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An Affordable 500km Electric Car?

2017 Nissan Leaf

The range of electric cars has been one of the major hurdles preventing greater uptake. Unless you can afford a Tesla (range of 500kms) you’re currently stuck around the 160kms range with today’s production vehicles. Although today’s range is more than enough for the average driver range anxiety is a definite deterrent. (According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, motor vehicles in Australia travel an average of 14,000kms per year (2012 figures) – about 270kms weekly or in EV terms, 2 charges per week with current battery technology).
The other major reason holding back buyers is the upfront cost. There is no doubt current production EVs are relatively expensive in comparison to their Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) counterparts. But how long will these factors hold back consumers from greater adoption?
The EV world is currently on a quest for battery technology that has long life, greater power density, can be recharged quickly and costs around $150 per kWh. Although that may sound like a long wish list, advances are being made in every area with vehicles slated for end 2016/2017 to have a range of 300kms and be cost competitive with their ICE equivalents. At that stage, the undisputed cheaper running costs (70% – 80% less) will weigh heavily on buying decisions.
A range of 300kms would mean the average Australian car owner would only need to charge up once per week. Tesla have already stated their Gen 3 (people’s car) will have a range of at least 300kms and cost around $35,000. It’s due to debut in 2016. Not to be outdone, Nissan has also indicated their updated 2017 Leaf model (new design & shape) will have a similar range. To compete head to head with the Tesla wow factor, Nissan will have to offer the Leaf for less.
So is battery technology really advancing that quickly and will costs come down rapidly? It seems that every few weeks a story emerges of very promising battery breakthroughs. Much research is under way for the prize to bring something to market is literally worth billions. Recent news from Solid Energy suggest a battery capable of around 650kms at a price point of around $130 per kWh – less than half the current price of Tesla’s batteries. Tesla are building their battery Gigafactory with the stated aim of reducing battery costs by around 40%.
Another announcement in the last month was from scientists at NTU university in Singapore who have developed technology that will mean batteries with a life of 20 years that are capable of very rapid charging (think around 5 minutes to charge your EV). VW have also been conducting their own research into batteries having publicly stated they want to be the leader in EVs by 2018. It’s rumoured they have made a breakthrough in Lithium air technology which would have massive implications for the EV market.
A 300kms EV for the average motorist is just 2 years away. A very affordable 500kms range electric car be should be on the streets around 2020. The surge in EV ownership has not yet met expectations – that may all change sooner than many expect.