For plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) to move past their slight share of U.S. new vehicles sales (at 0.68% of the total in September 2015), the consensus of opinion seems to focus on three core principals: the range on a single charge needs to be at least 200 miles; the battery cost needs to come down if EVs are to become cost-competitive on the market; and the charging infrastructure, especially for fast chargers, needs to be widespread across the country – or at least along popular cross-country highway routes. Nissan, General Motors, and Tesla are taking the challenge more seriously than competitors; and bagless vacuum cleaner maker Dyson is taking the battery technology seriously enough to make a $90 million investment.
- Nissan believes in electric cars enough to forecast the segment will account for 5% of its sales in the next six years – and 10% “in the near future” after that, according to chief competitive officer Hiroto Saikawa during an event last week at the company’s Yokohama headquarters. To get there, Nissan will need an electric car that can travel 200 miles on a single charge. That will be happening through the second-generation Leaf, which will be introduced as a 2017 or 2018 model, Saikawa said. The first-gen Leaf has evolved from its original 73 miles per charge, to 84 miles and now 107 miles as the battery has been improving with model-year changes since its inception.
- General Motors is counting on its supplier partnership with LG Chem for development of tis first long-range EV in the Chevrolet Bolt; the Bolt starts production a year from now and will probably be a 2017 model-year vehicle. That EV is expected to go 200 miles per range with a price tag of around $35,000 before incentives. LG Chem already supplies lithium batteries for the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV. The changing relationship with LG Chem should help place the Korean company in a leading role in supplying lithium batteries. “GM used to act more like a dictator than a customer,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s global product development director.
- General Motors has gotten behind another battery maker in the past – Sakti3 and its solid-state lithium-ion batteries. That was a $4.2 million investment by GM Ventures five years ago. A much larger investment has taken place this month, with Dyson acquiring Sakti3 in a deal worth $90 million. That’s one of the first investment from the $2.3 billion fund that UK-based Dyson set aside last year to invest in what it calls “future technologies.” Earlier this year, Dyson had invested $15 million in the battery maker. Sakti3’s batteries contain solid lithium electrodes rather than flammable liquid, which gives them higher energy density and will support longer-range EVs. Satki3 CEO Ann Marie Sastry has become well known in the lithium and EV communities, speaking at events and in media interviews.
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Tesla’s giant $5 billion Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada will produce its first batch of batteries next year, estimating that the plant would reach full capacity in two to three years. Musk also said Tesla could begin producing Model 3 electric cars in China in two years. Manufacturing in China has the potential to slash the sales prices of its models in the world’s largest auto market by a third; and the batteries will be made in Nevada. Tesla says the upcoming Model 3 sedan should cost around $35,000 (pre-incentives) and will have a 200-mile range. Musk said Tesla will create an alliance with a China-based manufacturer to produce the Model 3. Tesla is also counting on Chinese government purchase incentives for sales strength; and the government has committed to provide support for its nation to be a leading market for EV sales.
- Availability of charging stations will be critical for mass adoption, especially faster chargers. The U.S. Dept. of Energy’s charging station locator reports that there are 11,056 charging stations in the U.S. that host 27,620 charging outlets. That covers Level 1, 2, and fast charger units. PlugShare shows that DC fast chargers and Tesla Superchargers are spread throughout the U.S. Its data doesn’t show CHAdeMO chargers, which are used by the Nissan Leaf and other Japanese automakers. DC fast chargers are used by European and U.S.-based automakers, and Superchargers are only available for Tesla models. For now, Tesla appears to be taking the lead in fast charging, setting up its U.S. network for Tesla model owners to charge across the country on a few major highway routes. CHAdeMO is well developed along the U.S. coasts, but charges at a slower rate than the Supercharger. The Chevy Bolt will only be able to use SAE’s Combined Charging System, which is strong in Europe but will take years to find much presence in the U.S. market. For now, Tesla is in the lead with fast charging across its national network, which it will play into with introduction of the upcoming Model 3.