should last for many years and solar panels that'll last over a couple of decades.

A future of much cheaper batteries and much cheaper solar panels would make the transition to electric power a lot easier to do.

The International Energy Agency is very bullish about the future of solar power. In a recent report the IEA claimed half the world's energy will come from solar power by 2060. That's not just half the world's electricity. That's half the world's power. That can't happen without electric power driving a much larger fraction of transportation. So the IEA must be pretty bullish on the future of electric cars.

By Randall Parker    2011 August 29 05:52 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2011 July 25 Monday
Shifts In Electric Car Prices

If electric vehicles are going to become cheaper that change hasn't started happening yet. Nissan raises the price on the EV Leaf in order to add features needed in colder states.

Nissan said the 2012 Leaf, which goes on sale in the fall, will cost at least $2,450 more than the 2011 model, but perform better in colder climates, with features like a battery warmer, heated seats and a heated steering wheel.

The new price, $36,050 will bring it closer to the new (and lower) $39,995 price for the Chevy Volt. That latter price cut was made possible by cutting out a nav system.

Maybe component costs for an EV are falling even as prices rise. Our ability to migrate away from oil depends heavily on a shift to electric power. Though fortunately we can get some pretty big improvements in fuel efficiency at price points below those for pure EVs. See more here. Caveat: We can't predict the costs of batteries, lighter materials, and other fuel savings technologies 10 or 15 years in advance. Commodity costs, energy costs, and innovations are all unknowns that far out.

By Randall Parker    2011 July 25 12:37 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2011 May 10 Tuesday
How Competitive Electric Cars?

When do electric cars make sense? A Time magazine piece quotes the company Better Place (that is setting up electric car battery swapping operations in Israel and Denmark as claiming that the Better Place electric battery swapping model makes sense at $9 per gallon. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of electric cars for people paying American or Canadian or Australian gasoline prices.

The customers also pay a one-time fee equal to $2,000, but even so, in both Israel and Denmark where gas runs about $9 a gallon, Better Place calculates that the typical customers would stand to save 10% to 20% against a comparable gasoline car — and enjoy most of its satisfactions.

Note that a Dane travels many fewer miles per year than an American. So a car battery in Denmark probably does not go thru as many charging cycles per year as one in America or other less densely populated industrialized countries. Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic takes a look at electric cars that are sold with electric batteries and finds the Nissan Leaf starts to make sense for Americans at only $5 per gallon for gasoline. Note that his analysis assumes a $7500 tax credit from the US government. So the real cost effectiveness is considerably worse than these numbers indicate.

But when gas hits $5 per gallon, the LEAF begins to look more attractive. Then, you just need to drive a hair over 100,000 miles to break even, which isn't so outlandish for many Americans. But even at $5 per gallon, you'd need to drive the Volt more than 175,000 miles to justify its purchase over the Elantra. In fact, if you only plan on driving the Volt a little over 100,000 miles, its electric capability doesn't justify its price tag until gas nears $8 per gallon.

Take out the government subsidy and then you'll have to burn at least another 1500 gallons of gasoline at $5 per gallon to pay for that extra $7500. It is worse than that since you'll also have to pay battery charge costs.

Tom Whipple, writing about Peak Oil, provides some useful context to think about when comparing electric cars to gasoline cars.

The average U.S. personal vehicle (cars, trucks and SUVs) consumes about 700 gallons of fuel a year. At $4 a gallon this is now about $2800 a year to fuel the average passenger vehicle. Each dollar a gallon increase adds only $60 a month to the gasoline bill, an amount manageable by many given the “essential” of personal transport.

He's wrapping together older cars that travel fewer miles per year with newer cars that spend more time on the road. Plus he's combining SUVs and all sizes of cars together. People who are considering an electric car are much more likely to compare it to a Toyota Prius which gets about 50 mpg. That Prius will use only 240 gallons at 12000 miles per year. At $5 per gallon that's only $700 per year and that lowers the price bar EVs need to get down to in order to compete. Battery costs need to plummet or gasoline needs to hit $8+ per gallon.

The Nissan Leaf has an MSRP of $32,780 minus whatever tax rebates you might be eligible for. Since the Prius MSRP starts at $22,120 a competitive electric car lies some years in the future. That car won't be as flexible as the Prius. It'll have much shorter range and limits on where you can take it.

So how fast will oil prices go up and how fast will battery prices drop? Answer those two questions correctly and you can predict when EVs will make economic sense.

By Randall Parker    2011 May 10 09:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (21)
2011 April 09 Saturday
Chevy Volt Cuts Gasoline Use Two Thirds?

Early Chevrolet Volt buyers are going a thousand miles between refills.

Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevrolet Volt, said that early sampling has found that Volt drivers go an average of 1,000 miles before they have to refuel. The company is on track to sell 50,000 cars in 2011.

Since the car goes only about 35 miles and then about 340 more miles on gasoline this suggests the users are rarely letting the batteries go all the way down. Only about a third of those 1000 miles would be on gasoline power. So the Volt is cutting gasoline consumption by early adopters by two thirds. Mind you, that's a rough calculation since the drivers might be buying more gasoline with a few gallons still in the tank.

Since the Volt has a 9.3 gallon gas tank and drivers are probably refilling with over a gallon still left in the tank this suggests Volt drivers are probably going about 120 miles per gallon of gasoline.

Ideal early adopters for the Chevy Volt drive about 35 miles to work, can recharge at work, and then drive home into a garage with a power plug for overnight driving. People who fit that pattern are the ones who can save the most from a Volt.

So can the Volt become cheap enough to hit a price point for mass adoption? Its battery has been Experts think battery costs are going to dive. Of course, you are left wondering when.

"The question is: Can these guys make a battery that is five times cheaper? I think yes. I think we can do it," Eric Isaacs, the director of the Argonne National Laboratory, said in an interview. Argonne, outside Chicago, is the Department of Energy's lead lab for advanced battery research and development.

Even if we ignore battery costs in areas with high residential electricity prices (e.g. much of SoCal) the Volt only saves money when gasoline prices are high (like right now).

By Randall Parker    2011 April 09 02:18 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (29)
2011 March 04 Friday
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.

By Randall Parker    2011 March 04 09:15 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2011 February 10 Thursday
Ford Expects Less Maintenance For Electric Focus

You won't have to replace many parts in a pure electric car because they won't be there: (note to the wits in the comment: the battery mentioned in this list is a lead acid battery that has a much shorter life than the lithium ion batteries in an EV)

Here are the top 25 items that usually require inspection, maintenance or replacement during the 10-year, 150,000-mile life of a conventional car that the driver of a Ford Focus Electric will never have to worry about:

Air filter
Fuel filter
Fuel injectors/fuel pump
Motor mounts
Motor oil
Oil filter
O2 sensors
Power steering fluid
Radiator hose, lower
Radiator hose, upper
Serpentine belt
Spark plugs
Spark plug wires
Timing belt
Transmission adjustment (automatics)
Transmission filter (automatics)
Transmission fluid or oil
Water pump

Things you do not use can not cause you to break down. How much have you spent on items like the above in the last 10 years? With an electric car you'll save time and experience fewer disruptions from your daily routine due to breakdowns. If and when battery costs fall electric cars will become attractive to people who want fewer life maintenance tasks (that would be me).

You will still need to worry about tires and windshield washer fluid.

  • Ford Focus Electric’s fewer moving mechanical parts nearly eliminates scheduled maintenance, saving drivers time and money
  • No oil changes means Focus Electric drivers will save at least $450 and 7.5 hours over the life of the car
  • Checking the tire pressure and filling the windshield washer fluid is about all most Focus Electric drivers will need to do

Brakes will not wear out as fast because (I am guessing) much of the deceleration will get captured in regenerative breaking. The wheels will turn generators to recharge batteries when you roll up to a stop sign.

You will spend time plugging in a car and unplugging it. But if you set up your garage to extend a power cable from the ceiling that'll be pretty quick to do.

So when will electric cars become affordable for most car buyers? The cost of electric car batteries might drop by almost two thirds in the next 4 years. Emphasis on might. Time will tell.

According to the Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Office, making lithium-ion batteries today at scale -- in batches of several hundred thousand -- costs about $800 per kWh. Patrick Davis, the office's program manager, and Dave Howell, its team lead for hybrid-electric technology, think the batteries can near $300 by 2015.

To put that in perspective, the Nissan Leaf is expected to use 34 kWh per 100 miles. So then how can the Leaf sell for about $33,000 if the batteries cost about $20k? Nissan selling at a loss? On the bright side, the batteries for a car like the Leaf might cost only $7500 by 2015. But how far down battery costs have to drop before electric cars make sense for you depends heavily on where you live:

Because of the variety of utility rates in the U.S., a 2011 Nissan Leaf that's a bargain to drive in Washington — $28.29 for 1,000 miles — is pricey in Hawaii, where those 1,000 miles would cost $97.21. A conventional car getting 36 mpg would make that trip for the same money. For consumers primarily interested in driving an EV to save money, it's critical to know actual electric rates (and the current cost of gasoline, for comparison purposes) instead of relying on national averages.

It will be interesting to see how Ford prices the electric Focus, what its range will be, and what size battery it will have.

By Randall Parker    2011 February 10 10:48 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (36)
2011 January 20 Thursday
Toyota And Aisin Avoiding Rare Earth Elements

Faced with China's increasing restrictions on rare earth elements exports (which aren't really that rare, but I digress), both Toyota and its supplier Aisin are developing electric induction motors that do not use rare earths.

Aisin’s research, being conducted jointly with its research unit IMRA Europe in Brighton, England, is separate from Toyota’s own in-house development of an induction motor that doesn’t need rare-earth minerals, Toyama said.

General Motors is also working on induction motors and Continental AG says it has a motor going into a European electric car this year that contains no REEs.

Continental AG of Germany, one of the world's largest auto parts makers, said it already has developed a rare-earth-free motor that will be used in an undisclosed electric car due out in Europe this year. This motor uses a variation of an electric motor often found in power plants.

In the comments of previous posts we debated the rare earth elements (REEs) shortages and their impacts on electric cars. My guess is that the car companies will engineer around the REEs.

By Randall Parker    2011 January 20 10:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (36)
2011 January 11 Tuesday
Car Companies Announce Electric Vehicle Plans

The recent Detroit Auto Show and Consumer Electronics Show provided the settings for a number of auto company announcements about future electric car plans. First off, General Motors announced it plans to offer pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) for every GM brand. Note that GM calls these extended range electric vehicles. So if you see GM talking about extended range EVs they are really talking about hybrids that can run purely off of electricity, switch to gasoline when the battery gets low, and get recharged when you get home. GM is also going to bring out pure EVs.

Ford announced hybrid and PHEV versions of both the Focus and the C-Max (from Europe) models as well as a pure EV Focus by the end of 2011. Ford's home electric recharging station will cost $1499 from BestBuy and will operate at 240V for a 3-4 hour recharge time.

Chinese car company BYD, noted for having Warren Buffett as an investor, will start selling its e6 electric car in the United States in 1Q 2012. Quality? Complete unknown.

Toyota expects its alliance with Tesla to produce a battery at one third the cost of those used by its major competitors. Speaking of Tesla, the Tesla Model S electric sports sedan will start shipping 1Q 2012 as well. That's a beautiful-looking car. Check out the pictures at that link. Meanwhile, Toyota is coming out with more Prius variants including a PHEV version by mid-2012.

Most consumers are not willing to pay big for EVs. So why all these announcements for pricey EVs? One of the biggest drivers of the big wave of EVs: the need to achieve government mandated fuel economy goals.

Building an all-electric car provides extraordinary fuel economy credits for automakers looking to comply with nationally mandated fuel efficiency standards, as well as boosting a progressive, green-minded company image. Skeptics suggest the electric Focus is more about satisfying those requirements than making money.

"There wouldn't be any automaker making electric cars if not for fuel economy regulations," said Aaron Bragman senior analyst for IHS Global Insight. "They're not a moneymaker."

The question in my mind: Will the rising US fuel efficiency requirements drive so much volume of hybrid, PHEV, and EV sales that these sales will provide sufficient incentives for the development of far cheaper EVs? Will we end up with highly competitive EVs in 5 to 10 years time so that the demand for gasoline will plummet?

By Randall Parker    2011 January 11 09:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (25)
2010 December 18 Saturday
First Nissan Leaf Owner Reports On Battery Range

Olivier Chalouhi can only get the claimed 100 mile range at lower speeds.

After picking up his car on Dec. 11 and taking it to a press conference at San Francisco City Hall, Chalouhi said he brought the Leaf home and plugged it in -- the battery was running low. He said the car's mileage varies wildly. Chalouhi said he can get 100 miles per charge in slow city driving, but only 50 or 60 miles at 75 mph on the freeway.

Still, even if you commute 25 miles each way at high speeds the car would still work for you if you could charge it every night. If you are commuting more than that you have my sympathy.

Ford's electric Focus, coming in late 2011, is supposed to have a 100 mile range too. The Leaf has a simpler battery pack than the Focus. The active cooling and heating of the Ford Focus battery will reduce range degradation in more extreme temperatures and therefore the Focus should achieve closer to its range more of the time. Yes, if you want to be among the electric car cognoscenti and drive a better one you will have to bone up on battery chemistries and active cooling and heating systems.

By Randall Parker    2010 December 18 07:03 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (82)
2010 December 08 Wednesday
Electric Delivery Trucks Seen As Cost Effective

Check out this piece in the Wall Street Journal:

The trucks, which have a top speed of about 50 mph and can carry 16,000 pounds, cost about $30,000 more than a diesel, but Staples expects to recover that expense in 3.3 years because of the savings inherent in the electric models, Mr. Payette said.

Staples said the annual maintenance cost of a diesel delivery truck is about $2,700 in most years, including oil, transmission fluid, filters and belts. For an electric truck—which has no transmission and needs no fluids, filters or belts—the cost is about $250.

A 3.3 year payback is pretty impressive. A delivery truck for stationary stores such as Staples might be one of the best cost fits for electric vehicles (EVs). Plenty of miles driving but with lots of short trips. So the truck can be plugged into a high current plug between trips.

The ideal use cases for EVs involve large numbers of miles per year but short trips so that the battery does not go dead. The higher the mileage per year the more the miles the additional capital costs can be spread over.

What is not clear from the article: Absent government subsidies would these electric trucks still make economic sense? How big are the subsidies per truck? Anyone know?

By Randall Parker    2010 December 08 11:36 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (29)
2010 December 06 Monday
Steven Chu: 5 Years To Competitive Electric Cars

US Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu says electric cars are going to become competitive with internal combustion engines real soon now.

"It's not like it's 10 years off," Chu said at a press conference on U.S. clean energy efforts on the sidelines of the climate talks. "It's about five years and it could be sooner. Meanwhile the batteries we do have today are soon going to get better by a factor of two."

That's a pretty optimistic statement. Is it realistic? Note that electric cars will not become competitive for all drivers at the same time. There's a sweet spot in terms of daily miles driven, access to a garage for parking and charging, and other considerations that influence when electric cars become competitive for different buyers. A person who drives a 60 mile daily round trip commute with a home garage with a fairly new high amperage electric power installation is going to find pure EVs competitive much sooner. A person who lives in a city apartment building and parks on the street to take a 5 mile trip to work but few hundred mile weekend trips will find EVs competitive several years after the ideal EV users do.

The South Korean government wants South Korean auto makers to have electric cars make up 20% of the vehicles they produce by 2015. Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn predicts 10% of cars will be electric by 2020. Note that he has pushed the development of the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. But the Leaf is suffering from production delays and its release this year will be in such small quantities (only 5 cars in all the US) that does not suggest EVs are about to take off. Other industry participants put the 2020 EV production figure at between 2% and 5% of all cars produced.

Even if Ghosn is right about EV production in 2020 since cars last for many years the electric cars built in 2020 will be a much smaller percentage of all vehicles on the road in 2020. Therefore if Peak Oil is as near as I think we aren't going to be prepared for it.

By Randall Parker    2010 December 06 11:18 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2010 August 08 Sunday
Electric Car Battery Price Declines Expected

Electric Vehicle (EV) viability depends on a big decline in battery prices. An approximate halving of prices in 5 years?

Prices could drop to between $350 and $400 a kilowatt-hour in five years, according to a projection from Ron Iacobelli, chief technology officer at Azure Dynamics, a supplier of drive technology for commercial electric and hybrid vehicles.

Anyone reading this in a position to judge the likelihood of such a price drop? Will the price of EV batteries fall in half in 5 years?

The price point to allow EVs to compete against conventional gasoline-powered cars is reported by the article as somewhere around $300 per kilowatt-hour. To put that in perspective, that's enough battery capacity to push a compact car about 4 miles. So at that price point we are still talking about $12k to get 120 miles of range. My guess is that electric cars will mostly have lower ranges and be used mainly for commuting. EVs won't be road tripping cars.

Of course if Charlie Maxwell is right about $300 per barrel oil by 2020 then EVs will become competitive much sooner.

The future path for the price of oil depends on two main factors: A) How fast will oil production decline? B) How fast will substitutes fall in price? These are hard questions to answer.

Does anyone a good rule of thumb for converting oil prices to gasoline prices at the pump? An oil barrel has 42 gallons. But not all the contents of the oil are useful for making gasoline. Also, the refining process has labor, capital, and energy inputs, plus transportation and marketing costs, not all of which vary proportionately with the price of oil. So how does the retail cost of liquid transportation fuels go up with the price of oil?

I am struck by the $33k price for Nissan Leaf EV and the $41k price for the Chevy Volt PHEV (pluggable hybrid electric vehicle). I do not expect the Leaf with a 100 mile range battery to cost so much less than the Volt with a 40 mile range battery. Batteries cost too much for that to be the case. So is Nissan subsidizing the Leaf more more than GM is subsidizing the Volt? What's the real total parts cost of the Leaf versus the Volt? Has anyone seen a good detailed comparison of their parts costs?

By Randall Parker    2010 August 08 08:11 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2010 July 27 Tuesday
Chevy Volt For $41k

Want to spend (before tax credit) about $16k more than a Toyota Prius to get a pluggable hybrid that can go about 40 miles on electric power? Early adopters with moderately deep pockets please get in line.

General Motors began taking orders for the long-awaited Chevrolet Volt on Tuesday, pricing the plug-in hybrid car at $41,000.

A US federal tax credit of $7500 lowers a buyer's cost to $33.5k. A Volt fits well with a future full of parking lots covered with photovoltaic solar canopies. My expectation is that such solar canopies will become commonplace in 20 years along with electric cars.

So why buy a Volt? If you normally spend $50k or more on SUVs but want unusual bragging rights it is a cheap way to get them. Unlike the Nissan Leaf EV you can take the Volt on long trips. But if you only drive locally you can avoid a trip to a gas station.

Another reason to buy a Volt: world oil production has yet to surpass 2005 levels on a yearly basis. Peak Oil might already be in the rear view mirror. You can see the Volt as an insurance policy against Peak Oil. If oil production goes into decline then what looks now like an excess of federally subsidized electric battery factories could turn into a shortage.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 27 10:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (52)
2010 July 13 Tuesday
Home Electric Upgrades For Electric Cars Part II

Nissan finds bureaucratic obstacles for home electric power upgrades pose problems for the roll-out of their all electric Leaf car.

But if you want to use the full range of your electric car, it could take over a day to recharge using a standard 110-volt power outlet.

The point was driven home Monday in an article in The Wall Street Journal, which described Nissan's efforts to break through bureaucracy to make it easier for homeowners to get special electric vehicle charging stations installed. Nissan, which is coming out with an electric vehicle this year called the Leaf, is concerned that customers will be put off from buying the car by the 20 hours required to recharge it from a standard outlet to get its full 100-mile range. Currently, it can take weeks for cities to issue the necessary permits for a fast charger that can cut recharging time to eight hours, the article said, and the price for the special charger, including installation, will range from about $1,200 (with a tax credit) to several thousand dollars if a electric panel upgrade is needed.

I've also covered this previously in my post Home Electric Upgrades For Electric Cars.

Who is the ideal Nissan Leaf electric car driver? Imagine you have the lifestyle characteristics for maximum ROI from driving an electric car. What does that the commuting pattern of that lifestyle look like?

  • Long distance commuter. Ideally 90 miles in each direction. Run down that battery twice a day for faster return on investment. We can pity the person who has to do this much daily commuting.
  • Own a house that you expect to live in for many years in order to recoup the cost of the electric wiring upgrade to 220V high amp power.
  • Got a garage where the car will park every night with electric power cord coming down from the ceiling.
  • Got a very stable job where they are willing to supply your car with 220V high amp plug-in (again, parking in a covered garage) to recharge while you work.

Then if you go to work 250 days a year (quite the work-aholic) you travel about 45000 miles per year purely on electric power.

Okay, what's your best pure gasoline alternative? The Toyota Prius at about 50 mpg. Choosing a Leaf over a Prius would mean 900 gallons of gasoline avoided per year. Let us imagine that gasoline prices go back up and you pay an average of $4 per gallon for 5 years driving either the pure electric Nissan Leaf or hybrid Toyota Prius car. The Leaf lets you avoid 3600 gallons of gasoline for $14400 saved. But you have to subtract off maybe 250 watt-hours of cost per mile for the Leaf recharging. Say 2.6 cents per mile (it'll vary depending on where you live) or a total of $4680 for 5 years or 225000 miles of electric power. That yields a total savings of $9720. Given that the electric car's added cost is higher than that (I'm ignoring the cost reduction due to tax credits since somebody pays for the higher cost) you can see that electric cars take 5+ years to pay off for the really rare very high mileage drivers.

Of course I chose the ideal electric car driver to sketch out an ideal amount of money saved. In reality the average commuter is traveling less than half that distance per day and takes off more than 2 weeks for vacations, holidays, and sick time. So payback time is much longer, easily over 10 years. Plus, more money paid up front for a car is an opportunity cost since the money shelled out can't be invested elsewhere for a healthy ROI.

Most people do not match the ideal electric car driver profile in other ways as well. Renters aren't going to upgrade their apartment's or house's electric power. Until electric cars become extremely common not many landlords will invest in the upgrades either. People who see their house as a temporary abode for a few years until they move up or get transferred in their job similarly won't put in the 220V electric power. Ditto for people who are underwater in their mortgages (about a quarter of US mortgage holders last I checked). A suitable place to plug in at work with 220V and high amps is going to be even more rare than home 220V.

Another point: dynamic electric power pricing (which is going to become more widespread) will increase the cost of daytime recharging while lowering the price of night time recharging. So if your commute is so long that you need to recharge while at work your electric power cost per mile will be higher than if you only recharge while at home. So the ideal scenario of 2 recharges per day is really not as attractive as I sketched out above. The spread of wind power (which blows stronger at night) will widen the price gap between wholesale electric power prices from peak to bottom.

Also, if you will want to recharge your car when electric power is cheapest you'll need higher amp 220V power so that you can delay the start of recharging until after about 9 or 10 PM in order to get cheap late night electric power rates. But you'll have to weigh the difference in electric power costs versus the cost of electric wiring upgrades.

If you could jump into a time machine and come out 40 years from now you'd see a society where the shift to electric power for transportation has already happened and the cost problems outlined above are a faded memory. Battery cost drops, cheap solar photovoltaics, new houses built with 220V power, and other adjustments will enable much wider spread use of electric power for transportation. Peak Oil will help to accelerate the transition, meaning that many of the adjustments will happen under very trying circumstances.

One upbeat way to look at the costs of an electric car: Price insurance. If oil is going to back up near $150 per barrel and beyond (and I think it will) then an electric car would put a ceiling on your transportation costs that would let you adjust more easily to Peak Oil.

Update: Note that in my analysis above the high mileage driver can get a return on the EV investment. But the number of miles needed to get that return (ignoring tax credits) is so high I wonder whether the batteries will wear out before returning their costs. The Chevy Volt battery warranty will be 100,000 miles or 8 years.

But note that if you play the rational actor responding to the incentives created by tax policy then an EV pays back very quickly. Given the tax credit a Nissan Leaf will cost at most $1k more than a Prius (unless Toyota starts discounting). You get into the black pretty quickly on your investment. The Leaf and the Chevy Volt are both worth a serious look.

I expect the economics of PHEVs and EVs will become more favorable due to a combination of declining battery costs and rising oil costs. But electric cars have to fall by over $7k just to compensate for the eventual phase-out of EV and PHEV tax credits.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 13 10:12 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2010 June 06 Sunday
China To Subsidize Electric Cars

Government incentives for electric cars in China will be slightly larger than similar $7500 per electric car subsidies in the United States.

According to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, consumers in those urban areas will be able to get up to around $8,785 off the price of a battery car and about $7,320 off plug-in hybrids. The money will be paid directly to carmakers, which will reduce the vehicle price accordingly, the government said.

Since China's car market is now bigger than the US car market (yes, more cars are sold per year in China than in the United States) this incentive represents a large increase of incentives for development of better electric car batteries.

One of the biggest questions in my mind about Peak Oil is whether we will get the needed technologies in time to adjust to declining global oil production without an economic depression. I'm still undecided on the matter. One key question is on electric car battery costs. The optimistic camp holds that lithium batteries will drop rapidly in price. Well, maybe.

Subsidies for pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs, e.g. the Chevy Volt) and pure electric vehicles (EVs, e.g. Nissan Leaf) create incentives for companies to develop new battery technologies sooner than would be the case if the market only reacts to oil prices alone. But how rapidly can these now many competing battery companies find new ways to cut costs? Any readers understand what the main strategies are for cutting lithium battery costs and what are the major cost factors for lithium batteries? The cost of the lithium so far does not appear to be a large portion of the cost. So why are the batteries so expensive?

By Randall Parker    2010 June 06 08:40 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2010 May 27 Thursday
Better Place Swappable Batteries Make Sense?

Michael Kanellos takes a look at the obstacles to the Project Better Place proposal to use swappable leased batteries in electric cars.

This is America, after all. We hate renting. Graduating from renting an apartment to buying a home has become enshrined as hallmark of adulthood. And if there's one thing we hate more than renting, it's sharing stuff with strangers. Who had this battery before me? Is that smoke coming from the hood? The first time someone gets in a bad accident or the car conks, watch them blame it on some stranger's battery.

He lists 5 obstacles, including resistance of car companies to standardize on a single battery factor. I see this as a very big obstacle for a number of reasons. The sizes and shapes of cars differ so much. The car companies developing pluggable hybrids and pure electric cars are using different battery suppliers who are using different lithium chemistries and fabrication techniques. The car companies are also competing on how they package the battery cells. They are looking for competitive advantages in their battery choices.

One of the big differences we can see now between electric vehicle (EV) and pluggable hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) makers is how much they allow their batteries to be discharged. GM, trying to assure very long battery life and satisfied customers, is basically using only half the capacity of the batteries they are putting in the Chevy Volt. By contrast, Tesla, Nissan, and some of the other EV makers are going for various deeper discharge cycles. You can find a wide spectrum of trade-offs on battery life being made by different PHEV and EV makers. They do not want to give up their individual trade-off decisions to unite around a single trade-off choice that won't be optimized for all market segments.

Another problem with the leased approach that he doesn't mention is ease of removal and insertion. A car has to be designed for ease swapping. Yet engineering is all about trade-offs. An easily swappable design rules out many storage locations for the batteries and even adds weight to make the packages easy to swap.

It is noteworthy that the two governments that have embraced this approach so far, Israel and Denmark, both have geographically small and fairly densely populated countries that do not have a lot of car traffic flowing in and out of them. Maybe leased swappable batteries would have a better chance in Hawaii than in mainland US states.

For pluggable hybrids (e.g. the Chevy Volt due out late 2010) battery swapping doesn't make sense. Since pluggables really fit well with America's lower population density I see a smaller role for pure electrics here than in smaller denser populated countries.

A substantial portion of the people in the US whose car usage patterns map well to a pure electric car probably will always recharge at home or at destinations (e.g. drive to visit family or friends and recharge at their house or recharge at the office while at work). The ubiquitous availability of electricity is a fundamental difference compared to gasoline and diesel fuel. No special stations with special refueling tansk needed. If, due to declining oil supplies, we some day drive most of our miles under electric power then the number of gasoline and electric fueling stations will be far fewer than the number of gas stations that exist today.

Finally, if I was going to drive an electric car I'd want to own the battery. I'm not arguing that's the best use of my money. I just like fewer bills and to be in fewer contracts in my personal life. Keep It Simple Stupid.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 27 09:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2010 May 13 Thursday
Pluggable Prius Conversion

Dexter Ford drives a converted plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius.

Driving on the batteries alone requires a modicum of practice. I managed to run the rolling Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu in the all-electric setting for about 35 miles, after burning a significant part of the auxiliary battery’s charge in blended mode on the way north from Los Angeles. The speed limitation of 52 m.p.h on battery power gave me just enough margin to stay with traffic.

The full 10-kilowatt-hour system in the car I tested costs $11,995 with the battery pack, or $6,995 without batteries. A 4-kilowatt-hour system is $6,995 with batteries, $3,200 without. Estimates for installation from several of the 20 dealer-installers around the country started at $1,000. The systems carry a three-year warranty, which does not cover the batteries (those are warranted by the battery maker).

You might get as much as 50 miles out of the bigger battery. About 750,000 Priuses are conceivable conversion candidates. 10 kwh for 50 miles works out to 200 watt-hours per mile. Plausible though a pretty low number. The Chevy Volt's 16 kwh has a usable 8.8 kwh (to lengthen battery life) which is good for 40 miles or 220 watt-hours per mile.

$5k for the 10 kwh battery works out to $500 per kwh. Anyone know if this conversion kit allows full discharge of the battery? Sounds like it. If so, that could lessen the battery life.

If the price of oil goes thru the roof a Prius is already pretty fuel efficient. So the amount of fuel burning you avoid from this upgrade is at most 1 gallon per recharge cycle. Even if gasoline got so expensive that you'd save $5 per recharge cycle (say $6.25 per gallon minus $1.25 for electricity to recharge) you'd save only $1000 per year if you did 200 full recharge cycles per year (about 10,000 miles). Hard to pay back the $11,995 in any amount of time worth thinking about.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 13 12:15 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2010 April 04 Sunday
Electric Power Costs For Electric Cars

An article on the Technology News World site puts expected electric power demand of electric cars in perspective.

Owners are likely to pay a premium to purchase electric cars, and they will immediately become one of the top electricity consumers in their homes -- in some cases, more than the summertime power draw of the air conditioner and water heater combined, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, a utility-funded organization.

The upcoming Chevy Volt, for instance, is expected to increase the energy draw of the average U.S. home by 13 percent. The Nissan Leaf comes in at 19 percent, according to EPRI, which didn't provide figures for the Focus.

That would come to an annual cost of between US$190 and $278 to consumers. That compares to $151 to run a refrigerator for the year or $228 to run the air conditioner, according to EPRI figures.

Owners are likely to pay a premium to purchase electric cars, and they will immediately become one of the top electricity consumers in their homes -- in some cases, more than the summertime power draw of the air conditioner and water heater combined, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, a utility-funded organization.

The upcoming Chevy Volt, for instance, is expected to increase the energy draw of the average U.S. home by 13 percent. The Nissan Leaf comes in at 19 percent, according to EPRI, which didn't provide figures for the Focus.

That would come to an annual cost of between US$190 and $278 to consumers. That compares to $151 to run a refrigerator for the year or $228 to run the air conditioner, according to EPRI figures.

An electric cars is comparable to an air conditioner for annual costs? I wouldn't have expected that. A boost in home electric power demand by 13% to 19% seems manageable.

Are the numbers above realistic? Lets check. Suppose an EV uses 250 watt-hours per mile (equivalent to 25 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles for the Chevy Volt). Also suppose the electricity costs 11.55 cents per kilowatt-hour (US retail residential average cost for 2009). That's a cost of about $28.88 per 1000 miles. If you drive 12,000 miles per year on electric power then your yearly cost would be $346.50. That's certainly in the ballpark. Affordable too. All we need are cheaper batteries and the suburban lifestyle can survive Peak Oil (much to the chagrin of those who hate suburbs and want us all to crowd into city apartment high rises - ugh).

I see EVs as especially practical for couples who have 2 or 3 cars. One of them can use an EV for commuting and still have a longer range, larger, and more flexible gasoline-powered pick-up or SUV for longer trips or when hauling stuff from a hardware store. Or one can get a pluggable hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) like the Chevy Volt. Then shorter distance trips will use electric power and longer distance trips will use gasoline.

If you happen to live in a high electric price area like Connecticut (20.36 cents per kwh) then your costs will be over $600 per year to power your electric car. Not such a good deal.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 04 02:13 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2010 April 01 Thursday
Cost Of Nissan Leaf Battery

Michael Kanellos of GreenTechMedia.com reports on the price of batteries in the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle.

Right now, lithium ion batteries for cars cost around $900 per kilowatt hour. The Leaf has a 24 kilowatt hour battery. Under that math, a Leaf battery--if it were more like a regular electric car battery--should cost around $21,000. A battery is a third of the price of an electric car. Thus, the Leaf, if it had an ordinary battery, should cost closer to $60,000.

However, if Nissan has dropped the price to $500 a kilowatt hour, and rumors say the company is already close to that, the battery pack only costs about $12,000.

Regular readers will recall that in January Boston Consulting Group estimated current battery costs at $1100 to $1200 per kwh. BCG didn't sound optimistic about getting the costs down to $250 per kwh by 2020. But Nissan and NEC, with a lithium manganese chemistry, might be making fastes progress in cutting costs.

The Nissan Leaf has a US price before tax credits of $32,780. Will Nissan initially take a loss on the Leaf? Do Nissan and NEC have a battery cost advantage over GM, Ford, and other car makers who are bringing out PHEV and EV cars in 2010, 2011, and 2012?

Our ability to cut our reliance on oil depends very heavily on the development of technologies for powering cars that do not rely on oil. So far biomass energy approaches aren't viable substitutes. Corn ethanol has too low an Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI), it doesn't scale due to lack of farm land, and serves mainly to enrich corn farmers. Hydrogen has far too many serious problems. Advances in battery technology look to have the best prospects for cutting dependence on oil.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 01 10:15 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 March 30 Tuesday
Nissan Leaf EV Gets Price In US And Japan

Want to free yourself from dependency on gasoline for getting around? Look at the costs below. If you intend to buy an electric car in the next 2 years please post in the comments. The 100 mile range pure electric Nissan Leaf gets a price in Japan and in the United States.

Nissan Motor Co. said its new electric car, the LEAF, will be sold for 3.76 million yen ($40,000) in Japan, less expensive than other zero-emission vehicles but still out of reach for many drivers who may also balk at its limited range.

A tax credit in Japan will lower its cost to $31,808.00.

In the US the Leaf price tag will be only $32,780 and a US federal tax credit cuts its price to $25k.

The 2011 Nissan Leaf battery electric car, which will go on sale in the United States in December, will have a manufacturers suggested retail price of $32,780, a Nissan spokesman, Mark Perry, said Tuesday morning. Nissan prefers to describe the price as $25,280 inclusive of a $7,500 federal income tax credit.

California offers an additional tax credit that lowers the cost to only $20k.

In some states there are also state incentives for the purchase of an electric car. In California, for example, there is a $5,000 credit which would reduce the cost to just over $20,000, Perry said.

A home charging station adds another $2200 cost with half that paid by a tax credit. Nissan has hired a company to check the home of each potential buyer to see if the home electric system is up to powering the recharging unit.

The Leaf is worth a serious look for anyone with a daily round-trip commute of 30-50 miles each way. Fewer miles driven makes for a much longer payback period due to gasoline costs avoided. But you need a suitable place to park the car for recharging and a home electrical system that can be affordably upgraded to handle electric car charging.

The ideal buyer drives over a hour to work at a place where the car can be recharged while at work. That way the amount of gasoline saved per day is greatest and the savings accumulate most rapidly.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 30 11:55 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
2010 March 16 Tuesday
Home Electric Upgrades For Electric Cars

Thinking about building a new home? Consider a home electrical installation that supports high amp 220 Volt electric vehicle (EV) charging. Upgrading later is more expensive. Depending on the age of a house and quality of existing wiring system electrical upgrades to support fast EV recharging can run into the thousands of dollars.

But as is often the case, the answer to the question, “How much will they cost?” is more complex. Because of the challenges in homes with what can be very outmoded electric service, a Nissan spokesman, Mark Perry, said that the cost of adding home charging is one-third hardware (the box itself) and two-thirds installation and labor costs. Mr. Perry said that homes built in the 1990s or later usually have 200- or even 400-amp service that is fine for E.V. charging, but earlier homes could face costly upgrade bills.

Jonathan Read, president and chief executive of ECOtality (working with Nissan to create charging stations for 4,700 Leaf battery cars), put the cost of home unit hardware at around $300 to $350, with installation ranging from $500 to $1,500.

For older homes the costs can be higher still. Got designs on the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf? Click thru and read the details.

This story highlights just one facet of the costs for transitioning a society away from heavy dependency on oil. Many people will want to recharge their car while at work due to longer commutes that use up most of a battery's capacity in just one direction from home to work. So affordable pluggable hybrid electric vehicles PHEVs and plain EVs will generate workplace demand for parking lot electric chargers too.

Home owners with garages will have a big advantage over apartment dwellers who park on city streets when it comes to car recharging.

Families with teens will need 4 car recharging capacity. Imagine the future real estate ads.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 16 10:25 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (26)
2010 March 15 Monday
Smart Charging Stations For Electric Cars

Smart charging stations are coming to market for for recharging electric cars (e.g. Nissan Leaf) and pluggable hybrid electric cars (e.g. Chevy Volt).

This spring, GE will start selling a line of "smart charging stations," devices that communicate with utilities to optimize charging, for electric vehicles. The technology could be key to ensuring that electric cars don't strain the power grid, and it could cut down on consumer electricity bills. Eventually, because the charging stations could help stabilize the grid, they could allow utilities to rely more on intermittent renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power.

Electric cars recharged with smart charging station will especially make wind more viable since wind is less predictable than sun. For many people once they come home for the evening they might have 12 hours before they start driving again. A smart charging station can communicate with the local electric power utility's load balancing computer and its recharging of a car plugged into it could be started up whenever the wind blows harder. A sudden slow wind period could be compensated for by temporarily halting the recharging of hundreds of thousands or millions of electric cars.

Since most electric car charging will happen at night during the lowest demand period electric cars will also increase demand for the lowest cost baseload electric power generators. If 4th gen nuclear power turns out to be cheap then more nuclear baseload capacity could be built because more demand could be shifted to the off-peak hours by controlling when electric cars get recharged.

What's needed for smart charging to take off: Cheaper electric cars and electric utility regulation that enables a dynamic pricing environment to incentivize interruptible off-peak electric power use.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 15 10:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2010 March 13 Saturday
Ford Transit Connect Electric Battery Longevity

Looking thru a press release from Ford about the electric version of their Transit Connect delivery vehicle (going into production late 2010) a couple of interesting things stand out: 80 mile range and aimed at commercial fleets where each vehicle always returns to a central place to make recharge easy.

Transit Connect Electric is well-suited for commercial fleets that travel predictable, short-range routes with frequent stop-and-go driving in urban and suburban environments and a central location for daily recharging. The vehicle, which will accelerate at a similar rate as the gas-powered Transit Connect and will have a top speed of 75 mph, has a targeted range of up to 80 miles on a full charge.

Owners will have the option of recharging the Transit Connect Electric with either a standard 120V outlet or preferably a 240V charge station installed at the user’s base of operations for optimal recharging in six to eight hours. A transportable cord that works with both types of outlets will be available for recharging at both kinds of locations.

The vehicle’s charge port is located above the passenger-side rear wheel well. The onboard liquid-cooled 28-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is charged by connecting the charge port to a power outlet. Inside the vehicle, an onboard charger converts the AC power from the electric grid to DC power to charge the battery pack.

What's most interesting: the battery is expected to last as long as the vehicle. How long is that expected to be in terms of miles driven?

In the Transit Connect Electric, the battery pack has been efficiently integrated without compromising interior passenger room and cargo space. The battery pack is expected to last the life of the vehicle.

Does this battery pack have a longer expected life than, say, the Chevy Volt's battery pack or the Nissan Leaf's battery pack? If so, is that due to a longer lasting battery technology?

The Transit Connect Electric will use a lithium polymer battery from Kokam that in April 2009 could do 1500 discharges to 100% discharge.< At 80 miles per full charge that would be only 120,000 miles (assuming it retains the 80 range for all those discharges). Does the battery last longer if not fully discharged?/p>

The 28 kwh was also costing $750 per kwh in April 2009 or $21,000 just for the batteries. So what's this van going to sell for? Ford still hasn't announced pricing.

Future battery manufacturing costs will determine how high gasoline prices will go before a massive shift away from oil to electric power for cars.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 13 09:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 February 12 Friday
Nissan Leaf Coming December 2010

Chuck Squatriglia in Wired reports on how to get a Nissan Leaf all-electric car and the likely cost. Nissan has given up on separately leasing the battery.

Nissan won’t say what the car costs until April, but it is shooting for a price in the $26,000 to $33,000 ballpark. The latest word is the car could be in the mid-20s after the $7,500 federal EV tax credit. That would seriously undercut the Volt, which General Motors is widely believed to be trying to keep under $40,000 before the tax credit, and make it competitive with the Toyota Prius hybrid.

Suppose it costs $33k before tax break. Will Nissan sell at a profit or a loss? To put it another way: What's Nissan's initial cost of production and, most important question of all, what are the prospects for lowered manufacturing costs for electric cars in a few years time?

Since I believe we are close to world Peak Oil I see a lot riding on the cost of electric cars in the next 10 years. Governments can not afford to subsidize large volumes of electric (e.g. Nissan Leaf) or pluggable hybrid electric (e.g. Chevy Volt) vehicles. 1 million vehicles at $7,500 each would cost $7.5 billion to subsidize. Industrialized countries have too much sovereign debt and can not sustain big incentives.

Nissan says Leaf production begins in Japan in October 2010 whereas GM says Chevy Volt production starts November 1 2010. Given the time required to ship Leafs from Japan the initial Volts might hit dealers first. But the Volt's price tag is likely to be close to $40k before the $7,500 tax credit in the US.

Given a choice between a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt which is more appealing? The pure electric Leaf with about 100 miles range or the Volt with perhaps 40 miles range on electric power and a few hundred miles on gasoline power? Could you satisfy all your driving needs short of vacation trips with the Leaf?

Given the house or apartment you live in is it practical for you to recharge a car at home? How big a premium would you pay to get either a pure electric or pluggable hybrid?

By Randall Parker    2010 February 12 07:30 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2010 January 07 Thursday
Battery Costs For Electric Cars Versus Prius

A much debated topic in the comments section of FuturePundit posts on energy is the current price and future prices for pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and pure electric vehicles (EVs). A Bloomberg article about the future of Nissan and Renault sheds some light on the economics of EV batteries. The forthcoming Nissan Leaf pure EV compact car will go 100 miles per charge.

Ghosn’s first electric car, the Leaf, can travel only 100 miles (160 kilometers) without recharging -- putting him in competition with hybrid vehicles that have no such limits.

The car will be sold without a battery which will be leased. But what's the cost of the battery? Would you believe over $15k?

For Rod Lache, a Deutsche Bank AG analyst in New York, the cost of electric vehicles’ battery packs is a major constraint. A pack as big as the Leaf’s costs $15,600, Lache says. That compares with about $30 for a gas tank in conventional cars that travel four times farther.

How much fuel does that battery pack need to save you in order to make it worth your while? The answer depends heavily on the future prices of oil and gasoline.

The future of the electric car depends heavily on how fast battery prices fall.

Lache predicts that high-volume manufacturing will cut battery costs -- now $650 per kilowatt-hour -- in half by 2020. Ghosn says costs will fall faster.

Imagine you bought the battery with a loan over a period of 10 years. I am assuming 10 years as a useful life just for the sake of argument. I used an online mortgage calculator, put in a loan for $15,600, 7.5% interest rate (interest rates are higher on cars than on mortgages), and 10 years. The monthly payment is $185. If you aren't spending more than that per month on gasoline for a compact car then the battery isn't going to save you money. You are welcome to use other assumptions, plug them into a mortgage calculator, and post the results in the comments.

Note that the Leaf will be a compact. You can instead get a moderately larger (or the same size?) Toyota Prius for less than or equal to the expected $25,000 to $30,000 price for the Leaf. The Prius is probably good for 50 mpg. If you drive, say, 1000 miles per month that is 20 gallons per month. Suppose world oil production starts declining and gasoline shoots up to shocking price of $10 per gallon. That Prius will cost you only $200 per month in gasoline, will have a longer range than the Leaf, and more room. Plus, the Leaf's electric recharge for 1000 miles will probably run you at least 250 kwh which will likely cost you $25 or so (depending on where you live and time of day).

I cut the interest rate on the battery purchase to only 5.5% and came up with $169.30 per month. A Prius is still a better deal at $8 per gallon for gasoline.

Questions remain: Did Rod Lache come up with a realistic price for the Leaf's battery? How long will the battery last? Will it last 120,000 miles in 10 years of use? How long will it take for gasoline to hit the price points where an EV starts to make sense?

I see a more compelling case for a PHEV like the Chevy Volt. GM can use a smaller battery because they are shooting for a 40 mile range on electric power with the rest of the range coming from a gasoline engine.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 07 06:32 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (22)
Electric Bikes Big In China

More electric bikes are sold in China than in the rest of the world combined.

The cycles in question, known as “e-bikes”, are battery-enhanced machines that are the darlings of the modern, urban Chinese. More than 20 million were sold this year, putting a vast army of commuters, unable to afford cars or motorcycles — and without licences — on the roads at a sedate maximum speed of 12 km/h (7½ mph).

If the rules stay as they are, analysts say, e-bike sales may rise to 25 million next year. If they change, as seems possible, the ramifications will stretch far beyond the streets of Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Guangzhou.

The article discusses a proposal in the Chinese government to classify the e-bikes as motorcycles so that people will have to get drivers licenses to operate them. This is expected to dampen sales.

What I find noteworthy about this report is the scale on which electric bikes are used. While some people think declining world oil production after Peak Oil will lead to a huge collapse my own view is that we have lots of cheap (albeit less comfortable) ways to get around with less energy. Electric bikes are a cheap and obvious option. Electric bikes and scooters at a variety of ascending prices for faster speed and longer range would allow many people to get around without oil. The more affluent will drive pluggable hybrid cars.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 07 12:07 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2009 December 17 Thursday
Mass Production Pluggable Hybrid Cars Decades Away?

A study by the US National Research Council finds that substantial production of plug-in hybrids lies a few decades in the future. Will battery costs really fall so slowly?

The mass-introduction of the plug-in hybrid electric car is still a few decades away, according to new analysis by the National Research Council.

The study, released on Monday, also found that the next generation of plug-in hybrids could require hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies to take off.

The study claims battery costs are huge and therefore the fuel saved using pluggable hybrids take too long to pay back the added costs.

GM will start selling the Chevy Volt pluggable hybrid in November 2010. Toyota will start selling a pluggable hybrid in 2011. Nissan is embracing pure electric cars in a big way and CEO Carlos Ghosn expects electric cars to make up 10% of global car sales by 2020.

How fast will battery prices drop? How high up will oil prices go due to Peak Oil? You need to know the answers to both those questions in order to accurately predict the rate of demand growth for pluggable hybrids and pure electric cars.

By Randall Parker    2009 December 17 10:45 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (53)
2009 November 30 Monday
Dan Neil Drives Chevy Volt

For those unaware, Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times writes excellent car reviews. He's got one up from his own test drive of the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt pluggable hybrid electric vehicle.

It accelerates with a big husky twist of its electric motor. Actually, you can even chirp the front tires if you push the go-button hard enough -- very unlike a golf cart. It corners confidently and brakes crisply and, if it's no Ferrari, it certainly won't embarrass itself on the 110 Freeway, otherwise known as the Pasadena Grand Prix.

It's comfortable, practical and -- graded on the curve of five-seat family hatchbacks -- reasonably attractive. Think German-made-dishwasher pretty.

The big appeal of the Volt is it that if you drive less than 40 miles per day and don't mind plugging it into electric power every night then you never need buy gasoline. If you need to drive more than 40 miles it switches over to gasoline engine power. If GM can bring the cost of the Volt down far enough then for most commuters Peak Oil will become a non-event (though not so when it comes time to take a vacation and go on a week-end get-aways).

A lot of people expect short battery life in the Volt because batteries wear out in their laptop computers and cell phones. But Rob Peterson of GM Communications showed up here a few weeks ago to explain that the battery for the Volt is a very different design that GM expects will last 10 years or 150,000 miles.

Also, the Volt's battery is a purely automotive design - from the chemistry (li-ion mangnese spinel) based), cell design (prismatic as opposed to cylinder), pack management which restricts overcharging (which impacts calendar life)and deep discharges (which impacts battery power) to automotive quality manufacturing at both the cell and pack levels (both of which will eventually be performed in Michigan). We're increasingly confident - based on test results from both our battery lab and in the nearly 100 Chevy Volt pre-production vehicles - that the battery will meet our internal targets of 10 year, 150,000 miles of life.

Looks like GM can achieve their engineering goals in terms of efficiency, driveability, and durability. So I expect the long term success of the Volt to hinge on the costs of the pluggable hybrid technology. How much will costs of battery and drive train parts go down 5, 6, 7 years from now? Can we expect the Volt's manufacturing costs to ever get below $20k or, better yet, $15k?

By Randall Parker    2009 November 30 06:42 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2009 November 07 Saturday
Chevy Volt Batteries In Cold Weather

A Fortune Magazine article by Alex Taylor points to qualifiers on claims of the performance of the forthcoming Chevy Volt pluggable hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). Read the whole article. But I found the part about batteries most interesting.

That's not all. Also under scrutiny is GM's oft-repeated assertion that the Volt will have an all-electric range of 40 miles. Critics point out that the car needs ideal conditions to do that.

For one thing, the 40-mile range depends on ambient temperatures of 60 degrees to 65 degrees. When the temperature drops below 60, the batteries become less efficient. And if it gets hotter than 65, the air conditioner can impose an additional load on the Volt's batteries. Either way, the range diminishes.

But no quantitative information about how range goes down with dropping temperature. A question for any reader who knows a lot about battery performance: How much does battery performance decline with temperature? What sort of range can a guy in Wisconsin or upstate Minnesota expect in January with a Volt that can go 40 miles in late spring?

Also, how does battery performance fare in the Mojave Desert in July?

Also, does the extent of battery performance decline with temperature vary by battery technology? How do lead acid, NiMH, and Lithium ion batteries compare? Do some lithium chemistries to better than others in cold weather?

If battery range drops only to, say, 30 miles then that doesn't seem like a show-stopper. The majority of the American commuting public goes less than 30 miles round trip to work every day.

Update: In the comments "bbm" reminds me that GM has built the Volt to have a substantial margin its battery capacity. Of the 16 kwh of battery capacity the Volt needs only 8 kwh to go 40 miles. GM does not want to discharge more than 70%. So effectively there's a 2.4 kwh reserve available for colder weather. So the Volt might start out with 10.4 kwh available in mild weather.

Also in the comments agesilaus points to a research paper about Li ion battery performance in cold weather. At least with the Li ion battery used as an example the battery lost 15% going down to 0 C (32 F) from a mild temperature. Well, a 15% loss off of 10.4 kwh would still leave the volt above 8 kwh. at -10 C (14 F) the Volt would lose another 10% and might be slightly below 40 mile range. Though I wonder how much heater power would be needed to stay warm with an outside air temperature that cold.

By Randall Parker    2009 November 07 07:29 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (41)
2009 September 20 Sunday
Tesla Roadster Battery Charging And Efficiency

Dr. Robert Wilder describes the charging of his Tesla Roadster's battery.

But before you knock the Roadster for increasing our energy demand, remember: We're not paying a penny for gasoline. And the Roadster has supercar performance and a correspondingly large battery. This battery holds 54 kWh, giving this car great speed and a good range but therefore needing much (solar) 'juice' -- certainly more than a smaller EV that might be used mainly for short trips or inter-city commuting and errands.

Due to cooling and other losses in charging, filling from empty takes about 68 kWh, or 26% more than 54 kWh the battery holds. This 68 kWh is the seminal amount; it quantifies how much truly is needed. We'll reference this number to determine how far we can go from power of the sun alone.

What I find most interesting here: Charging up the Tesla requires 26% more electricity than the battery holds. 26% additional gets wasted. Batteries getting charged heat up. That heat is waste.

What I want to know: Will the Chevy Volt and other pluggable hybrids and pure electric cars have similar amounts of electricity waste when charging their batteries? Does anyone reading this have some data on battery charging efficiency for other lithium battery chemistries?

Wilder charges his Tesla at night when electric rates are cheaper. But he lives in an area where electric power prices are quite high.

Crucially, we do all EV charging overnight because with Time Of Use (TOU) meter rates, the cost here is 'only' 18 cents/kWh during off-peak hours at night.

By contrast, a peak rate is far higher at 30 cents/kWh from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., when our PV makes surplus power from the sun and sells it back to the utility, giving us a credit on our bill.

So even though he has photovoltaic panels he charges his Tesla at night since his daytime electricity is worth more to sell to his local electric utility.

In sunnier areas at sunnier times of the year really cheap PV could eventually make late morning the cheapest time to buy electricity. The big spike in demand happens in the late afternoon in warmer climes. If the price declines in PV continue then eventually this trend might cause a decline in electric power prices in the morning and a sharper spiking of electricity prices in the late afternoon and early evening.

Of course, given enough electric cars and sufficient battery longevity the late afternoon electric power price spike could be dampened by selling electric power from car batteries out onto the grid.

The range on a Tesla depends heavily on how fast you drive. You can go over 200 miles if you drive slowly enough. A blog post by Tesla CTO JB Straubel shows how fast drag increases and electric power usage doubles as the Tesla Roadster goes faster.

To cruise at 60 mph takes about 15kW. However, if you double that to 30kW you will only accelerate to about 80mph — far less than twice as fast. And if you double it again to 60kW you will accelerate to about 107 mph using 4 times as much power as you did at 60mph, yet you’d only travel about 1.8 times as fast.

Check out the first graph at that page. The Tesla is using slightly over 250 Watt-hours per mile at 60 mph but at 30 it drops to only 150 Wh per mile and bottoms out at about 135 Wh per mile around 17 mph. So the big losses in efficiency occur over 60 mph.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 20 03:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2009 August 25 Tuesday
Ultracapacitors To Cut Plug-In Hybrid Car Costs

Ultracapacitors will recharge charge cycles on hybrid car batteries and therefore increase the life spans.

Energy storage devices called ultracapacitors could lower the cost of the battery packs in plug-in hybrid vehicles by hundreds or even thousands of dollars by cutting the size of the packs in half, according to estimates by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, IL. Ultracapacitors could also dramatically improve the efficiency of another class of hybrid vehicle that uses small electric motors, called microhybrids, according to a recent study from the University of California, Davis.

Ultracapacitors will also enable a different trade-off in car battery designs where the batteries are more dense and higher capacity but slower chargers.

Hurray for ultracapacitors. Hope they reach the market in pluggable hybrids before the price of oil skyrockets.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 25 11:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2009 August 12 Wednesday
230 MPG For GM Chevy Volt?

General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson and other GM brass are claiming the pluggable hybrid Chevrolet Volt will get 230 mpg.

General Motors says the electric Chevy Volt will get 230 miles a gallon in city driving, calling it a “game-changer,” the WSJ reports.

Another GM executive says the Volt will score a 230 MPG rating from the US EPA.

At GM’s Fast Lane blog, Volt co-creator Jon Lauckner said GM was confident it would have a triple-digit combined mileage rating from the Environmental Protection Agency, which measures these things. Mr. Lauckner said “These preliminary numbers are based on Volt development testing with our pre-production vehicles and the draft federal fuel economy methodology developed by EPA for [extended-range electric vehicles] like the Volt.”

One needs to make assumptions in order to reach that number. The key assumption: how far will people drive between recharges? For someone who never goes more than 40 miles between recharges the number of gallons of gasoline burnt in a year would very well be 0. That's right, no gasoline at all. Why? As long as you recharge before the battery goes dead you can get around in a Volt only on electric power.

The Volt works less well for people who take a lot of longer trips. A Toyota Prius or a VW Jetta Diesel would work better for someone who takes a lot of few hundred mile road trips. The Volt is really a commuter car for people with moderate length commutes. People with too short of commutes do not burn enough gasoline for the money saved to add up far enough to justify the extra bucks for a Volt. People who drive much longer distances will spend too little of each trip on batteries.

It is that intermediate zone for perhaps 30-50 miles per day where the Volt shines. Any readers fit this driving profile? If you do an even longer commute but can get your car charged while at work then the Volt's pay-off is much faster. People who drive 40 miles each way and can plug their car in to electric power while work are really the ideal buyers for Volts. They become even more ideal Volt drivers once oil goes back up above $120 per barrel again.

Some argue the payback on the Volt takes too long. But that also depends on some assumptions. Most notably, it depends on future prices of gasoline. If the world production of oil peaks in 2020 or even more so in 2015 then the Volt will pay back its higher price a lot sooner.

People who just a few years ago were plopping down $50k for an SUV can (if they are still in upper tax brackets) afford $40k for a PHEV car. Therefore those people can keep cruising down the road even if gasoline hits $20 per gallon.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 12 12:37 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (25)
2009 July 11 Saturday
A Look At Zero S Electric Motorcycle

Chuck Squatriglia of Wired takes a look at Zero Motorcycles electric motorcycle model Zero S.

The 4-kilowatt-hour lithium-manganese battery is good for an average range of 40 to 45 miles and a maximum of 60, depending upon how hard you twist the throttle. Once it's dead, you're looking at four hours to charge it from a 110-volt outlet. You can plug it into a 220-volt line but it won't charge any faster because the charger is limited to 1,000 watts, and at 110 volts, a 15-amp U.S. wall outlet already exceeds that by 650 watts.

It goes for $9,950 and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds. The price is in the realm of the affordable for most people in industrialized countries.

The threat of Peak Oil (also see here) has me looking for affordable technologies that can help us transition away from oil for transportation uses. While electric cars seem an obvious alternative the problem is that electric cars cost too much while having limited range.

General Motors is frantically trying to bring the Volt in for less than $40,000 when it goes into production late next year, and even then expects to lose its shirt. The Mitsubishi iMiEV city car is as small as its $50,000 price tag is large. And even the Coda, a four-door, five-passenger family car with all the pizzazz of a Hyundai Sonata, will set you back $45,000 when it goes on sale in California next year.

One can hope that will change. But if it doesn't we might find ourselves riding electric motorcycles in 5 to 10 years.

The Zero S's 4 kilowatt-hours for 40 miles works out to 100 watt-hours per mile. That's less than half the 217 watt-hours per per mile of the Tesla Roadster. The Roadster's 244 mile range gives it 4 to 6 times the range of the Zero S. But for commuters the Zero S would work. At $109,000 the Roadster costs 11 times as much as the Zero S.

But if $10k for an electric motorcycle is above your price range cheaper approaches for electric bicycles will hit the market once world oil production goes into global decline.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 11 11:58 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2009 April 18 Saturday
Electric Hummers Coming To Save Us

Afraid to buy that Hummer you are hankering for because you fear the coming of Peak Oil? Fear no more. Across the desolate landscape of post-peak post-apocalyptic America will stride an electric Hummer good for 40 miles per battery charge.

The Hummer is the poster child of excess consumption and inefficiency, but a Utah company is converting the much-maligned SUVs into a range-extended electric vehicle good for 100 mpg and a range of 40 miles.

Raser Technologies will unveil the Raser H3 on Monday in Detroit. It promises a 90 mph top speed, off-road capability and a lithium ion-battery you can recharge in as little as three hours. What's more, the company says the drivetrain can be installed in other trucks and it hopes to have 2,000 converted vehicles on the road by the end of next year.

Use electric power to cruise away from the starving crowds of collapsing cities. Make for your country hide-out which has what you need to feed your Hummer: A big wind mill up on a local hill and solar panels on your sprawling ranch house. You'll of course use the Hummer to trade food and guns with people in neighboring valleys.

Hopefully before the collapse higher energy density batteries will come to market to enable you to increase the size of your trading route.

Update: I almost forgot to mention: Those solar panels on your sprawling ranch house will be made out of silicon-based photovoltaics. None of those cheap 9% efficiency thin film solar panels for sissies. Uh-uh. No way. You go with the high efficiency stuff to get you the juice you need to power your hummer. Plus, you convert that PV electric power into 240V for fast recharges. None of that wimpy 110V power.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 18 09:25 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 April 05 Sunday
China Makes Big Push For Electric Cars

The momentum behind electric cars keeps building. The top leadership of China has decided to turn China into a big maker of electric cars.

TIANJIN, China — Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.

Since this command is coming from the top and the Chinese can move mountains with that level of commitment you can be sure that this initiative will take off.

Beyond manufacturing, subsidies of up to $8,800 are being offered to taxi fleets and local government agencies in 13 Chinese cities for each hybrid or all-electric vehicle they purchase. The state electricity grid has been ordered to set up electric car charging stations in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.

Government research subsidies for electric car designs are increasing rapidly. And an interagency panel is planning tax credits for consumers who buy alternative energy vehicles.

The US could soon find itself in permanent 3rd place for electric car manufacture.

State-owned Chinese car maker SAIC will use US technology to speed their entry into the hybrid car market.

BEIJING -- SAIC Motor Corp., one of China's biggest state-owned auto makers, is turning to American technology suppliers to engineer a gasoline-electric hybrid car that could go on sale in China as soon as next year.

SAIC is planning to use technology from A123 Systems, a closely held battery maker based in Watertown, Mass., and auto-parts maker Delphi Corp., based in Troy, Mich., according to a Delphi statement and people familiar with the matter.

Chinese mobile phone maker BYD has designed the batteries for its own electric car.

When BYD Auto launches one of China's first mass produced fully electric sedans later this year, it will be trying to conquer the world rather than save it. But such is the explosive growth of China's car market and thirst for petrol that the two goals are likely to become ever more synonymous.

The E6 plug-in is currently under wraps at the company's sprawling industrial complex in Shenzhen, but it will soon be at the vanguard of a company's – and a nation's – plans to dominate the global market for "clean-transport".

Electric cars look expensive with today's gasoline prices. But when an economic recovery kicks in and demand recovers the economics of electric vehicles will become a lot more favorable.

Meanwhile in the North American market Ford will role out pluggable hybrid and pure electric cars in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Ford is also working with auto supplier Magna International to release an all-electric compact sedan in 2011, which will get about 70 percent better mileage than non-hybrid models. This car will be a Focus-size vehicle that will go 100 miles on a charge, said Greg Frenette, the assistant chief engineer of battery electric-vehicle applications at Ford.

Ford also has a pluggable hybrid coming in 2012.

Ford's first pure electric vehicle looks like a crossover van for moving people. Previous articles reported this vehicle as aimed at the taxi market.

During an exclusive interview with FOXNews.com, Lisa Drake, Chief Engineer for Ford Global Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles told the FOX Car Report LIVE! program that her company’s upcoming electric vehicle will be priced between $50,000 and $70,000 when it goes on sale in 2010.

What I wonder: How fast for a recharge? If you've got the amps and 220V can it get recharged in, say, a half hour? If so, a shop that sends out, say, plumbing repair workers or other local driving workers could recharge the vehicle and lunch and go thru 2 recharge cycles a day. That sort of usage pattern would maximize the return on investment.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 05 06:42 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2009 April 01 Wednesday
If The New Cars In Storage Were Electric

So I'm reading this Wall Street Journal article on surplus cars in storage and the thought occurs to me: If only these cars were all electric they could be used for grid load balancing while they were waiting to be sold. All those batteries could shift electric power from night to day.

Practically every small car in the market is stacked up at dealerships. At the end of February, Honda Motor Co. had 22,191 Fits on dealer lots -- enough to last 125 days at the current sales rate, according to Autodata Corp. In July, it had a nine-day supply, while the industry generally considers a 55- to 60-day supply healthy.

For other models the supply situation is even worse. Toyota Motor Corp. has enough Yaris subcompacts to last 175 days. Chrysler LLC has a 205-day supply of the Dodge Caliber. And Chevrolet dealers have 427 days' worth of Aveo subcompacts. At the current sales rate, General Motors Corp. could stop making the Aveo and it wouldn't run out until May 24, 2010.

Got any ideas on how to put Chevy Aveos to constructive use?

By Randall Parker    2009 April 01 07:56 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2009 March 03 Tuesday
Chevy Volt Cost Effective?

Some Carnegie Mellon analysts think the Chevy Volt pluggable hybrid electric car has a battery that is too large for economic use.

But one of the main justifications GM offers for its long-term survival, "leadership in advanced propulsion technology," has been shaken by a report from Carnegie Mellon University.

The study concludes that plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt - GM's most publicized technology project - "are not cost effective in any scenario." GM says the Volt can go 40 miles on a single charge. But a better choice, according to the report, is a car that goes less than 20 miles on a charge.

I think one of the problems with pluggable hybrids is the high frequency with which they will need to get plugged in for recharge. You just want to pop out of our car and walk inside. If your commute round trip is over 20 miles per day then you'll need to plug the Volt in for recharge every commuting day. With a 20 mile range you would need to plug in for recharge after a commute of over 10 miles. I would rather have the higher battery capacity just to avoid the need to drag out a power cable to the car on a daily basis. For anyone who doesn't park in their own garage the need to recharge is especially onerous.

But Jon Lauckner, a GM VP involved in Volt product development, argues that the Carnegie Mellon researchers assumed too high a cost for the batteries.

The mistake in the study that "jumps of the page," Lauckner told AutoObserver, is the assumed baseline cost of the lithium-ion batteries used by the Volt and, most likely, other future PHEVs: $1,000 per kilowatt-hour.

"That's very high compared to the cost we're paying today," said Lauckner of the Volt's prototype lithium-ion batteries developed by Korean battery expert LG Chem. "And very, very high compared to the (battery cost) in the near future," once even modest engineering improvements and economies of scale kick in, Lauckner added.

The cost of batteries is not the only important assumption for a study on pluggable hybrid cost effectiveness. One also needs to make assumptions about future prices for gasoline. Well, Saudi Arabia might already have passed its oil production peak and non OPEC-12 oil production peaked in 2004. Khebab expects a sharp decline in world oil production starting in 2010. The Volt might come to market at a time of far higher oil prices. The decline in oil demand has caused its price to plummet. But such a low price has prompted a huge reduction in new oil projects. Since existing fields suffer from declining production a reduction in new oil field development will lead to lower production in future years. Oil prices will likely retrace their previous rise once economic recovery begins.

One wonders what GM expects to pay for batteries 3, 4, 5 years from now. The rate at which battery prices fall will play a large role in determining how easily we can move away from our reliance on dwindling supplies of oil.

By Randall Parker    2009 March 03 11:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2009 February 24 Tuesday
Real World Plug-In Hybrids Disapppoint On Efficiency

A Seattle test of hybrids modified to be rechargeable and theoretically to run 30 miles on electric power produced disappointing results so far. 14 specially customized plug-in hybrid Toyota Priuses did not do much better than standard Priuses in fuel efficiency. (thanks "Fat Man")

Try 51 miles per gallon, city and highway combined. Not counting the cost of the electricity.

It's what 14 plug-in Priuses averaged after driving a total of 17,636 miles. The pilot project is one of the few in the nation to subject plug-in hybrid cars to regular motor-pool duty, as opposed to being driven by hypermilers or alt-energy enthusiasts.

Vehicles engineered for production quality will probably do better than these customized cars.

The article also points to Google's own fleet of hybrids and plug-in hybrids. At that web page Google provides data on how these vehicles compare in fuel efficiency. Their Ford Escape hybrids are averaging 28.6 mpg while their pluggable versions of the Escape hybrd get 37.7 mpg for a 32% improvement. Not earth shattering. Their conventional Prius hybrids get 42.8 mpg while their pluggable Priuses get 54.9 mpg for a 28.3% improvement Again, not exactly the end of the oil era. Google breaks out the numbers by car. The best has done 60.5 mpg. But if you look at single day results you can find cars hitting 107 mpg.

Why these disappointing results? A fleet car could get driven a lot in a day and run down its batteries. To maximize the benefit of a pluggable hybrid one really need to drive almost the battery's range each day but no more. Someone who happens to commute a distance that is a little less than the range of a hybrid's battery is the best candidate to get maximal benefit. People who drive too little will pay for higher battery costs that take a long time to pay back. People who drive too much will run much of the time on gasoline.

I also wonder how motivated fleet car users will be to plug in every time they stop somewhere they can plug in. Then there's the need to stop at places where plugging in is even possible. There's no golden bullet for replacing oil.

By Randall Parker    2009 February 24 09:29 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2008 September 28 Sunday
US Car Companies Commit To Pluggable Hybrids

Tony Posawatz, Chevrolet's vehicle line director for the Volt, sounds optimistic on the Chevy Volt hitting the market in 2010.

"We definitely feel that we're on schedule, that we will be able to deliver the Volt before the end of 2010," Posawatz said. "We're working closely with our battery developers, and based on their progress, we're definitely on track to hit that 2010 date."

Eighteen months ago, many in the industry thought that the internally-mandated 2010 date was just too much to expect, given all of the technology and cost implications.

"Well, it is definitely a compressed time frame," Posawatz conceded. "It is unusual to develop a new vehicle and a new propulsion system at the same time. But the analogy that Mr. Lutz used was when he compared it to President Kennedy saying that we were going to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, not 'whenever we feel like it.'

GM is not alone among the US automakers in terms of a PHEV commitment. Though GM sounds like they are in the lead.Chrysler expects to get one of four electric vehicles to market by 2010.

Chrysler showed four new electric vehicles: two extended-range electric vehicles that have gas-fed generators to feed electricity to the car when a 40-mile-range battery wears down; an all-electric sports car with a range of 150-200 miles; and a four-door neighborhood-electric-vehicle, which can be used in retirement and closed communities and on streets with speed limits of 25 mph or less.

Most likely the first will probably be a sports car that competes with the Tesla. Chrysler has recently released a couple of full-sized hybrid SUVs.

Ford has committed to a plug-in (PHEV) version of their Escape hybrid. Given the coming Fusion Hybrid on the same drivetrain as the Escape Hybrid it seems reasonable to expect a PHEV Fusion as well. Ford hasn't committed to a date yet. Ford sees pure electric vehicles as the ultimate destination.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 28 11:05 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2008 September 21 Sunday
Battery Packaging Still Unproven On Chevy Volt

General Motors engineers think the individual cells in the candidate battery for the Chevrolet pluggable hybrid Volt design perform well. But the packaging of the batteries presents many problems which do not yet have verified solutions.

Even a few defective cells or connections can dramatically lower the performance of the pack. What's more, the pack includes complex electronic controls for charging each cell, delivering power, and capturing energy from braking to improve vehicle efficiency. And maximizing the battery's life requires a good cooling system. To make matters worse, methods for testing whether a battery pack will last for the life of the car are only now being developed.

"There's only so much known about how to accelerate the testing of batteries," says Greg Cesiel, GM's program director for the E-Flex Vehicle Team, which is developing the Volt and related electric vehicles. Questions remain about how to simulate driving the car and charging the pack, and how to confirm that the pack will survive vibrations and exposure to hot and cold temperatures over the life of a vehicle.

GM still might make their late 2010 release date. But the initial production will be low. My guess is uncertainty about the battery pack longevity is one of the reasons for the initial low production rate. If they end up having to do expensive recalls to fix battery problems better to have few of the cars out on the road. The initial buyers will definitely be extended range testers.

If you have your heart set on buying a Volt and find the battery story worrisome stop and ask yourself whether you can afford the price. GM is initially expected to sell the Volt for $40k and lose money at that price.

Come late 2010 world oil production might be starting down its final decline path. So even at $40k the Volt might seem quite attractive to some drivers. Anyone who can afford $50,000 for an SUV can afford $40,000 for a pluggable hybrid car.

I'm less concerned about getting a pluggable hybrid for myself than seeing that we have the technology to keep industrial society running when world oil production starts its rapid decline.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 21 10:01 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2008 July 13 Sunday
Electric Trucks Cheaper In Port Of Los Angeles

The ports around LA have been under regulatory pressure to pollute less. They use a lot of older diesel tractor trucks that are especially polluting because those trucks aren't considered reliable enough for long range driving but are still reliable enough for shorter trips within the ports and to nearby warehouses. Well, custom electric trucks built for the Port of Los Angeles cut pollution and lower fuel costs at the same time.

The electric truck, which takes about three hours to charge, has a range of about 30 miles while pulling a 60,000-pound cargo container, and about 60 miles empty. Although that distance may not sound useful, much of freight hauling within the port complex is from terminals to nearby train yards.

It costs about 20 cents a mile to operate, or about four to nine times less than a diesel truck, depending on fluctuating fuel costs and operating conditions.

I do not find these results surprising. Electric vehicles lack range. But in applications where only short range is needed but where the vehicles are used heavily the cost per mile for the electric power is less than that of liquid hydrocarbons by a pretty substantial multiple.

What I wonder: How long does it take to run down the batteries on these trucks? The frequency and length of time needed to recharge reduces the number of hours per day available to operate the trucks.

I expect we will see the vehicle fuel market fragment with many more vehicles powered by batteries and natural gas than is currently the case. Fuel costs rise as we go from electricity to natural gas to diesel to gasoline. That slope is getting steeper from electricity to the other power sources. But the cost advantage of diesel over gasoline has shrunk some and it is not clear to me whether it will shrink further. You can track the trends in diesel versus gasoline prices here.

Of course, fuel cost is not the only cost in vehicle operation. Battery costs are still a big obstacle in the way of wider spread use of pure electric and pluggable hybrid electric vehicles. How fast battery costs fall will determine in very large part how easily we can adjust to the coming decline in world oil production. Battery technology is more important than wind or solar or nuclear technologies. Though the combination of wind, solar, and nuclear technologies matter more than battery technology.

By Randall Parker    2008 July 13 12:44 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2008 July 03 Thursday
GM Volt Battery Tech Lagging

Jonathan Rauch has written an article for The Atlantic about the development of GM's Chevy Volt pluggable hybrid entitled Electro-Shock Therapy. In the article he talks to GM electrical engineer Lance Turner who claimed in December 2007 that the battery picture looked great for the Chevy Volt.

During this visit, I found the technical center brimming with optimism, and the battery lab was no exception. One of two suppliers, a company called Compact Power (a subsidiary of a big South Korean chemical and advanced-materials company, LG Chem), had delivered two copies of its version of the battery, and on the bench they were testing brilliantly. “They may not look beautiful,” Turner said—the battery was a six-foot-long T-shaped object from which wires, clamps, and circuit boards protruded—“but as far as the data goes, they’re the best I’ve worked with.” Heat is a problem with lithium-ion batteries, but this one was staying cool even when run hard—and the cooling system had yet to be attached.

Moreover, improvements were being incorporated as fast as they could be conceived; the battery would be on its second generation in January, its third in June. “It’s incredible,” Turner said. “The design they’ve come up with for thermal changed 10 times before they delivered the first battery.” And all of this was before the arrival of a competing battery that might be as good or even better, designed jointly by the Massachusetts-based company A123 Systems and the German company Continental A.G. “We’re inventing and creating on the critical path,” Turner said. He was using the industry jargon for the countdown to production, when time is money and delays can cost millions. “I’ve got guys trying to release things before they’re actually invented.”

On the bright side the article reports that GM has lifted the bureaucratic process off of the Volt development team and they make much more rapid progress than the average GM car development team.

But by February 2008 the batteries looked like a big problem. By late March the chief engineer for the Volt still says the battery looks like the pacing engineering problem.

In late March, at the New York auto show, I checked back in with Andrew Farah, the Volt’s chief engineer, and asked for an update. “Still just as bad as before,” he said. When I mentioned that another executive had said the underbody was a well-proven design that didn’t need much testing, he shot me a look of disbelief. “There’s a big gaping hole down the center of this car where the battery goes.”

Is this delay a matter of months or years? Even if GM achieves their stated schedule only 70,000 Chevy Volts will be on the road by the end of 2012. That's not enough to make a substantial dent in the problem of declining oil availability.

Some people are optimistic about our ability to shift smoothly from gasoline to electric power for transportation. I'm not so optimistic. I expect we will be able to do so eventually. But I am reminded of the sinking Titanic. Other ships did come to help rescue survivers eventually. When there's a big time gap between when you need something and when you actually get it then you are going to suffer some pain.

Update: On May 14 GM Vice Chairman struck what sounds like a more optimistic note on the battery.

Lutz confirmed that in GM's dynamometer tests last week of the Volt's lithium-ion batteries, engineers raised ambient temperatures and shut off the cooling system. The result was what GM had hoped: The battery showed only a slight rise in temperature and the heat was consistent across all of the battery cells with no pockets of intense heat.

Challenges Other Than the Battery Remain

"I can almost say the battery is the least of our problems," Lutz told AutoObserver.

Without knowing how big the other problems are it is hard to interpret this.

On June 5, 2008 he admits the battery testers still do not know about the longevity of the batteries. So GM really does not know if they've got a battery solution.

Our battery teams in Warren and in Germany are working hard in our battery labs to determine that these batteries will work for the life of the vehicle. Still, the conditions in a real-world environment – where the battery is exposed to shaking, moisture and rapidly changing temperature conditions – are much more extreme than the controlled settings of the lab.

But I think it’s important to point out that in the six months since we’ve received the battery pack, we’ve tested it in the lab, then on the dynamometer, and now on the track.

In engineering you often do not know for weeks and months whether you've solved some problem. Testing takes a long time. That might be where GM is now. But they might even still be at the stage where they have known problems without potential solutions in testing. I would want to hear a fresh opinion of the battery test engineers to know where things really stand.

By Randall Parker    2008 July 03 03:13 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2008 June 23 Monday
GM Volt Pluggable Hybrid To Start At Low Production Volumes

The Detroit Free Press has gotten the word from GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz that the Chevy Volt pluggable hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that can go 40 miles on electric power will start up at low production volumes.

General Motors Corp. aims to manufacture 10,000 plug-in electric Chevrolet Volts in 2011, the vehicle's first full year of production, and 60,000 the following year, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told the Free Press in an e-mail Thursday.

So thru the end of 2012 only 70,000 will be on the road. Do not expect these cars to save you from $200 per barrel gasoline if the price of oil goes that high in the next 5 years.

GM will not make a profit on Volt sales.

Lutz said the first-generation Volt will retail for about $40,000 and generate no profit for GM. The company hopes to make money as it rolls out later versions of the vehicle and other plug-in models.

Tougher environmental and fuel-economy regulations make electric vehicles "the only path to salvation," Lutz said. These government mandates could also help keep the momentum if oil prices fall, he said.

Assuming all that, Lutz said, by 2020 or 2025 between a quarter and half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. will be electric or hydrogen-powered.

That's a quarter of all new vehicles, not a quarter of all vehicles on the road. But it could happen quicker if battery prices fall fast enough. Wish I had insight on that one.

GM wants a $7k tax credit for buyers of the Volt.

General Motors is lobbying for a $7,000 tax credit for buyers of the $30,000 $40,000 2011 Chevy Volt — more than double that originally offered for Prius buyers.

GM argues that the battery in the Volt is at least twice the capacity of the one in the Prius (actually well more than double), saves that much more oil, and so deserves a bigger subsidy. Gotta say, a bigger tax credit for the Volt makes sense for another reason (and someone tell GM's lobbyists): The tax credit for a Prius buyer subsidizes Nickel Metal Hydride batteries that are a technological dead-end. Whereas GM will use some sort of lithium battery (maybe the A123Systems lithium nanophosphate batteries) which is the future of car batteries according to many experts. Better to subsidize the future than the past. GM is working on the future with this Volt.

My take on all this: People will have to reduce their oil demand by driving smaller cars and conventional hybrids and by reducing the number of miles driven. In the next 5 years few will be able to reduce their gasoline consumption by plugging their car into a wall socket.

My question: How high do gasoline prices have to go to deliver a large enough shock to cause a rapid decline in demand? I just did a post where I asked and most responders in the first day basically said they aren't changing very much. Basically, without explicitly saying so they are insisting on $5, $6 gasoline before they make substantial changes. Okay, so we are going to get $5, $6 gasoline. Your choice. So no complaints please.

Update: It is perhaps too early to judge how much consumption will drop due to current prices. SUV sales are tanking in the last 2 months. Also, As we head into the summer driving period gasoline consumption has actually dropped for 8 weeks in a row.

Record gasoline prices are causing consumers to cut back on fuel purchases. On June 17, MasterCard Inc. said U.S. gasoline demand fell 3.2 percent from a year ago, according to its weekly SpendingPulse report.

Consumers purchased an average 9.305 million barrels of gasoline a day in the week ended June 13, down from 9.614 million a year earlier.

Given that Gasoline consumption rose 3% per year from 1985 to 2004 American drivers have given back 2 years of that growth in the last year and most of that in the last few months. At least into April gasoline consumption hadn't fallen by much. But some sort of tipping point has been reached. At least in the United States I expect to see a continued decline in fuel consumption. But in China, India, and other developing countries demand will probably continue to rise as buying power increases.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 23 08:17 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2008 June 17 Tuesday
2011 Think Ox At Least 125 Miles Per Electric Charge

In a few years an electric car for the masses will let you go at least 125 miles between charges.

An electrified people's car for the 21st century, the Ox is a preview of Think's next-generation production vehicle, due out in 2011. Roughly the size of a Toyota (TM) Prius, the Ox can travel between 125 and 155 miles before needing a recharge, and zips from zero to 60 miles per hour in about 8.5 seconds. Its lithium-ion batteries can be charged to 80% capacity in less than an hour, and slender solar panels integrated into the roof power the onboard electronics. Inside, the hatchback includes a bevy of high-tech gizmos such as GPS navigation, a mobile Internet connection, and a key fob that lets drivers customize the car's all-digital dashboard. Pricing has yet to be announced, but the company's current vehicles cost less than $25,000.

I wonder how it will do on crash safety tests. Also, its cost will depend heavily on the price of lithium batteries in 2011.

An affordable 125 mile range electric car would go far toward ameliorating the most damaging effects of declining world oil production.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 17 08:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 June 11 Wednesday
Toyota Pluggable Hybrid Coming In 2010

Toyota doesn't want to get beat to market by GM's Volt.

Toyota, rightly or wrongly, is widely considered the greenest automaker, and the company hopes to solidify its hold on the title and move beyond oil through a sweeping plan to produce cleaner, more efficient cars -- beginning with a plug-in hybrid it will produce by 2010.

It's no secret Toyota's been working on a plug-in hybrid to compete against the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt, but Wednesday's announcement sets a firm deadline and makes it clear Toyota has no plans of ceding the green mantle to General Motors. It also underscores how quickly the race to build a viable mass-market electric car is heating up.

The initial pluggable in 2010 will be aimed at fleet customers. I take that to mean that you and I won't be able to buy it. Does this mean they can't afford to sell a large number of them for a loss (due to expensive batteries) and therefore plan to restrict sales?

Toyota is just now starting up an internal battery research department for this hybrid. That seems like a big risk in their plan.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 11 11:17 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (34)
2008 April 28 Monday
A123Systems Pluggable Hybrid Conversion Kit For Prius

Worried about the coming energy crunch as world oil production starts declining? Here's one way to adapt to it: Spend $10,000 to upgrade a Prius to run 35-40 miles on a battery from A123 Systems.

Beginning this week, a company in the Boston area will be taking orders for what it says is the first mass-produced aftermarket conversion kit. The company, A123 Systems, is starting out with the Toyota Prius, with what it calls a range extender module. The module fits in the well normally occupied by the spare tire, with a charging port installed on the back bumper.

The A123 conversion will allow a Prius driver to substitute electricity, at about 3 cents a mile, for gasoline at three or four times that price.

In the United States electricity sells for an average of 10.64 cents/kwh (see the link for state level electricity costs). So a recharge would cost you about 55 cents (depending on the extent of heat losses). At 40 mpg and $4/gallon the Prius will cost you 10 cents a mile on gasoline.

The Hymotion conversion kit includes a 5000 watt-hours battery (as compared to the 300 watt-hours of the original Prius battery) that replaces the spare tire in a Prius. A123Systems is one of 2 front-runners to supply batteries for GM's forthcoming pluggable hybrid Chevy Volt which is also expected to do about 40 miles on battery.

Before you rush out to upgrade your Prius keep in mind that when using the standard electric motors in a Prius the top speed is either 35 mph or 42 mph (and can someone find an authoritative source on this?). I can't find anything on the A123 Systems web site for the Hymotion conversion kit that suggests they raise the speed limit with their conversion kit. So if you do a highway commute you probably aren't going to be able to cruise on only electric power. The coming pluggable hybrids such as the Chevy Volt probably won't suffer this limitation.

That 5000 watt-hour (or 5 kilowatt-hour) battery could push a pure electric big SUV about 10 miles. Getting that battery to push a Prius 4 times that far seems a bit of a stretch. Anyone have a good engineering reason to think under electric power a Prius would only use 125 watt-hours per mile? That seems low to me.

One of these conversion kits might make sense for a Prius used to travel many miles each day city driving. But the Prius's already high fuel efficiency makes it hard to earn back the cost of the upgrade. The battery takes 4 hours to charge up. If you travel 40 city miles to work every day (doing 40 mpg with gasoline power pre-conversion) and if you can charge up your car while in the office then you'll save 2 gallons a day. Well, that doesn't describe a whole lot of people. But if you could save 2 gallons a day then when gasoline goes to $5.50 per gallon you could save $10 per day (assuming $1 for the electricity to charge up twice a day) or $2500 per year.

Now, put the price of gasoline up to $11 per gallon and the pay-back period cuts in half. But if you wait to upgrade to a pluggable hybrid you'll get one once gasoline prices are much higher and battery prices much lower. Plus, cars designed from the start as pluggables will be cheaper and offer better performance than after-market upgrades. In other words, the economics of pluggables are going to improve a great deal in a few years time.

By Randall Parker    2008 April 28 07:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2008 April 07 Monday
GM Volt Cost Estimate Up

We really aren't ready for Peak Oil and we aren't going to be ready in a few years. GM's pluggable electric hybrid Chevy Volt was originally projected to cost $30,000. GM's latest estimate for the Volt's cost? $48,000.

Figuring out how to make wipers, a stereo and other accessories that don't kill the Volt's range has proven a tough nut to crack, and it's one reason the Volt's price seems to be rising. The Volt came with a $30,000 price tag when GM unveiled it at the North American International Auto Show last year. At this year's show, Lutz told us it could hit $40,000. Now he's saying it could hit $48,000 and it could be years before GM sees a profit from it.

GM wants the Volt to go 40 miles on electric power before switching over to gasoline. The 40 miles is enough to let most people drive to work and back. Then to avoid gasoline usage you'd have to plug the car in every day. Easy to do if you park in your own garage. Not so easy if you don't.

GM will probably start out selling the Volt at a loss. Though if oil production starts declining by 2010 then the demand for electrically powered cars might allow GM to sell the Volt at a much higher price.

"When GM brings out that electric car, they're going to be taking a huge loss on that for a number of years," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in a speech to a business group.

Battery cost is a big problem.

The Volt's 300-pound battery pack will be among its most-expensive components. Menahem Anderman, a battery analyst based in Oregon House, Calif., has estimated each such lithium-ion pack may cost about $10,000.

GM is attempting to show the batteries will last 10 years.

"Production timing of the Volt is directly related to our ability to predict how this battery will perform over the life of the vehicle," said Frank Weber, Chevrolet Volt and E-Flex systems global vehicle chief engineer. "The challenge is predicting 10 years of battery life with just two years of testing time."

At 10 years life expectancy the cost per year for the batteries works out to over $1000 once interest on the money is considered. But maybe the batteries will last longer.

By Randall Parker    2008 April 07 10:36 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (25)
2008 January 16 Wednesday
Ford Expects Hybrids To Start Turning Profit

Manufacturing costs for hybrids are dropping.

By the end of this year, Ford Motor Co.'s hybrid vehicle program is expected to be profitable for the first time.

Nancy Gioia, Ford's director of sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs, said that since production started in 2004, Ford has chopped about 30 percent of the cost out of making the Escape, Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute hybrid SUVs.

Yes, hybrids have been loss leaders. That they are becoming profitable is good news. The longer we go before world oil production starts declining the easier it'll be to handle it. Advances in hybrid and battery technologies as well as in wind turbines, photovoltaics, and nuclear technologies will all make the migration away from fossil fuels easier.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe says Toyota is already making money on hybrids.

To the amazement of many in the industry, Watanabe also declared that Toyota is making money on hybrids -- and could soon expect to make more. "As of today, there is no problem with the profitability of hybrids. Of course there is room for improvement. The next generation will be one-half the size and one-half the cost."

GM isn't just trying to produce a pluggable Volt hybrid by 2010. Turns out GM will also release a shorter range pluggable Saturn Vue by 2010 as well.

Meanwhile, GM executives announced this week that they hope to introduce the plug-in version of the Saturn Vue hybrid in 2010. The plug-in hybrid SUV would be capable of going 10 miles when fully charged before the gasoline engine kicks in, according to GM, and it would get roughly double the gas mileage of a typical SUV on the road today.

This Saturn Vue might beat the more radical Volt design to market just because the Vue is a smaller step. So ths PHEV Saturn Vue might turn out to be the first mass production pluggable hybrid car. How many people will want to put up with the hassle of recharging just about every day to maximize the use of cheaper electric power? I think it depends on where you live and where you park your car. If you park it in a garage then plugging it in every night would be a lot easier.

You might have heard that Toyota is trying to beat GM to market with a pluggable hybrid. Well, Toyota's 2010 release date for a pluggable hybrid is for a very low volume vehicle that would be sold to a small number of fleet customers (i.e. not in dealerships).

However, in another sign of the steep technological hurdles carmakers face to make the cars commercially viable, a Toyota spokesman said initial sales would be in "the hundreds", and the company did not say when it planned to mass-produce plug-ins for retail customers.

The 2010 Toyota pluggables sound like experimental vehicles.

Watanabe announced that Toyota will market a test fleet of rechargeable hybrid vehicles to companies or government agencies by the end of 2010.

Even though people in the auto industry do not know exactly when the lithium battery problem will be solved many in the auto industry expect to see high volume lithium batteries for cars in a few years.

"I think within three to five years you'll see lithium-ion hybrid electric vehicles out there in some volume," Ford's chief hybrid engineer, Sherif Marakby, said on Tuesday.

By Randall Parker    2008 January 16 10:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
2007 November 12 Monday
Diesels And Hybrids Seen As Net Money Savers

A study from the Rand Corporation finds that diesels pay off bigger than hybrids but both are net money savers.

Fuel taxes are excluded in the societal case, which is typical of benefit-cost analysis. And the costs are estimations that illustrate relative performance.

The results assume fuel prices of $2.50 per gallon for gasoline, $2.59 per gallon for diesel fuel, and $2.04 per gallon for E85 (including tax credit). The report also examines scenarios where fuel costs are much higher and much lower.

Among the key findings from the consumer perspective:

  • For all three vehicle types, the advanced diesel offers the highest savings over the life of the vehicle among the options considered. These savings increase with the size and fuel use of the vehicle: $460 for the car, $1,249 for the SUV and $2,289 for the large pick-up truck;
  • The hybrid option has smaller but still considerable savings for SUV applications ($1,066), moderate savings for pick-up applications ($505) but minimal savings over the life of the vehicle for car owners ($198);
  • The vehicles operating on E85 cost all three owners more over the vehicle life, with a greater net cost burden for larger vehicles and increased fuel consumption: (-$1,034 for cars, -$1,332 for SUVs, -$1,632 for pick-ups).

Of course they found E85 ethanol to be a loser. But what is getting the biggest push in Washington DC? Ethanol of course. Stupid is as stupid does? Or corrupt is as corrupt does?

Both the hybrid and diesel vehicles are more fuel efficient than their gasoline-powered counterparts: 25 to 40 percent better for hybrid and 20 to 30 percent for diesel, depending on the vehicle.

These numbers suggest that from the standpoint of what is in the best economic interest of car buyers people seem to be underusing both hybrid and diesel technologies. After all, a number of SUVs and regular cars are available in hybrid versions yet most of those models are sold in non-hybrid configurations. Why is that? I can think of two reasons. First off, lack of knowledge. People lack the economic chops to calculate the economic costs and benefits of hybrids and diesels. Another potential reason is more problematic. People might have such high discount rates (preferences for quicker gratification) that they aren't willing to spend more on a car now to gradually derive benefits of saved gas money over a period of years.

If you are expecting still higher prices then the benefits of diesels and hybrids are even more compelling. When you buy a car try to guess what is going to happen with the prices of gasoline and diesel fuel.

If we can believe the information coming out of Mercedes Benz about their forthcoming E320 hybrid diesel then combination of diesel and hybrid technologies will almost double highway fuel miles per gallon. Beyond that additional efficiency can be achieved with lighter weight materials, aerodynamic improvements, and smaller cars. But at current prices in the United States of about $3 per gallon the value proposition for diesel hybrid as compared to diesel is likely to be negative. I say that because the value proposition for just plain hybrid above is not that big and adding hybrid to a diesel vehicle won't boost its fuel efficiency by as large a percentage as it does for gasoline vehicles. Until gasoline prices go much higher we are not going to see many diesel hybrids on the road.

On the bright side, when oil production starts declining we already have existing technologies to embrace that will provide large boosts in fuel efficiency. Plus, battery technology advances look promising. General Motors and Volt might manage to produce a pluggable hybrid electric vehicle in a few years time.

On the not-so-bright side, I see multiple reasons why even with current technological capabilities such as diesels and hybrids we are going to be economically hard hit if we come off of the world oil production plateau in a downward direction. First off, a decline in oil production will obsolesce an absolutely huge amount of capital equipment. Chemical plants, oil refineries, farm tractors, and huge numbers of other pieces of equipment will have less oil and oil-derived products to use as inputs. Plus, it will necessitate big shifts in spending toward insulation, newer cars (more like the cars in Europe) which are more efficient, and other measures. These shifts in spending will happen while economies shrink. So I expect drops in living standards, at least during the early years of the post-peak oil period.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 12 09:52 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (34)
2007 October 30 Tuesday
Hydrogen Seen As Much Less Efficient Than Batteries For Cars

An article in BusinessWeek surveys the pros and cons of hydrogen and argues that batteries beat hydrogen when compared for energy efficiency.

Electrolysis of water is the easiest method for producing hydrogen -- but only about 70% of the electric power used in the process gets stored in the hydrogen it creates. Hydrogen then needs to be either compressed or cooled to a liquid in order to store large enough volumes to be useful in a car -- gas compression is the more efficient of the two processes, but still costs a further 10% of the stored energy. The efficiency of the fuel cell storage unit itself is realistically estimated at around 36% under normal driving load -- leading to a dismal overall power-grid-to-wheels efficiency of less than 25%. That is, less than a quarter of the power used to produce the hydrogen is ever actually used to propel the car.

Batteries are a clear winner in the grid-to-wheels efficiency battle. Conventional Lithium-ion batteries charge at about 93% efficiency and operate at about the same efficiency, leading to an overall efficiency of over 85%. For the same energy input, you'll get three times the power out of a battery than out of a fuel cell.

If someone can explain how hydrogen as an energy source makes sense I'd really like to hear it. So much effort is going into a hydrogen push that I figure I must be missing something.

By Randall Parker    2007 October 30 10:51 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (50)
2007 September 30 Sunday
Tesla Roadster A Few Months Away

David Pogue of the New York Times interviews Martin Eberhard, a top executive at Tesla Motors about their pure electric sports car.

David Pogue: So give me the gist of the Tesla Roadster. Zero to 60 in...?

Martin Eberhard: This is zero to 60 in under four seconds.

DP: And the range of the battery is?

ME: It's over 200 miles. [DP note: This week, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded its testing of the Tesla. Its official measurement: 245 miles per charge.]

That range is telling. They've got a car they've designed with very light and expensive materials. They probably have little or no luggage space. I bet it doesn't do well in crash tests either. They are using the best batteries they can find. Yet it is good for only 245 miles. Plus, once you've driven three and a half to four hours with it you've got to stop and wait just as long for it to recharge. This is a local car, not suitable for cross-country travel. In order for batteries to totally replace liquid fuels future batteries have got to store more electric power per unit weight and be capable of recharge in 1% of the time of current best-of-breed batteries. Is this physically possible?

DP: And time to recharge the battery?

ME: From empty to full, about three and a half hours.

DP: O.K. And price of the car?

ME: This is a $98,000 base model.

Tesla claims to have over 500 orders and that they will start shipping first quarter of 2008.

Tesla can afford to charge a hundred grand for a high end sports car. But obviously this sports car isn't going to revolutionize transportation at that high end price. The Roadster has a carbon fiber body that contributes to its high cost along with the pricey lithium ion batteries. The key question here: How fast will lithium battery prices fall? That's the multi-billion dollar question.

Given cheap high density batteries we would not have to worry about Peak Oil. Why? We do not face a general energy shortage. But we seem to be facing a growing liquid fuel energy shortage. Great batteries would make that shortage irrelevant. With the ability to move around using electricity our energy cost per mile will actually drop. A full sized SUV might use only 460 watt-hours/mile (0.46 kwh/mile) (warning: PDF file). Well, assume 11 cents per kwh for the electric cost (I'm rounding up a bit since I'm expecting higher electric prices). So then 0.46 wh/mile times 11 cents/kwh gives us a cost of about 5 cents a mile. Even if we add another penny in for recharge heat losses we are still at 6 cents per mile. Though in a higher electric cost state like New York we'll be at .46*17 + 1 = 9 cents per mile to push a big SUV around. How does that work out? If you drive 12,000 miles per year and live in New York you will spend $1080 per year to move your SUV around and you'll lose more money to depreciation. In a cheap electric state like Washington you'll pay less than half that amount. If you live in Washington state and drive a compact electric car it'll probably cost you less than $300 per year to keep it charged up. Your car insurance will cost more.

Since electricity is so cheap for transportation the biggest issue with electric cars is battery cost. Other notable issues include battery weight, safety, and longevity. Lithium batteries are much lighter than lead acid batteries and probably light enough at least for medium range cars. EnerDel claims to have solved the heat safety problem. Other battery makers such as A123Systems might have solved the heat safety problem too. EnerDel also claims to have solved the longevity problem. But cost continues to be a problem. Will A123Systems, EnerDel, and other competitors solve the cost problem?

Update: If you are wondering how urgently we need electric cars to replace gasoline-powered and diesel-powered vehicles read here and here for some recent analyses of oil production trends. Scary stuff if you ask me.

Looking out 30 or 40 years I do not see the human race limited by energy availability. Nuclear and solar power will become much cheaper and we'll find ways to convert those sources of power into forms usable for transportation. But I'm less sure about the next 5 to 10 years. We could be headed for a wrenching readjustment replete with severe recessions and declining living standards. Also, biomass ethanol is not the answer and hydrogen looks like a longer term prospect at best. So do we get great batteries in a timely manner or do our economies go through much more severe restructurings?

By Randall Parker    2007 September 30 10:10 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (36)
2007 August 09 Thursday
Toyota Slips 2 Years On Lithium Battery Hybrids

The Wall Street Journal reports Toyota has slipped in its schedule to bring out a Prius based on lithium ion batteries.

Toyota Motor Corp., which used the green image of its gasoline-electric Toyota Prius to propel a U.S. sales surge, has decided to delay by one to two years the launches of new high-mileage hybrids with lithium-ion battery technology because of potential safety problems. The slowdown could offer General Motors Corp. and other rivals a chance to narrow the gap in the race to define future clean-vehicle technology.

Until recently, Toyota was preparing to roll out a dozen new and redesigned hybrids using new lithium-ion battery technology in the U.S. between 2008 and 2010. Its hybrids now use nickel-metal-hydride batteries. But safety concerns with the lithium-ion technology have forced Toyota to back away from that timetable, people familiar with the company's strategy say.

Toyota is also slipping plans for hybrids for other models including the Tundra and Sequoia.

Toyota is going to delay the next rev of the Prius and reengineer it to use less capable NiMH batteries instead of lithium.

Officially, the car was not postponed because Toyota had never published an introduction date, but such a decision would have major implications: reverting to nickel-metal hydride batteries in today's Prius means finding room for a larger and heavier power pack. A Toyota spokesman, John Hanson, said that while the company saw "huge potential" in lithium-ion batteries, it wanted to assure future Prius buyers the same levels of affordability and reliability they experience in today's models.

But Toyota really has introduced an unexpected delay in their plans.

Speaking in February, Toyota chief Katsuaki Watanabe told BusinessWeek that the next-generation Prius, expected in late 2008 or early 2009, would use li-ions (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/5/07, "Toyota's Bid for a Better Battery"). But in recent months, Toyota appears to be having difficulties meeting that timeline.

Meanwhile GM has selected batteries from A123 Systems to make next gen hybrids.

General Motors Corp. (GM) said Thursday it has an agreement with battery developer A123 Systems to create a battery cell for the auto maker's planned Chevrolet Volt electric car, a move that could help the auto maker win a global hybrid-electric vehicle race that currently is dominated by Toyota Motor Corp. (TM).

During a speech here, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said A123 will be a key supplier for GM's E-Flex system, which essentially is the propulsion designed to power the Volt and other electric cars the auto maker hopes to make. E-Flex uses an electric motor to drive a vehicle, backed up by a more traditional engine for when battery power is not adequate.

Bob Lutz says the A123 Systems battery design avoids the thermal issues that cause some lithium ion batteries to catch fire. If A123 Systems can pull this off - and at an affordable price - then pluggable hybrids will take off in a big way. GM would score big time.

We need some big steps forward in battery technology so that electric power can replace gasoline and diesel fuel for most transportation needs. With great batteries the peak in world oil production will be easy to handle. Without great batteries our post-peak living standards will take much bigger hits as oil production declines.

By Randall Parker    2007 August 09 06:21 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2007 July 22 Sunday
Electric Motorcycles Coming To Market

Due to Peak Oil (world oil production peaking and declining) we might be less than 5 years away from almost $200 per barrel oil (though I think inelasticity of oil demand is not high enough to make that possible). So then are we all going to start walking around with shotguns fighthing over dwindling food supplies in a post-oil apocalyptic society? Of course not - at least not in industrialized countries. What then? Electric motorcycles.

The Vectrix scooter ($11,000) uses nickel metal hydride batteries--the same type used now in the popular Toyota Prius hybrid. This type of battery is lighter than lead-acid batteries and more durable: Vectrix claims it has a 10-year lifetime. Lithium-ion batteries, in turn, are lighter than nickel metal hydride, and new chemistries have made them durable as well, lasting as long as or longer than nickel metal hydride batteries. The Vectrix scooter weighs about 200 kilograms, while the lithium-ion-powered Enertia ($12,000), made by Brammo Motorsports of Ashland, OR, weighs just 125 kilograms.

Curiously, the two lithium ion (Li ion) bikes have shorter ranges than the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) bike.

The Zero motorcycle is now available with a 40-mile-range battery, and it will have an optional 80-mile pack, Saiki says. The Vectrix scooter can go up to 60 miles on a charge, while the Enertia can go up to 45 miles.

That might reflect high costs for the Li ion batteries at this point. Brammo is using A123 Systems batteries in their Zero. If A123 wins a production contract from GM and scales up production for cars I'm expecting substantial price drops for their batteries. If another competitor wins a GM production contract then that competitor will start selling for much cheaper. Either way, the price will come down as Li ion batteries move into production for cars and trucks.

Enertia is claiming a fuel efficiency of 2.42 kilometers (km) per megajoule (MJ). What does that mean? First off, 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity is 3.6 MJ. So then 1 kwh (which costs about 10 cents/kwh on average in the United States) can move the motorcycle 2.42 km (1.5 miles) times 3.6 for 8.7 kilometers (5.4 miles). That's less than 2 cents per mile. If you were to ride it 10,000 miles it would cost you $200. If you live in the highest electric cost state of Hawaii (22 cents/kwh) then it'll cost you $440. For California (14.32 cents/kwh) it would cost you $286. That is why Peak Oil won't cause a total collapse of civilization. The world is going to shift to electricity for transportation: electric cars, electric trains, electric motorcycles, and the Segway. We can generate the electricity with nuclear, wind, and eventually solar power.

Update: The Enertia uses .185 kwh/mile (1/5.4). In the comments of an earlier post Nick pointed me to a US Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report on the feasibility of pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (i.e. hybrids that can get recharged at home and run off cheaper wall socket electricity for part of the time). Table 1 on page 9 has an interesting table of kwh/mile for 4 sizes of vehicles:

Vehicle ClassSpecific Energy Requirements
Size of Battery for PHEV33
Compact sedan0.268.6
Mid-size sedan0.309.9
Mid-size SUV0.3812.5
Full-size SUV0.4615.2

This chart is problematic for those who hope that the end of the fossil fuels era will spell the death of the large SUV. With sufficiently advanced battery technology you could take 2 round trips across the United States of 12,000 miles total and if you charge up at the average rate of about 10 cents/kwh then you'll only spend $552 in fuel costs. If you charge up late at night using off-peak pricing then you might be able to cut your cost down to a third or less.

That rosy scenario for cheap SUV travel requires a few elements. First, it requires batteries that can store a lot of energy per weight. The batteries would have to be fairly cheap and last through many charges. Plus, the batteries would need to charge quickly so that you could stop for lunch and recharge while you eat.

To get down to super cheap prices for travel would require government regulatory agencies to allow dynamic pricing based on level of demand so that late night electric power could cost much less than daytime power. I think that once electric cars take off the interests of the electric car owners will create pressure for such reforms.

Even before we get batteries suitable for long trips we'll get batteries suitable for shorter commuting hops. The third column in the table above describes how much battery capacity is needed for a car to travel 33 miles on a single charge. That would encompass most commuting round trips and other daily round trips.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 22 03:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2007 July 10 Tuesday
Ford To Start Pluggable Hybrid Vehicle Test

At an event to announce a deal with Southern California Edison to field test some plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) Ford CEO Alan Mulally said Ford expects to start selling PHEVs in 5 to 10 years.

"Within five to 10 years we will start to see this technology in our hands," Mr Mulally said on the sidelines of a press event to announce an alliance between Ford and utility Southern California Edison to test 20 rechargeable electric vehicles.

When asked if that meant plug-in hybrids would be available on showroom floors, Mr Mulally said, "Yes. Sure."

5 years puts us in 2012 when the world's demand for oil will have so outpaced production growth that people will be clamoring for a way to escape from our liquid fuels dependency. 10 years is way too late. Why does Mulally think it will take that long to get viable batteries for PHEV use?

By contrast, General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz claimed in March 2007 that GM might manage to get its Volt PHEV into production by 2010.

"We have set an internal target of production in 2010. Whether we can make that or not, this is still kind of an unpredictable program for us," Lutz told reporters on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show.

He added: "We're sort of outside our comfort zone."

Production in 2010 might mean it is for the 2011 model year. GM says the needed lithium ion batteries might not be available till 2012. They aren't sure yet. Even once available that's only one model. But if the price of gasoline keeps going up it could be a very popular model.

GM is initially aiming for a 40 mile range on batteries. For people who have 20 mile commutes you'd have to plug the car in every night to recharge it. That would get tiresome. Depending on where you live plugging in a car at home might be problematic or even impossible. Apartment building residents with a shared lot or street parking probably couldn't plug in their car every night. Electric cars work better for people with driveways and garages.

When will we see batteries that can power cars for 120 or even 200 miles?

By Randall Parker    2007 July 10 11:24 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2006 December 11 Monday
Existing Electric Generators Could Power Pluggable Hybrid Cars

The coming wave of pluggable hybrid vehicles which can have their batteries recharged from home electric sockets can be recharged using existing electric power plants and transmission lines.

RICHLAND, Wash. – If all the cars and light trucks in the nation switched from oil to electrons, idle capacity in the existing electric power system could generate most of the electricity consumed by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. A new study for the Department of Energy finds that

Researchers at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also evaluated the impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, on foreign oil imports, the environment, electric utilities and the consumer.

"This is the first review of what the impacts would be of very high market penetrations of PHEVs, said Eric Lightner, of DOE's Office of Electric Delivery and Energy Reliability. "It's important to have this baseline knowledge as consumers are looking for more efficient vehicles, automakers are evaluating the market for PHEVs and battery manufacturers are working to improve battery life and performance."

The average commuting trip in the United States is 33 miles per day.

Current batteries for these cars can easily store the energy for driving the national average commute - about 33 miles round trip a day, so the study presumes that drivers would charge up overnight when demand for electricity is much lower.

Daily recharging would get old real fast. Every time you come home the need to plug the car into an electric socket would become an annoying chore. Plus,. some people do not live in places where this is practical. Say you live in an apartment building and park on the street or in a big lot. You may have no practical way to plug in your car. Even if you can plug in your car is that always practical? What about running an electric cable out to the car when it is raining? Works okay if you keep it in a garage. But most park their cars outside - including most who have car garages.

The areas which get their power from hydroelectric will need to build more coal or nuclear plants. Natural gas? North American production can't keep up with demand. More electric demand means more coal with smaller amounts of other types.

Researchers found, in the Midwest and East, there is sufficient off-peak generation, transmission and distribution capacity to provide for all of today's vehicles if they ran on batteries. However, in the West, and specifically the Pacific Northwest, there is limited extra electricity because of the large amount of hydroelectric generation that is already heavily utilized. Since more rain and snow can't be ordered, it's difficult to increase electricity production from the hydroelectric plants.

They didn't include nuclear plants because those operate around the clock supplying base electric demand.

"We were very conservative in looking at the idle capacity of power generation assets," said PNNL scientist Michael Kintner-Meyer. "The estimates didn't include hydro, renewables or nuclear plants. It also didn't include plants designed to meet peak demand because they don't operate continuously. We still found that across the country 84 percent of the additional electricity demand created by PHEVs could be met by idle generation capacity."

I suspect the power plants that are shut down at night have higher electric generation costs. So a shift toward using those power plants at night might raise electric costs for all purposes on average.

The coal-fired plants would emit more. But the reduction in gasoline burning might lead to a net reduction in carbon dioxide. However, a big decrease in US demand for oil would lower world prices and therefore lead to a greater demand for oil for other purposes. So I'm not as optimistic when looking at this path from a global level.

The study also looked at the impact on the environment of an all-out move to PHEVs. The added electricity would come from a combination of coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants. Even with today's power plants emitting greenhouse gases, the overall levels would be reduced because the entire process of moving a car one mile is more efficient using electricity than producing gasoline and burning it in a car's engine.

More coal burning means more sulfur emissions. It also means more mercur, particulates, and other pollutants.

Total sulfur dioxide emissions would increase in the near term due to sulfur content in coal. However, urban air quality would actually improve since the pollutants are emitted from power plants that are generally located outside cities. In the long run, according to the report, the steady demand for electricity is likely to result in investments in much cleaner power plants, even if coal remains the dominant fuel for our electricity production.

Newer electric plants could be built to tougher emissions requirements if the political will exists to make that happen. More stringent requirements on emissions from coal fired plants will push more new construction toward nuclear power plants. Tougher emissions regulations would raise the cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity.

"With cars charging overnight, the utilities would get a new market for their product. PHEVs would increase residential consumption of electricity by about 30 - 40 percent. The increased generation could lead to replacing aging coal-fired plants sooner with newer, more environmentally friendly versions," said Kintner-Meyer.

"The potential for lowering greenhouse gases further is quite substantial because it is far less expensive to capture emissions at the smokestack than the tailpipe. Vehicles are one of the most intractable problems facing policymakers seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Pratt.

Big power plants can have big emissions control equipment and highly skilled technical staff to manage the equipment. The capture and management of sulfur, mercury, particulates, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants is far easier than with cars running on gasoline.

If utilities were to change their rate structures to charge more during periods of high demand and less during periods of low demand (aka dynamic pricing) then pluggable hybrids would pay off more quickly and people would move toward them more quickly.

Finally, the study looked at the economic impact on consumers. Since, PHEVs are expected to cost about $6,000 to $10,000 more than existing vehicles - mostly due to the cost of batteries -- researchers evaluated how long it might take owners to break even on fuel costs. Depending on the price of gas and the cost of electricity, estimates range from five to eight years - about the current lifespan of a battery. Pratt notes that utilities could offer a lower price per kilowatt hour on off-peak power, making PHEVs even more attractive to consumers.

The pluggable hybrids could be connected to electric sockets with smart electronic switches that waited till electric prices dropped below some settable minimum before starting to charge.

Dynamic pricing combined with pluggable hybrids that can easily respond to pricing changes will do something else too: They will create more growth potential for energy sources that are not reliable. Wind and solar photovoltaics will both become more useful if a large portion of the demand for electricity was highly responsive to pricing changes. Pluggable hybrids will provide such a use for electric power.

To make pluggable hybrids most effective we need better batteries. Venture capital start-ups and established companies are chasing that goal. I'm confident the battery advances will come. The growing demand for hybrid vehicles has provided the financial incentive to invest in better battery technology.

We also need regulatory reform in the electric power market to make dynamic pricing a reality. Here I'm less optimistic. Government regulators and electric utilities don't have much incentive to push through a shift to dynamic pricing and I do not expect the public to be excited about it.

Update: A large increase in the demand for over night electricity would tend to cause a phase out of electric generator plants that provide peak power (notably natural gas burners) in favor of base line electric power generators (mostly coal and nuclear). Why? Because the base load suppliers are cheaper per kwh but only if they can run constantly. Coal and especially nuclear plants cost more to build but use cheaper fuel. They need to operate constantly to pay for their higher capital costs.

The exact mix of coal versus nuclear is going to depend on the regulatory environment and on technological advances. Tougher emissions regulations will favor nuclear. Technological advances might lower the costs of one more than the other. My guess is that nuclear has a greater potential for cost declines from technological advances. But when will those technological advances come?

By Randall Parker    2006 December 11 08:53 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 September 24 Sunday
Plug-In Hybrid Car Pollution Benefits Seen As Small

Battery gasoline hybrid cars that can be plugged into the wall to recharge for shorter trips will not deliver large emissions reductions.

Washington, D.C.— Plug-in hybrid vehicles could contribute greatly to reducing automobile oil consumption and emissions, but reaching those goals requires major progress in key areas. According to a report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the environmental and economic appeal of plug-in hybrid vehicles will depend heavily upon cleaner power sources and further battery advances. The report, Plug-In Hybrids: An Environmental and Economic Outlook, examines the benefits of plug-ins relative to today’s hybrids. It finds that greenhouse gas emissions reductions associated with a plug-in powered by today’s electric grid would be about 15% on average across the nation, ranging from 32% using California electricity to zero using Upper Midwest electricity.

Note the lack of mention of particulates or mercury from coal burning electric plants.

Plug-ins’ oil savings could be quite large. Battery size and cost rise steeply with the amount of fuel savings, however, suggesting that plug-ins with modest electric-only range will appear first. According to report co-author James Kliesch, the “electric-then-gasoline” depiction of plug-in operation is not realistic and has contributed to overstatements of the fuel savings potential of plug-ins in the popular media. “Achieving adequate battery lifetimes and minimizing battery costs will require a vehicle control logic that turns on the internal combustion engine when extra power is needed, even within the ‘electric-only’ range of the vehicle,” said Kliesch. The ACEEE report estimates fuel savings relative to today’s hybrids of 30% for a plug-in with a 20-mile electric-only range and 50% for a 40-mile range.

We need better battery technology to make plug-ins cost effective.

Where the electricity comes from determines whether plug-ins deliver a net environmental benefit.

For a plug-in owner in California, where most electricity on the grid is generated by low-pollution facilities, driving a PHEV might cut emissions of carbon dioxide by one-third compared with driving a regular hybrid.

But if the same PHEV were charged in the Midwest, where coal-fired power plants supply the electricity, reduction of CO2 emissions would be nil. Nitrous-oxide emissions (which form smog) would fall slightly, but sulfur-dioxide emissions (which contribute to acid rain) would quadruple.

Still, environmental gains are possible.

Plug-ins would chop CO2 emissions by 15 percent on a national average, compared with conventional hybrid cars, the ACEEE report found. At the same time, the plug-in would emit 157 percent more sulfur-dioxide pollution. The need, plug-in proponents say, is for policies that would clean up the electricity grid so that PHEV technology supplies cleaner skies along with energy independence.

This report overstates the environmental benefits of plug-in hybrids. Anyone see the reason why? Hint: large scale use of plug-ins would require construction of new power plants. What about those plants would make things worse?

Answer: New electric power plants will be more heavily weighted toward coal burners than the existing fleet. Natural gas has become too expensive. Hydro power is all tapped out with limited potential for expansion and environmentalists want to see some existing dams dismantled. Nuclear power has fallen out of fashion. Coal looks set to become a larger percentage of total electric generating capacity. Not only would the coal put out more sulfur but also particulates, mercury and other bad stuff.

In California coal faces big regulatory obstacles and the politicians are forcing a big push into renewables. So a shift toward plug-ins here would probably improve air quality. But the cost in electricity will be higher. In the last year nationally electric power costs rose on average from 9.08 cents to 10.15 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) or 11.8%. But in California the cost rose from 11.82 cents to 13.84 cents for a 17% increase. New electric power capacity in California (e.g. wind mills) is much more expensive than existing capacity. So the demand for electric power to run cars will drive up average electric prices for all uses.

We could have regulations that require cleaner coal generators nationally. But that too would raise average electric prices. Plus, as demand grows the percentage of total electric power that comes from cheaper hydro-electric dams will decline and the average cost will rise for that reason as well.

If new electric power capacity came from nuclear plants then shifting to plug-in hybrids would deliver a clear and quite substantial environmental benefit. The same will hold some day when photovoltaics become much cheaper. But right now higher electric power demand translates into higher coal burning electric plant construction in most parts of the United States and in other parts it translates into higher electric power prices.

By Randall Parker    2006 September 24 03:55 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (31)
2006 March 27 Monday
Lithium Ion Nanoparticle Batteries Better For Cars

An article in Technology Review reports the Altair Nanotechnologies lithium ion battery has the fast charging and discharging needed for all electric vehicles.

Advances in lithium-ion battery technology over the last few years have experts and enthusiasts alike wondering if the new batteries may soon make high-performance electric vehicles widely available. Now one company, Altair Nanotechnologies of Reno, NV, has announced plans to start testing its new batteries in prototype electric vehicles, with road tests scheduled to begin by year-end.

The batteries can be recharged in 6 to 8 minutes.

Also, Gotcher says an electric vehicle using their batteries could charge in about the time it takes to fill a tank of gas and buy a cup of coffee and snack -- six to eight minutes.


Gotcher says the new battery materials can be produced for about the same cost as conventional lithium-ion materials, but will have two to three times the lifespan of today's batteries.

Lithium is lightweight. Lithium-based batteries could make electric cars feasible.

Nanoparticles that provide much more surface area allow the batteries to charge and discharge much more rapidly.

The added surface area of nanoscale particles on electrode materials helps the ions escape, freeing more of them to travel and provide bursts of power or quick recharging.

Some electrochemists think lightweight high energy density batteries are within the realm of the physically possible. Development of long lasting, quick charging, cost competitive, and lightweight batteries could make electric cars commonplace. Such a development would greatly reduce our dependence on oil and allow any energy source that can produce electricity (e.g. nuclear, coal, wind, solar) to replace oil for most transportation needs.

By Randall Parker    2006 March 27 09:18 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (52)
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