Electric car guru Martin Eberhard said last week that EVs will reach 500 miles of range by 2020.
There’s nothing new about electric car proponents making wild predictions, of course, but in an interview with the U.K. publication, Autocar, Eberhard provides some interesting reasoning for his prediction. Eberhard, who’s best known for co-founding Tesla Motors and then famously leaving the company, is now working for Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, CA. There, he’s involved in development of lithium-ion battery packs for Volkswagen’s Blue-e-motion Golf and the Audi e-Tron.
Last week, he told Autocar that the future lies in the use of 18650 lithium-ion batteries – cylindrical cells a little larger than a AA-battery – instead of the monolithic batteries employed in the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.
“(The) 18650 cells are at the leading edge of battery development, and by using them we can benefit from state-of-the-art technology straight away,” he said. “Put simply, 18650s develop faster than any other kind of battery because there’s more demand for them; the industry is already making two billion of them a year.
“To illustrate the point, the lithium-ion cells we’re currently working with contain 2.9 amp-hours of power; five years ago the ones we were using at Tesla only had 1.4 amp-hours. That rate of development has already had an impact on the cars we’re working on. The batteries we used in the original Audi e-Tron prototype, for example, gave it 60 kWh of power and a range of just over 150 miles.”
Eberhard isn’t the first to use 18650s. Tesla Motors also employed 18650 batteries in its Roadster. Big automakers such as Chevrolet and Nissan, however, have opted for larger-scale batteries to enhance thermal safety and improve battery pack reliability. Many engineers question the reliability of connecting thousands of small batteries together to form a battery pack.
Autocar’s interview doesn’t address those issues but it does say that Eberhard believes that 18650s can solve the so-called “range anxiety” problem associated with EVs. “At the current rate of progress, I’d say we will have banished the range anxiety problem, and will be making EVs with greater than 500 miles of operational range within ten years,” he told Autocar. “At that point, the further development of fast-charging infrastructure won’t be so important – because how often do you drive more than 500 miles in a day?”