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THE AUTOMOBILE is evolving, more quickly than in any period other than its first decades more than a century ago. Back then it was gasoline, electric and steam fighting it out. Today, it’s gasoline, gasoline/electric hybrids (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
How do they evolve? Here’s a thoughtful perspective from an authority.
Lord Paul Drayson is president of the U.K.’s Motorsport Industry Association as well as managing partner of Drayson Racing Technologies. He’s also an articulate spokesman for the evolving sport of EV racing.
Like other conceptualizations of mankind, Lord Drayson says, propulsion technologies inevitably evolve in stages. First comes hype, followed by disillusion, then a shakeout and, finally, ubiquity.
With regard to BEVs, we’re currently in this second stage, at least in part because we’re coming to realize their tradeoffs of battery cost, range and recharge time.
Battery energy, measured in kWh, directly affects vehicle range. A Nissan Leaf’s pack is rated at 24 kWh; its EPA-figured range is 73 miles. The most powerful Tesla Model S carries 85 kWh of battery which has shown to extend its range to 300 miles.
However, the Nissan Leaf has sold only moderately well at $35,200. And the 300-mile Tesla Model S runs $69,000-$97,900, depending on performance and trim level. (Tesla offers a 45-kWh Model S with proportionally less range for $49,900.)
As for recharge time, Tesla also touts an evolving infrastructure of quick Supercharge sites offering 300 miles of recharging in one hour—provided an hour is considered “quick.” Plus, at this point, these locations are seen as Tesla-specific.
During the BEV shakeout phase yet to come, the best of battery chemistries, charging technologies and suitable market niches will evolve. Costs will have to come down—or concepts will wither.
In the meantime, to amplify on Lord Drayson’s theme, the other technologies of personal mobility will also evolve through their stages.
Other knowledgeable types are the authors of Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century. Before retirement, Larry Burns was vice president, GM Research & Development. Chris Borroni-Bird is still there as Director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts. And William J. Mitchell is at MIT’s Media Lab.
An essential point of this thoughtful book is that there’s no one unique form of personal mobility for this century. BEVs certainly have a niche in short-range urban transportation. For longer range or heavier loads, fuel cell propulsion is optimal. And, in between, hybrids fill the bill.
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012