We are still in the early stages of EV development. Probably the biggest issue slowing widespread acceptance is range anxiety since the driving ranges are still, for the most part, quite low. As Zach has pointed out, and I agree, the range issue is a canard since the current ranges are adequate for 90%+ of drivers.*1
The Opportunity is Developing
The shorter ranges are however not adequate for occasional weekend or other longer trips, which is a common auto use. Many of us might not be willing to give up that use when buying a vehicle, so there exists real market pressure for longer ranges. This article is about addressing the needs of the entire driving public for full EV market acceptance; it explores the future direction of EV driving ranges and choices that may become available. Your comments on the topic, as always, are welcome below the article.
High Range EV Batteries Coming “Quite Soon”
First, we need a reliable high range battery system. This is in the works. As it the case with most technologies, they keep improving over time. There is no reason to believe that EV batteries will be any different. Indeed, we have already seen significant improvements over the recent years.
It has been stated by Elon Musk that “…Quite soon,” Tesla may have an 800 km (500 mi) range battery. This would have an impact on the auto’s price of course. Let’s take a look at a mature technology to see if there may be any clues about the future of EV battery technology.*2
Mature Technology Case History: Computer Purchases
While it’s funny to think that Bill Gates’ might have said in 1981 that he saw no need for anyone to ever need more than 640k of memory, he does deny this less-than-prescient comment.*3 Computing history of course belies that statement, whether he said it or not. Memory capacity keeps increasing, but is there currently too much memory capacity potential for most computing needs? The evidence bears this out as true. If you were to go online to order a computer, the computer company would give choices such as how much memory you want to buy. You see that you can pay for 8 GB RAM, 16, 32 or 64 GB RAM. Of course buying more RAM would cost you more money. What happens? Almost all consumers don’t buy the highest amounts of memory because they simply don’t need it. They prefer to save the money instead of over-buying capacity.
What will EV Car Buyers Do?
While this is speculation, EVs are likely going in this very direction. Once there is a battery system that goes 800 km (500 mi) and car buyers only need a 325 km (202 mi) range, would most drivers want to pay for more range than they need? It’s not likely. Most car buyers would probably prefer to buy the battery/range combination that match their driving needs and wallet potential. Car buyers have proven over the decades that they do like having the choice of paying for upgrades or saving money for standard features.
Speculation for the Future of EVs
This article is being written to suggest that this principle will apply to EVs as battery technology matures. For example, there may be a 325 km (202 mi) battery pack for price $X, a 500 km (310 mi) battery pack for $X + $Y and an 805 km (500 mi) battery pack for $X + $Y + $Z.
Solid Baseline Range being Established
In the same interview mentioned earlier, Elon Musk seems to bear out the first part of this article’s thesis, which is that he seems to be proudly putting forward a car with a 322 km (200 mi) range as an adequate baseline range. He states: ” We’re going to keep improving battery technology and even with Model 3 we’ll expect a range of over 200 miles with a price of around $35,000.”*2
This Theory of the Future of EVs Put to the Test
To test out this theory, I contacted a few EV mfrs. to get their opinions and add their comments into the story. First, more context.
Why Might there be Driving Range Anxiety in the US?
US 9,147,420 sq. km with large cities spread all over it.
China 9,327,490 sq. km, but most big cities are only in the eastern portion.
Australia 7,682,300 sq. km with most of the large cities in the east, southeast and south.
India 3,287,263 sq. km with large cities all over it.
Germany 348,570 sq. km is about half the size of Texas alone, which has 695,621 sq km.
United Kingdom is not quite the size of Nevada (241,930 sq. km vs. 286,351 sq km).
South Korea is about the size of Kentucky (100,032 Sq. km vs. 104,659 sq km).
Japan is 86% the size of California (364,500 Sq. km vs. 423,970 sq. km).
American Driving Distances
Travel between many of the more distant cities is often by air.
Seattle, WA to Los Angeles, CA: 1,827 km (1,135 mi)
Seattle, WA to Chicago, IL: 3,321 km (2,064 mi)
Seattle, WA to New York, NY: 4,600 km (2,858 mi)
Los Angeles, CA to Chicago, IL: 3,244 km (2,016 mi)
Los Angeles, CA to Boston, MA: 4,801 km (2,983 mi)
Los Angeles, CA to Dallas, TX: 2,311 km (1,436 mi)
New York, NY to Miami, FL: 2,061 km (1,281 mi)
Boston, MA to Houston, TX: 2,972 km (1,847 mi)
Denver, CO to Washington, DC: 2,662 km (1,654 mi)
Europe Driving Distances
Barcelona, Spain to Munich, Germany: 1370 km (852 mi)
Paris, France to Munich, Germany: (830 km) 515 mi
Paris, France to Geneva, Switzerland: 540 km (335 mi)
Copenhagen, Denmark to Berlin, Germany: 440 km (275 mi)
Rome, Italy to Munich, Germany: 925 km (575 mi)
Athens, Greece to Munich, Germany: 2,150 km (1,340 mi)
London, UK to Glasgow, Scotland: 650 km (403 mi)
Paris, France to Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain: 1,040 km (645 mi)
Berlin, Germany to Munich, Germany: 585 km (365 mi)
Krakow, Poland to Zurich, Switzerland: 1230 km (765 mi)
Dublin, Ireland to Belfast, Northern Ireland: 165 km (103 mi)
Oslo, Norway to Stockholm, Sweden: 526 km (327 mi)
Australia Driving Distances
Travel to western Australia is usually by air.
Brisbane QLD, Australia to Sydney NSW, Australia: 922 km (573 mi)
Melbourne VIC, Australia to Sydney NSW, Australia: 878 km (546 mi)
Adelaide SA, Australia to Sydney NSW, Australia: 1,408 km (875 mi)
Adelaide SA, Australia to Melbourne VIC, Australia: 725 km (451 mi)
Japan Driving Distances
Japan is about 86% of the size of California (364,500 Sq. km vs. 423,970 sq. km and both are about 1,300 km (807 mi) end to end.)
Tokyo to Osaka (or Kyoto), Japan: 506 km (315 mi)
Tokyo to Sendai, Japan: 366 km (228 mi)
China Driving Distances
China 9,327,490 sq. km, but most big cities are only in the eastern portion.
Travel between many of the larger cities is often by air.
Beijing, China to Shanghai, China: 1,212 km (753 mi)
Shanghai, China to Guangzhou, China (and Hong Kong): 1,479 km (919 mi)
Beijing, China to Chongqing, China: 1,776 km (1,103 mi)
What are the EV Manufacturers Saying on the Topic?
Tesla isn’t saying any more than to reference Elon Musk’s 800 km (500 mi) range could be coming “quite soon.” My interpretation is that the are sticking to their game plan and keeping the focus on the possible. They often keep the dialog in the realm of what’s possible, the imagination, and what will soon be. They are, in my opinion, masters at this.
Kevin Kelly, Manager of Electrification Technology Communications at GM, agrees with this prospect of the future of EVs. In a phone interview, Kevin stated, “I think what you are talking about is a feasible idea. We could definitely see this happening. The key is making the battery fill within the same footprint. I don’t think this is anything you will see in the near future, but in the long term, it’s a distinct possibility.”
Ford was guarded on the subject. Ford Manager of Sustainability Communications John Cangany stated: “Your question touches on business decisions car manufacturers make with EVs, so I can’t provide detail on this topic.”
Corporate Communications Senior Manager Brian Brockman stated: “On the concept of Nissan offering several battery sizes for EVs in the future to match consumer needs, it is a model we are studying. I can’t confirm that we will or will not offer that as an option, as I can’t comment on our future product strategy.”
This comment not only validates that the theory of multiple battery packs being offered for consumers to select their range, but it states that a leading EV manufacturer is studying this model currently. This reveals some insight into the future of EVs that as far as I know, hasn’t been published previously.
Side note about Tesla’s Media Services staff
Tesla’s Media Services staff responded to my email request for a comment in 11 minutes. They replied with what I consider to be a thorough comment including a link to an article already published with an interview of Elon Musk that included comments on battery range. Pretty impressive. (Now if only Tesla’s Marketing Department would accept my suggestion of naming an EV model “The Valdez,” with the simple marketing campaign of only 3 words: “Remember the Valdez.”*4)
Battery Technology Development
Battery breakthroughs are announced with some regularity, including Sakti3’s recent announcement.*5 As Elon Musk has pointed out, these don’t usually amount to much in the way of reliable systems. Real battery improvements have been made though over the last decade though and battery technology will continue to improve because there’s a lot of money in it.
Conclusion: The Future of Buying EV Range
When battery technology arrives as a fully mature technology, the likelihood exists that there will be a baseline km expectation range, which will probably be in the 325 km (202 mi) to 500 km (310 mi) range with “options packages” that car makers are famous for offering, that will allow for higher driving ranges for a premium price.