Making Electric Cars Viable

>> Sunday, January 11, 2009

The reason that electric cars have not been widely available is because the battery technology for them has not been present. The auto companies have been insufficiently motivated to develop the technology as long as they could make money on the SUVs and other gasoline based vehicles. Both of those things have changed in recent years. New Battery technology is making electric cars into a viable option. The price of gasoline skyrocket briefly illustrating the problems with relying to heavily on that form of power.

The race to get the first economicly viable electric car to market may make or break the big three auto companies. Gm has put all of its chips on Volt.

The Prius, like the Honda Civic and forthcoming Honda Insight, is a parallel hybrid that uses both an electric motor and a gasoline engine to drive the wheels. The Volt, on the other hand, is a series hybrid. Like the Prius, it's got an electric motor and a four-cylinder gasoline engine, but the engine merely charges the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery as it approaches depletion. Electricity alone turns the wheels. The Volt is designed to travel 40 miles on a single charge, meaning most drivers will never burn a drop of gasoline. GM is still butting heads with the Environmental Protection Agency over the Volt's official fuel economy rating, but GM execs tell us the Volt is good for 100 mpg or more.

The important fact here is that the Volt gets 40 miles per charge. If we want to measure it as a true electric vehicle than we should only look at the electric battery. 40 miles is not enough for long trips like trips to baseball or soccer tournaments. Its not enough to get from SB to dodger stadium. Yes on average people wont be driving more than 40 miles per day but trips of 40 miles or more are not an uncommon occurrence. This is where the infrastructure comes in.

“What will determine the market is not going to be how far your battery can go, but how far your infrastructure is spread so power is available,” said Shai Agassi, the chief executive of Better Place.

Those 40+ mile trips would entail pulling off the freeway to swap out batteries at a gas station. The infrastructure for a swap out style system is already in place across the country. The only issue is the cost of the swap for new batteries. If the cost is more than 5-10 dollars for new batteries you can see the problem. Long trips where you have to pull over 4 times will end up costing more than it would to make the trip using a gas based car. i suspect that that would have a psychological impact on the consumers.

If the battery could deliver 100 mile range i imagine the problem of distance travel would be largely erase. You would very rarely have to swap out your batteries on a trip. How the economics of this would all work out is anybodies guess. I suspect though that the car companies could find a way to make it work.


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