Has GM overdesigned the Volt: Is a 40-mile all electric range too much?

I have an article in today’s Guardian online, “Is the Chevy Volt just hype?” I argue that the key to the near-term success for plug ins in this country is government incentives and mandates, which in turn will critically depend on the outcome of the presidential election. But that should not be a surprise, since no country in the world has achieved significant market penetration of an alternative-fuel vehicle without major government incentives and mandates.

I noted that one alternative fuel vehicle expert told me that GM has “already sunk at least $1bn into the Volt and cannot reasonably expect a profit from a $45,000 new car in an economy which is imploding. The actual cost of the vehicle may be higher.” And that leads to two key, related points:

If this country doesn’t strongly embrace plug-ins, Europe may well become the leader. After all, gas prices are considerably higher in Europe, which means plug-ins will provide consumers there far larger fuel cost savings. Also, Europeans drive about half as much as Americans, so they may be able to avoid gas consumption almost entirely with a well-designed plug-in, perhaps one with a smaller all-electric range.

And this leads directly to the question of whether of the Volt is overdesigned:

The vast majority of people commute much less than 40 miles a day. This is true in US and even more so in other countries. In addition, as plug-ins become popular, we will very quickly see electric outlets in parking garages, malls and the like, so people will be able to charge at home and then again at work or when shopping.

So I think a plug-in that goes closer to 20 miles all-electric before reverting to a gasoline hybrid makes much more sense, especially for initial market introduction where the cost of the vehicle still reflects the use of expensive batteries that have not come down in cost. Ultimately, economies of scale and improvements in manufacturing and technology will make the batteries and the whole electric drivetrain more affordable.

This is certainly a very complicated design question, involving trade-offs in the batteries involving the ability to deliver energy versus the ability to deliver power when needed — as well as trade-offs that automakers don’t fully control, such as how quickly companies make charging at work places accessible.

But I think one point is very crucial for designers to understand: It is so much cheaper per mile to run on electricity than gasoline — a factor of five cheaper or more at current gasoline prices — that the vast majority of drivers are going to want to go out of their way to keep their plug ins charged up all the time, and that includes when their car is parked for eight hours at work.

Also, you can take a large bet that companies trying to brand themselves as green, like Google and Wal-Mart, will not only provide incentives for their employees to purchase plug-ins, but they will very quickly retrofit their parking facilities to provide easy charging — most likely using renewable energy at discounted prices.

You don’t want to design plug ins to cover the full commute of all American commuters. Nor do you want to design it assuming there will be no charging at work. Since half of American cars travel under 25 miles a day, and batteries are simply so expensive right now, I tend to think 15 to 25 miles all-electric makes more sense for early models.

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41 Responses to Has GM overdesigned the Volt: Is a 40-mile all electric range too much?

  1. Earl Killian says:

    Ric Fulop of A123 (a potential GM supplier) has said their batteries will soon get down to 50 cents per Watt hour (Wh). They Volt should be (a guess) less than 230 Wh/mi. So 40 miles would be 9200 Wh, or $4600. That is indeed somewhat high for the first generation, as it will probably take 3 years to recover that in fuel costs. The whole idea of the plug-in hybrid transition is to solve the chick-and-egg problem of battery cost by starting out with 20 miles of all electric range, getting automotive Lithium batteries started down the learning/cost-reduction curve, and then increase the electric range with time as battery packs get cheaper. It appears that GM is oversizing the battery beyond this calculation (thereby increasing cost) to further increase the number of charge/discharge cycles they can get from the battery. That probably isn’t necessary, but it is insurance.

    However, GM perhaps recognizes that the early adopters of disruptive technology are not buying on price alone. That is never the case. People pay premiums all the time for both silly and good reasons. What GM recognizes is that there are people out there who will pay a premium for a really green car with no limitations. Perhaps they are correct that this will solve the chicken-and-egg problem faster than starting out with a PHEV-20.

  2. John Mashey says:

    Joe is probably right, but…

    1) Silicon valley certainly expects to have lots of plugin infrastructure:

    Google’s RechargeIT is certainly going at it.

    Coulomb Technologies is an interesting startup that does smart charging infrastructure, run by a good technology colleague who’s also been Mayor of Cupertino,. a useful combination.

    People demonstrated Mercedes Smart cars a while ago, of which there was a battery version running around Palo Alto for a while. [The line to try it was too long, unfortunately.]

    Of course, around here, people (like Fry’s Electronics) still have charging stations leftover from the last time BEVs were tried hard, i.e., people are quite willing to go for it.

    CA, of course, not only cares about energy consumption, but we always have the pollution issues to deal with, especially in Los Angeles and the Central valley, but sometimes even in the SF Bay Area. While biofuels might be or get to be better than gasoline/diesel from a climate perspective, they don’t help air pollution, i.e., they are just as bad. There seems little hope for hydrogen any time soon.

    Assuming one works hard on efficiency, that still leaves BEV PHEV cars and light trucks as the major approach that is positive for climate, pollution (and economy, since it helps stretch oil and maybe slightly mitigate the effects of the coming Peak Oil downslope.)

    All of that argues in favor of Joe’s point, although it is a CA view, not always perfectly representative, and of course *very* receptive to BEV/PHEV.

    2) On the other hand:

    a) AVERAGES are very misleading. I always want to know the distribution, not just the mean. Joe: can you point at any data about the distribution of commutes?

    b) From product family design viewpoint, one often segments a market, sees that the optimal point might be X, but find that there are competitors ahead of you there, but if you do Y, there may be a smaller market, but you may be able to have a niche with less competition to start, and some clear differentiators.

    I.e., Chevy Volt might well do OK IF there are sufficient people

    a) Whose daily commute is just a bit too long, or are in places where the density doesn’t support enough charging stations.
    b) That are used to buying Chevys, have bought from the same dealer for years, etc.
    c) Want to buy something different.

    In addition, if they can do 40 miles, they surely can do a less expensive/lighter one that does 20.
    [We’ve done this in multiprocessor computers for decades.]

    Hence, I would actually *applaud* GM for doing *something* in this turf, at the same time hoping they’ve got other things underway. I do like the fact that it’s a serial PHEV.

    Anyway, I think Detroit needs all the encouragement it can get to do the “right things” or at least better things. If a bunch of people buy Volts who wouldn’t buy Priuses, that’s still a net plus.

  3. Milan says:

    How hard would it be to sell a 20-mile version with fewer batteries for a lower price than the standard model?

    If the price difference is big, and so is the potential market, it seems like a smart business move.

  4. EricG says:

    I want a Volt without any battery storage.

    According to Chevy, the Volt gets 50mpg when running on generator only. The Volt’s batteries weigh about 375 lbs (most common number I found on the Internet), which is more than 10% of total vehicle weight. Without batteries the mileage will improve.

    You do need a battery to serve as a buffer between the generator and the motors, and to store electricity for startup, but that’s not a big deal. You don’t need a 375 lb., $12k+ battery pack that you’re gonna have to replace in a few years. Someday we’ll have reasonable batteries, but right now we have a nice series hybrid.

    Earl, the Volt specification is for a 16 kWh battery.

  5. Earl Killian says:

    EricG, yes that’s why I wrote, “It appears that GM is oversizing the battery beyond this calculation (thereby increasing cost) to further increase the number of charge/discharge cycles they can get from the battery. That probably isn’t necessary, but it is insurance.”

    Why wouldn’t you want a 20-mile version, as Milan asks? You would easily recoup the up-front cost two to three times over the lifetime of the vehicle.

  6. Earl Killian says:

    EricG wrote, “you’re gonna have to replace in a few years

    This is wrong. The battery pack is likely to outlast the vehicle. A123’s webpage shows 87% capacity at 3,500 full-depth discharge cycles. That is 140,000 miles of all electric driving, and probably over 280,000 miles on the vehicle overall. Since GM is making sure that full-depth discharge never happens by oversizing the battery pack, the lifetime is going to be much better than this.

    Do you have any basis to claim battery pack replacement in a few years or are you throwing out FUD?

  7. charlie says:

    The Volt is a boondoogle designed to free up $25 billion in low cost US loans so GM can pay its workers.

    The target market doesn’t exist because of the price point (45K) and the GM’s inability to offer competitive financing. BMW will be able to offer you a lease of a 3 series at 200-300 less than the volt.

    I don’t see the Euro volt taking off. EVs are popular in london just because they avoid the congestion charge. I’m not sure how much electricity the plug in part will use but electricity costs are much higher in Europe. Also, more Europeans live in URBAN settings where you can’t get a power outlet to your car.

    I suspect you could build a Volt with a MUCH MUCH smaller battery or capacitor and just use the gas engine to drive a generator. I’m not sure how much that helps on CO2 and other pollution measures.

  8. Steve says:

    A 20 mile range guarantees the market is limited to people who only drive really short distances. This is a pretty serious limit. People don’t make side trips?

    How does the Tesla Motors car get 244 miles per charge? I’ll go for one of those!

  9. gaiasdaughter says:

    Part of the reason Europeans drive so much less is that they walk, bike, or take public transportation when they have short distances to travel. They save their cars for road trips. The most promising vehicle I’ve seen is the Aptera. Interesting concept; interesting car.

  10. Anonymous says:

    > How does the Tesla Motors car get 244 miles per charge? I’ll go for one of those!

    Martin Eberhard states on his blog that in his real use the Tesla gets 125 miles per charge. Now this is with the 1.0, not the 1.5 powertrain, he may not be running his batteries down too far, and perhaps he has a lead foot, since this is after all a sports car.

  11. EricG says:

    Hi Earl,

    No, I don’t mean to be throwing out FUD. I will admit to some pretty heavy skepticism regarding GM’s ability to solve the battery issue in the short run. Whatever testing they can do in the lab will have a hard time replicating 10+ years wear and tear in the real world.

    Based upon the data I have, it doesn’t appear to me that the payback time is as short as you indicate. My calculation is simple:

    16kWh @ $0.10 / kWh = $1.60 per charge.
    $1.60 / 40 miles = $0.0400 / mile.

    1 gallon gas @ $4.00 / gallon / 50 mpg = $0.0800 / mile

    Advantage = $0.0400 / mile

    Incremental cost of batteries = ???. I don’t buy your $4,600, but let’s run with it. $4,600 / $0.0400 = 115,000 miles electric driving. Earl, I wouldn’t drive that many electric miles in 20 years. If, as you imply, the battery is only half discharged, then my payback period is 57,500 miles, or something more than ten years.

    Am I missing something here? Should there be an assumption for energy loss when the car is sitting?

    Regarding battery life, I do admit to a lack of research on this subject. My impression that batteries won’t last the life of the car is from various Internet discussions, and my own skepticism regarding testing. I’ve also heard a few discussions at conferences regarding the “What do we do with the old batteries?” question. (The answer is that we use them for grid backup.) Anyway, these discussions didn’t give me much confidence in the battery life. I may have exaggerated here.

  12. Earl Killian says:

    EricG wrote, “I don’t mean to be throwing out FUD. I will admit to some pretty heavy skepticism regarding GM’s ability to solve the battery issue in the short run.

    If you’re skeptical, say so. Don’t assert that battery replacements are going to be necessary every few years without researching it. That’s irresponsible. There are Prius batteries with over 300,00 miles on them; batteries do not necessarily wear out quickly. There is the A123 data that you can easily find on their website. The situation looks good. If you know of contrary data, share it.

    If you are driving less than 6,000 miles per year (16 miles a day), then clearly a 40-mile AER is way beyond what you need, and 20 mile AER option Milan suggested would clearly be a better deal for you.

    On to the cost calculation. Remember that GM is oversizing the battery, and treating it a little like a Prius battery, keeping the SOC (state of charge) level between 20% and 80%. Thus one is driving 40 miles on 60% of the pack capacity. When it is time to recharge, you only refill that 60% (assuming you’ve driven the full 40 miles). The charger and batteries are only 85-90% efficient, so to refill the 10 kWh in the batteries is about 11 kWh at the plug. Thus you want 11 kWh * 10 cents/kWh = $1.10 per charge, or 2.75 cents per mile. Of course if you sign-up for nighttime power rates (6 cents per kWh where I live in expensive California), this would be only 1.65 cents a mile.

    Next, the question is what is the average price of gasoline over the lifetime of the car? I doubt it will be as low as $4/gallon. I would guess at least $6/gallon over the next 10 years. $6 / 50 MPG = 12 cents a mile.

    So you’re looking at either a 10.35 or 9.25 cents a mile savings, depending on the electric rate used.

    At 15,000 miles per year, you save $1388 or $1552 per year.

    Use the 16 kWh at 50 cents per kWh = $8000. Breakeven in 5.2 or 5.8 years.

    Yes, this is longer because GM oversized the battery so much. Given the A123 data, that does not appear to have been necessary.

  13. CharlesM says:

    GM oversized the battery so that it never depletes by more than 50% (which explains the 9200 vs. 16k W-h disparity). That is to help with the critical issue of longevity. Also, in order to invest so much in the project, I don’t think GM thought that 20 miles/charge would be sufficient from a marketing perspective. Yes, it would serve the vast majority, but people just don’t think in those terms when they invest in a set of wheels.

    I wonder if the 50 cents/Wh figure per A123 is mfg COGs or selling cost. $8k doesn’t sound too bad when the rest of the power train is cheap. That should allow a

  14. CharlesM says:

    Don’t know how the rest of my comments disappeared, but they were…

    [$8k] should allow an otherwise How does the Tesla Motors car get 244 miles per charge?
    As I’m sure you know, Steve, the Tesla costs >$100k for that reason. And they over engineered a battery pack based on a tiny, commonly available cell in order for it to work in a car application. Tesla doesn’t have the resources GM is able to leverage to develop a totally new type of battery pack exclusively for electric vehicles.

  15. CharlesM says:

    Last try: $8k of true battery cost implies to me a total vehicle cost much less than that expected for the Volt, so that would be a big improvement.

  16. CharlesM says:

    Oops. That’s right: Down to 30% (not 50) with a 50% “swing zone” up to 80% (practical full limit). Nonetheless conservative use.

  17. Earl Killian says:

    CharlesM, Tesla gets 244 miles of range by having a 53 kWh battery pack consisting of 6831 cells (18650 form factor). Each cell is nominal 2.2Ah, 3.8V, or 8.3 Wh, but the battery pack is limited by the weakest cell, and the fact that Tesla does not charge to 100% or discharge to 0%, which limits the Wh. Hence only 53 KWh.

    The Sanyo UR18650F, which should be pretty similar to what Tesla uses, has a mass of 46.5g. So 6831 of them would have a mass of 318 kg (700 pound). The Tesla Energy Storage System (ESS), which includes the batteries and everything is over 900 pounds, so there are over 200 pounds of other stuff to hook all those batteries together.

    53,000 Wh / 244 miles = 217 Wh/mi for motor-to-wheels efficiency. That’s reasonable/normal for an EV.

    18650 cells are much cheaper than the A123 cells. They should be in the range of $0.20 to $0.35/Wh. That means the Roadster pack costs Tesla between $11,400 to $19,950. The battery pack is only a small part of the Roadster price tag.

    CharlesM wrote, “Tesla doesn’t have the resources GM is able to leverage to develop a totally new type of battery pack exclusively for electric vehicles.

    It isn’t clear what GM is doing that Tesla isn’t. Most of the magic in the Volt appears to be in A123 or their competitor’s batteries, not in the pack design. Tesla’s pack design is quite sophisticated. If anything, I would guess that the GM design is simpler, since the batteries they are using are so much more forgiving.

  18. Earl Killian says:

    CharlesM, A123 batteries use the LiFePO4 chemistry. You can buy LiFePO4 batteries from China today in hobbyist quantity for $0.50/Wh. A123 batteries are supposedly better than other LiFePO4.

  19. EricG says:

    You da man, Earl.

    How about if I buy my Volt now without battery storage, and then add a 20 mile pack in a few years when I trust the technology, and the cost is lower?

  20. John Hollenberg says:

    I was the one who posted on the Tesla getting 125 miles on a charge the way Martin Eberhard drives it. Sorry I forgot to put in my name, so it came across as anonymous.

  21. John Mashey says:

    Personally, I want to see most car companies trying various flavors of BEV/PHEV, to try to fill as many market segments as soon as possible, even if it is sometimes greenwashing.

    Actually, this transition is *very* reminiscent of what happened to the *minicomputer* business in the mid-1980s.

    1) Minicomputer companies, like Digital Equipment, Data General, Wang, and many others grew up in the 1960s/1970s, especially around Boston.

    They built moderate-price computers in which:

    a)*CPUs were multiple boards of logic, requiring serious design expertise.
    b)*I/O systems likewise.
    c)*Each company had its own proprietary operating systems.
    d) Some components were bought and integrated, like memory and disks, although the larger companies (like Digital) sometimes built their own.
    e) Service and support were pretty important, via local branches. Service often required sending a very skilled technician on-site to diagnose failures in complex hardware and replace boards.

    I.e., this is akin to car companies, in which the company does the overall design and integration, runs the distribution and support and marketing, does some detailed design internally, purchases some standard external components, and works with some external suppliers to build customer-specific components.

    The “heart” of such companies’ engineering was often a), b), and c), and there was substantial expertise involved in designing multiple electronics boards containing multiple chips.

    In a few cases, such as Hewlett Packard and IBM, minicomputers were divisions within the larger companies.

    2) When microprocessors first appeared in the late 1970s, they were commonly mocked by mainframe and minicomputer designers as toys, and at that point there were certainly incapable of replacing the bigger machines. They did get used by a few aggressive startups, like Apple, Apollo, Convergent Technologies, Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, and divisions of HP & IBM, typically in workstations/personal computers, and many others in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

    The startups needed to do designs, but they didn’t need to do the CPUs(a) , and sometimes could use standards (b), and adapt operating systems like UNIX (c), and as a result, could avoid a lot of the work that existing minicomputer companies did.

    In a few cases (HP, IBM), people seemed to understand that microprocessor-systems would replace the existing minicomputers, but in many cases, especially the engineers who built (a) and (b) (and sometimes (c)) would argue endlessly why their custom-built designs would always outperform any microprocessor ever built. Of course, they were wrong, and as a result, most such companies struggled with the transition. Actually, they mostly disappeared…

    Of course, microprocessor systems end up being cheaper and more reliable, to the point where people don’t really repair boards any more, but just throw them out, or (like Google does) let them fail in place and rely on redundancy to cover the failures.

    3) Now, consider car companies, among whose expertise/value-add is included:
    a) Design of internal combustion engines
    b) Design of transmissions

    And dealers who are used to providing certain kinds of service.

    While cars have long been on the road to being computer centers with wheels, it is a *wrenching* change for mechanical engineers who’ve been doing ICE and transmission, design to be designing cars where:

    – A big part of the cost/value is in batteries
    – There may be no ICE
    – If there is an ICE, it likely ends up being small, in many cases, just used to recharge the batteries.
    – The transmission & drivetrain end up (eventually) being electrical, not mechanical.
    – A lot more of the value is in microprocessors and algorithms.

    And it is a wrenching change for a car company to rethink supply chains and management approaches to build rather different vehicles … which is why, of course, some of the new vehicles come from startups, many of which are not in Detroit.

    People rapidly recognized with microprocessors that they could easily design systems with (for example) 1, 2, or 4 micros to cover a range of customer needs, and assemble a range of systems sharing common CPU and I/O components.

    Car companies of course do this already in trying to use some common components.

    One can imagine building a family of PHEV/BEV cars, especially once one gets to pure-electric drivetrains:
    a) Several sizes of battery packs (2-3)
    b) With/without an ICE (PHEV/BEV) (2)
    c) 2-wheel/4-wheel drive (2)

    That’s may 6-12 plausible variations.

    Of course, car companies still have vast expertise in many other areas, but it sure looks like pieces of their classic expertise are going to get replaced, and the real question is which companies will recognize this and roll with it, and which will suffer the fate of most minicomputer businesses.

    Right now, I’d like this to ~1984/1985 in the minicomputer business.

    As an interesting sidelight, at last week’s ASPO 2008 Peak Oil conference, Geoff Wardle gave a fine talk “Changing the Design of the Automobile Industry”, which I recommend.

    Geoff is Director, Advanced Mobility Research at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, which of course is a *very, very* important place in the car world.

    I don’t recall if he said it, or one of the other speakers, but someone noted that Toyota had accepted the idea of Peak Oil in 1992 … and the Prius was first sold in japan in 1997.

  22. Wonyo says:

    Joe – The 40 mile all electric range of the Volt is too much if you’re also expecting the Volt to have the mass, seating capacity, and price of a comparably gasoline powered car.

    If you accept the reality that batteries have lower energy density than gasoline, you have to compromise something. Tesla compromised with a high price that excludes the common man. Chevy Volt’s price is entering luxury car range.

    I’m most optimistic about the Aptera, which compromised seating capacity (2 adults + 1 infant), mass (1500 lbs), and aesthetics (0.11 Cd) to produce a car that will go 120 miles on 10 kWh of battery capacity, with an expected price of $27,000.

  23. Ronald says:

    GM is doing the fun and more relatively easier over the responsible and hard. The hard and responsible is to have Prius-like full electric/gasoline propulsion systems available on all model lines like Toyota is doing. And then supply plugin charging to that.

    The big jump isn’t to make one model that has full hybrid and plug in, but to have all models with that option.

    I read in a magazine article that full hybrids can give 45 percent better fuel mileage, but other more reliable sources put it at 30 percent, which is still a pretty good improvement.

    So now we can debate nearly endlessly about whether we should have 10, 20, 40 or some other number for miles of batteries, but the percentage of full hybrid/plugins to their entire product lines and sales.

  24. Paul Hodgson says:

    Joe, My first post here after months of lurking at climate progress and at realclimate. You and Gavin at rc do a brilliant job. Yves Smith at is currently providing a similarly brilliant virtually single-handed commentary on and interpretation of the current financial crisis. You’re the sort of people who deserve the Pulitzers. (Are there any readers here who can make nominations a reality?)

    Warren Buffett has just bought a 9% stake in a nimble Chinese battery and electric vehicle company called BYD. Here’s one of many things on the net about BYD’s electric car: If readers here are unimpressed with the particular link, just google “byd electric”.

    Frankly, it makes the GM Volt look like a Lada or an East German Trabant or one of those Morrises they made in India in the 1960s or thereabouts.

    Thanks a lot Joe

    Paul Hodgson (Australia)

    [JR: Thanks for your comment. Please keep them coming!]

  25. CharlesM says:

    I’m aware of all those details about both battery packs. I was just trying to address the comment above from Steve, though several of my messages were twisted or truncated, probably because I tried to put in some html tags to quote Steve’s words. (My link on the Volt pack survived, though!)

    The short of it is that Tesla has a large capacity battery pack, but the car is not affordable for the mainstream. The 18650 cell is cheap, but didn’t you neglect the much larger cost of the rest of the ESS built around them? Details of that behemoth are at the Tesla site.

    My second point was just that Tesla’s economies of scale are even more primitive than GM’s. Their ESS is a brute force design in order to use a cell that’s otherwise not appropriate for this application. I agree the A123 and Conti/LG cells will ultimately be much cheaper per W-hr, because they were designed ground up to don’t require as much safety overstructure to make the cells suitable for the task. Even if GM didn’t bear so much of the development costs, Tesla couldn’t have promised the volumes to get battery manufacturers to start from scratch. I think we’re nitpicking the same point.

    Anyway, we digress. I love Climate Progress, but I’m ambivalent over the 20 vs. 40 mi. per charge debate. GM has arrived at 40 amid arguments they should have gone for less (20) or more (as in closer to the Tesla). At the time of project conception, the projected car cost was under $30k. So they probably thought that was reasonable for a pure electric to 40 mi. I think it’s just important they do it ASAP. Though, unfortunately, I also remember they projected the range extender to provide up to 600 mi. total, while now it’s been revised downward to about 200 mi. Good thing most of us EV heads don’t plan to use it much in that mode anyway.

    Now, where’s my PHEV Mini Clubman? C’mon, BMW, get cracking!! (I know they’re allegedly, finally starting an electric program.)

  26. Earl Killian says:

    CharlesM, why get hung up on the 20 vs. 40 mile thing? The Volt is going to be just one point in what will likely become a wide array of options throughout the auto industry.

    I suppose the interesting question is when the companies that started using LiCo 18650s, like Tesla, switch over to using better chemistry, such as LiFePO4 or LiNiAlCo or LiNiCoMn, and larger form factors. The Wh/kg of LiFePO4 and $/Wh is not as good as LiCo, which may make Tesla and others hang on a little longer.

  27. Earl Killian says:

    Wonyo wrote, “If you accept the reality that batteries have lower energy density than gasoline, you have to compromise something.

    The EV in my garage uses 61 Wh/kg batteries (the Panasonic EV-95s), which is one-half to one-third the Wh/kg of Lithium batteries, and yet it has 83,000 miles on it since 2002 and performs wonderfully. The vehicle is actually better in volume than its ICE cousin. Fueling it emits zero GHG because the energy comes from PV on the roof. A range-extending trailer was built for the vehicle (though we don’t have one). I therefore don’t see how the Wh/kg of modern batteries cause an inherent compromise when there was none on a car built with 1990s battery technology.

    A123’s batteries allow >90% charge in 5 minutes. An EV built with those batteries could be driven from SF to LA with just three 5-minute stops (just two more than an ICE). No trailer would be required for such a vehicle.

  28. Earl Killian says:

    To follow-up on what John Mashey wrote, one thing the automakers are probably worried about with EVs is the lack of maintenance and the associated revenue. No spark plugs, no oil filters, no air filters, no antifreeze or radiators. No catalytic converter to wear out. No mufflers. No transmissions, clutches, etc.. No belts. This will be an adjustment for the automakers and dealers. I think drivers will appreciate it instantly though. There will still be windshield washer fluid to change though.

  29. CharlesM says:

    CharlesM, why get hung up on the 20 vs. 40 mile thing?

    I’m not and that was exactly my point! Obviously I didn’t make it very well. On chemistries I agree too. I’m currently looking at LiFePO4 for a design project and its volumetric power density is really meager–no better than NMH. One interesting alternative being developed by Altairnano substitutes lithium titanate oxide for the graphite anode, which they believe wears quickly because of its weak lattice structure. FWIW.

  30. David B. Benson says:

    Locally there is now a cute 2 passenger, 4 wheel electric commuter car. The brand plate states ‘smart’ and it was recently purchased from ‘smart ceter’ in Seattle.

    But that is about 500 km from here. So how did it get over here?

  31. Wonhyo says:

    Earl – I’m not criticizing electric cars. I’m just responding to JR’s speculation that GMs insistence 40 on miles range for the Volt might make it too costly. You simply can’t make a car as big, as heavy, as fast, as affordable, and as long range as a gas car when you’re constrained by the high cost and low energy density of batteries. You have to compromise something. I’m agreeing with Joe’s speculation that the high cost of a 16 kWh battery in the Volt may unnecessarily limit its market. Aptera understood these implications and responded with a design that emphasizes efficiency.

    Perhaps GM can offer a 8 kWh, 20 mile version at a discount.

    I envy you for driving a RAV4 EV, even though it has a lower top speed and shorter range, and costs $12,000 more than the gas version (with the CA rebate). I suspect the EV has less cargo room as well. I envy you because I understand that I rarely need to drive more than 120 miles in a day. These are all compromises I’m willing to accept in the interest of national security.

    In fact, all 3 vehicles I’ve owned since 1998 got 40+ mpg. Two are hybrids. Two are 2-seaters. I have a reservation for an Aptera as well.

  32. Jim Bullis says:

    All should note: Global warming is no longer a problem. (I am being sarcastic.) Just by changing the label, the Volt will use 75% less fuel and thus emit 75% less CO2. A few more magic tricks like this and there will no longer be a problem.

    The article of interest:

    Volt could break 100 mpg ceiling if EPA approves

    The Chevrolet Volt could get at least 100 mpg.
    General MotorsThe Chevrolet Volt could be on its way to being the first mass-produced vehicle rated at 100 mpg or more.

    To ensure that happens, General Motors is asking the EPA to declare the Volt an electric vehicle for regulatory purposes. GM spokesman Rob Peterson said the California Air Resources Board has given the Volt preliminary certification as an electric.

    A government rating of more than 100 mpg would give GM invaluable marketing ammunition and would be a boost for company compliance with fuel economy standards. Peterson confirmed the request today.

    Loops vs. formulas

    Normally, a vehicle is run on an EPA test loop, consisting of both city and highway driving, to measure tailpipe pollutants and provide data for calculating fuel economy. But for electrics, which have no emissions, the government uses a Department of Energy mathematical formula to translate energy use into some equivalent of miles per gallon of gasoline.

    Using that formula, the limited-production all-electric Tesla Roadster, for example, gets rated at 244 mpg for the government’s corporate average fuel economy program. Tesla officials say they look forward to being able to sell the fuel economy credits they will accumulate, even with limited sales.

    The Volt is a plug-in electric hybrid, which GM calls a “range-extended” electric. Due on the market in late 2010, the Volt will be designed to go 40 miles on all-electric power. Then a small internal combustion engine would kick in to extend the range.

    It appears unlikely that the government test loop could be used to accurately measure Volt emissions and fuel economy.

    Removing all doubts

    Simply declaring it an electric would remove any doubt.

    But one government official, who insisted on anonymity, said declaring the Volt an electric would not paint a true picture. If a motorist forgets to plug in one night, then the car would run the next day using the 1.4-liter gasoline engine to generate all the electric power for the drive motor.

    Peterson said if the Volt is certified as an electric vehicle, engineers could then optimize the powertrain’s calibration for testing against that classification.

    The Society of Automotive Engineers would not classify the Volt as an electric vehicle. SAE defines a hybrid as having two energy sources, such as gasoline and electricity. The Volt has both.

    GM has not said how many miles per gallon the Volt would deliver when it is running on its gasoline engine. But the size of the Volt’s fuel tank and the range GM says the vehicle can travel points to a gasoline-only fuel economy of between 35 and 50 mpg after the car’s first 40 miles on pure electric power.

    End of article.

    And :
    Jim Bullis writes:
    How can we have come to a point where we believe that changing the category of a car can make it more fuel efficient? I answer my own question: By allowing the EPA to use bogus mpg calculations for electric cars. There three levels of bogosity. First is to completely ignore the energy represented by the electricity. Second is to inappropriately calculate the electric energy as if it dropped into the wall socket from the sky. (Actually it mostly connects to a of coal.) And third, there is a special factor for electric vehicles that is a goodness factor that has nothing to do with anything except political lobbying by electric car interests. (This was written into DOE regulations in July 2000. see: )

    Obviously, I can stop working on the Miastrada if the Volt can get 100 mpg.

  33. Earl Killian says:

    Jim wrote, “Just by changing the label, the Volt will use 75% less fuel and thus emit 75% less CO2.” The MPG rating is not going to effect the GHG rating.

    For more information on the MPG rating, see

    I take no position upon the MPG ratings for EVs; I am simply offering information you might find helpful.

  34. Earl Killian says:

    Wonhyo wrote, “I suspect the EV has less cargo room as well.

    Why would you suspect that? My first reply even told you the opposite. The lack of a tailpipe meant that the spare tire could go underneath the vehicle instead of on the cargo door, which is much more convenient.

    Wonhyo wrote, “You simply can’t make a car as big, as heavy, as fast, as affordable, and as long range as a gas car when you’re constrained by the high cost and low energy density of batteries. You have to compromise something.

    I don’t completely disagree, but I don’t think it is as black and white as you suggest either. There are advantages with EVs that you don’t get with GVs (gasoline vehicles). GVs have their compromises as well, such as detours to the filling station, more frequent/costly maintenance, stains on the garage floor, noise, etc.

    The Tesla compares quite favorably in mass and price to the GVs it competes with. That’s why they picked that market for their first product.

    I also see no reason why an EV built with 130 Wh/kg batteries need be heavier than an ICE. When you subtract out the mass of the engine, radiator, coolant, oil, filters, transmission, muffler, catalytic converter, alternator, and so on, it looks like things are about even.

    But what I really wanted to comment on the above is the range point. Remember that an EV leaves the garage with a “full tank” every morning. If you had fuel pump in your garage, how much range would you need? It is not like a GV where you need extra range to keep your visits to gasoline stations infrequent. Thus it is a non-goal for EVs to duplicate GV range. EVs have done it (e.g. the AC Propulsion tZero with its 300 mile range) to prove it is possible, but it is not really useful.

    The range desirable in an EV is primarily a function of recharge time, expressed in miles/minute. If I can get 20 mi/min, then I don’t need much range because I can recharge while taking a rest break. If I’m stuck with much slower recharge (e.g.

  35. Wonhyo says:

    Earl – I think we’re saying the same thing. I’m frustrated that consumers don’t appreciate the benefits of EVs and that manufacturers aren’t doing much to market those benefits. However, it is unproductive to claim there are no compromises to EVs, either. Once you make that claim, you sound ridiculous to the average consumer, then the rest of your message gets lost. It’s more productive to acknowledge the drawbacks that consumers are already aware of, then draw your interlocutor into considering the benefits (and one benefit that is not emphasized enough is that you’re not sending money to the people who funded the 9/11 attacks).

    Regarding the home vs. gas station filling, the EV advantage is dubious until the public charging infrastructure is in place. If you have convenient parking at home and at work, with electrical outlets, no doubt the EV is more convenient to keep filled. Many people live in apartments with street parking, or underground parking with limited access to an electrical outlet. For these people (myself included) having to find a plug three times a week seems more of a hassle than filling up with gas once a week. Be mindful of your audience when you present this line of reasoning.

    The Tesla is cool, but I am skeptical of its contribution to general acceptance of EVs. The message is, you can get a sporty EV… for $100,000. I suspect I could get an equally sport GV (in performance and looks) for $30,000. With the $70,000 I save, I can drive 350,000 miles on $5/gal gasoline. I appreciate the additional benefits of EVs, but the Tesla will make many people feel like EVs are for rich, snotty enviros. Again, be mindful of your audience when you present this line of reasoning.

    My own view of EVs is not black and white. The general public’s view is. Manufacturers (and political leaders) are not doing enough to paint in the gray.

  36. Earl Killian says:

    Wonhyo, I appreciate what you are saying. I agree that today’s EVs have both pros and cons. What I don’t see are significant cons on what EVs will become. I am probably not great in the heat of comment rebuttal of keeping the distinction between today and tomorrow clear. For example, it is unclear what cons there might be with fast charging (e.g. 90% in 5 minutes) and monthly payments for the battery pack that are lower than today’s gasoline monthly payments. I see both of those coming. The batteries to do it already exist, for example; now it just deployment and business models to work out. Companies like Better Place and Coulomb Tech are trying to address the business model, street and apartment charging, and so on.

    I checked your assertion on GVs that can compete with the Tesla, and found none anywhere near $30,000. The cheapest I could find was the 2007 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Super Snake for $66,000. FYI, the average price of cars at 3.9s±0.1s is $112,200.

    I won’t continue to argue. My primary point is that many of today’s compromises in EVs are not inherent. I see people all the time claiming that they are inherent, making bogus arguments based on things like Wh/kg that don’t hold up.

  37. Earl Killian says:

    VW decided to give its Volt competitor 30 miles of range:
    VW’s Twin Drive is using Sanyo’s batteries, which claim 10,000 cycle lifetime. That’s 300,000 miles of electric range. Pretty soon we’re going to have to figure out how we move our battery packs from our old car to our new car if they last that long.

  38. Matt says:

    When I buy my next new car it WILL plug in. Also I WILL be charging it with electricity I purchase for less than 1/3 of the 10Cents/kWh you quote. My time of day rate for overnight – when I would charge – is $0.029/kWh (not counting that very annoying “fuel surcharge” read “price increase”). Redo the payback calculations with that figure and watch a Volt become a smart idea!

    I miss my Escape; I minivan driver smashed it right in the battery just in time for gas to go to $4/gal this summer. It does point out a flaw in the “system”. My insurance company – that I will declare to be the best in the nation – didn’t know what to do. The battery was dented. Ford said it was irrepairable and offered to replace it to the tune of $9,200 for the BATTERY ALONE and so the insurance company totaled the car. My plan was to drive the thing until the battery failed then find some smart shop who would hack a bigger battery and software/chip so it would run as a near serial EV.

    Note: I love the Highlander drive train. Rear-wheel electric drive w/ regenerative braking and a boring conventional front-wheel gasoline drive with the connection only being the ABS/traction control/computer. Would someone tell me why this is not an engineering marvel to behold and emulate? Stipulate for the sake of argument that an “active” 4×4 is required for drive-ability. If only it came in a less PRISSY body style.

  39. Geoff Henderson says:

    All great stuff!

    About technology and marketing:

    We have seen in home appliances, say TV, for example how “new” technology is trickled out at a controlled rate so that the market subscribes, over time, the greatest amount of money to the purveyers and evelopers of the technology. Same with computers, and even internet speeds.
    So why would GM, with a dubious “public good” history be showing off it’s very best at this point?
    And anyway, what happened to GM’s EV car? See the video “Who Killed the Electric Car”. This revealing film offers some insight into GM’s “thinking” and there are various books out there that offer a lot of colour to Detroits contributions to the world.

    Given the importance of electric vehicles to the climate change event, I am uncomfortable trusting development to the very people who had/have so much to do with causing the problem. What are we thinking people? Are car makers trying to save the planet or themselves?

    Next, I have not seen too much on full enironmental cost. That is, what is the overall energy cost to produce a car irrspective of type. It is an important consideration because if the EV is to save energy, then surely production, maintainence and disposal costs in terms of energy must be low too. I know that trying to determine actual cradle-to-grave costs would be a daunting task if we went down to the last rivet, but some broad comparative indicators could be developed.

    Lastly the debate about whether a car should gave 20 or 40 or whatever battery miles is crap. One of the great killers of US automakers is the huge range of options, most of which are useless indulgence. But the marketing people divined that options were good for business. It may have been true at the time, but it is time to re-think and rationise choices for the common good of global efficiency. So reduce options. Make one battery size, a 50 mile device, and provide a spare bay for a second battery if there is a need to provide the extra range.

    Really, there is so much to do, and that can be done, that this thread would go forever. But aside from the well meaning and highly informed commentries, both here and on other sites, there seems some lack of drive (no pun intended) to get things really moving – a bit like tobacco use huh?

    Maybe the new Administration will bang heads to gether and change the US for the good?? Here’s hoping, the time is surely right!

  40. msn nickleri says:

    Note: I love the Highlander drive train. Rear-wheel electric drive w/ regenerative braking and a boring conventional front-wheel gasoline drive with the connection only being the ABS/traction control/computer. Would someone tell me why this is not an engineering marvel to behold and emulate? Stipulate for the sake of argument that an “active” 4×4 is required for drive-ability. If only it came in a less PRISSY body style.

  41. shop says:

    I envy you for driving a RAV4 EV, even though it has a lower top speed and shorter range, and costs $12,000 more than the gas version (with the CA rebate). I suspect the EV has less cargo room as well. I envy you because I understand that I rarely need to drive more than 120 miles in a day. These are all compromises I’m willing to accept in the interest of national security.