Battery-powered electric cars gained momentum at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)
held in Detroit
in January, even as experts wondered whether consumers are ready for the new
A bevy of
manufacturers — including Nissan, Ford, Tesla
Motors, BYD Auto, CT&T and others
— showed off new electric vehicles (EVs) at the show, with some slated for
introduction as early as this year. Show officials cordoned off 37,000 sq ft of
floor space for the electrics, and even set up a quarter-mile track inside Cobo Center,
complete with real pine trees and daffodils where show attendees could test
drive the cars amidst a virtual forest. EV battery makers also made
appearances, displaying products with lithium-ion, lithium polymer and lithium
battery systems development is going to be a core competency for Ford in the 21st
century," said Ford Chairman William Clay Ford, after the automotive giant
announced it is bringing its EV battery development in-house.
enthusiasm for battery-powered cars contrasted sharply, however, with the
strategies of other automakers who are pinning their hopes on hybrids and plug-ins.
General Motors reiterated its plans to roll out the Chevy
Volt, which combines an internal combustion engine with electric drive
technology, by the end of 2010. Toyota,
meanwhile, showed off a compact hybrid car and reinforced its commitment to that
that it will introduce eight all-new hybrids in the next few years.
really committed to having a hybrid version of every car," a Toyota spokesman told Design News.
Experts say that the announcements at this year's Detroit auto show
highlight a philosophical difference among automakers. Not all manufacturers
are convinced that battery-powered cars are ready for broad consumer adoption,
largely because cost and range issues persist. Today's EV batteries, they say,
cost upwards of $700 per kW-hour for the cells, and more than $900/kW-hr when
battery management and cooling systems are incorporated. That means a big EV with
substantial range could have a battery that costs in excess of $40,000.
Moreover, the driving ranges of even the best EVs are still suspect, while recharge
times are often as much as six to eight hours.
EV manufacturers are digging in, in hopes of getting a market foothold now,
just as Toyota
did with its Prius a decade ago. Nissan has taken the lead position in the
battery-electric arena, announcing it will roll out the zero-emission Nissan
Leaf in 2010. The Leaf, which will have a 100-mile range and a price tag "in
the $30,000-range," will be a five-seat vehicle aimed at urban commuters.
it's a step in the process of bringing zero-emission mobility to a mass market
audience," said Brian Brockman, a spokesman for Nissan. "We're not going to
overtake internal combustion vehicles in a short span, but we are offering a
vehicle that allows people to go zero emission and do it in very economical
hardly alone in its efforts. In tandem with its commitment to EV battery
technology, Ford plans to roll out the Ford
Transit Connect battery electric vehicle in 2010 and the Ford Focus Electric
passenger car in 2011
. China-based BYD Auto, meanwhile, showed
off a 5,000-lb battery electric vehicle
at NAIAS. BYD says its vehicle,
called the E6 and slated for a 2010 introduction, will get 200 miles to a
charge and will feature a low-cost lithium iron-sulfate battery pack. BYD says
it can dramatically lower the cost of EV battery packs because of its vast
ownership of battery manufacturing facilities.
that the key to success in the battery-electric market is infrastructure. It's
now working with government entities and utilities in Seattle,
Portland, San Francisco
and in the corridor from Phoenix to Tucson to make sure the electric
grid is ready. It has also teamed with eTec
an EV infrastructure company, to bring public charging stations to five geographic
locales, including San Diego and Tennessee. Nissan
officials say they'll also work with Leaf buyers to ensure they have home
charging stations in their garages. They're recommending 220V, 15A charging
lines. Those stations would take a Leaf battery from fully depleted to fully
charged in about seven to eight hours.
EV makers would like to bring 440V stations to public sites, which would enable
EVs to go from near-depleted to 80 percent charged in about 25 min. That way,
EV range could be extended. "You could drive 90 to 100 miles and have a
sandwich while your vehicles recharges in the parking lot," Brockman said.
"Then you could go another 70 to 80 miles before you'd have to charge it
But as EVs become more prominent, the issue of range is
slowly bubbling to the surface among consumers. Test drivers of BMW's Mini E
electric car have run into "cold weather
" and have found, in some cases, that vehicle range can be a
slippery subject. Timothy Gill, a software engineer in Maplewood, NJ,
wrote in his Mini E blog that his car unexpectedly conked out during a cold
snap, 13 miles before reaching its anticipated 100-mile range. "Towed! After only 87.8 miles ... Sheesh!
E Field Trial test drivers understand the limitations, however, many
prospective EV drivers may not. "Our group feels that the broader public really
hasn't thought about range limitations," said John B. Heywood, professor of
mechanical engineering and director of the Sloan Automotive Lab. at MIT. "They
don't really know what it means because we have never had range-limited
vehicles. It's a big issue."
such as those, Toyota
engineers have charted their course toward hybrids, instead of pure EVs.
plans to introduce a small battery electric car in 2012, the company is clear
about its preference for hybrids. Toyota
representatives at the auto show described EV batteries as "hideously
expensive" and estimated they could cost as much as $1,000 to $1,200 per kW-hour.
Such costs would make long-range electric sedans, which might use 50 kW-hr
batteries, a costly proposition, they say.
design the battery pack correctly, you could get 200 miles (of range) out of an
electric vehicle," said Paul Williamsen, national manager of Lexus College in Torrance, CA. "The
question is why would you do that? We think a strong hybrid is more economical
and a better choice for the environment."
proponents of pure EVs believe that future technologies will change all that. But
experts say that such changes are difficult to bet on. "I don't know why, for
the next few decades, we don't just focus on plug-ins and range-extended
vehicles," said Heywood of MIT. "Then you don't have the range issues. And the
costs are better than those of pure electrics, too."
consumers say they're ready if the technology reaches the right threshold. "I'm
not willing to pay $48,000 for a car that has two seats and can only go 100
miles," Gill said. "But the technology will get there. It's not quite ready for
prime time yet, but it will get there."
For more information:
auto show emphasizes EVs
• Automakers working hard to make an electric vehicle battery