What if we could eat our cake and have it, too?

"Tesla was not founded to make expensive cars or to make luxury or high performance cars.  This is a misconception that comes up all the time.  It's perhaps understandable based on the cars that we've built to date.  But it is not our mission.  Our mission is to make cars that everyone can afford and to change the electric mobility equation, so that essentially every vehicle could have the opportunity to be electric."

JB Straubel, Oct 15 2015, University of Nevada

The Affordable EV?

The question gets bantered about from time to time asking when will there be an EV that is much more affordable. The $35,000 Tesla Model 3, along with the Hyundai Kona Electric and the Kia Niro EV are a step in the right direction. But, $35,000 is still beyond the budget of many people.  Last year, the average SRP of the 10 top-selling non-truck vehicles was about $24,000. We have to wonder, when will we see a truly affordable EV below $30,000? A $28,000 sticker price would be more competitive with these non-luxury ICE vehicles. Such a vehicle would make owning an EV much more accessible to many tens of millions more people. A well-designed vehicle around this price point would drive EV adoption to much higher levels.

It is clear, however, that simply offering affordability at the sacrifice of range is not a winning long-term strategy. We see from marketing data that a competitive range is an important feature which EVs need in order to advance adoption. Consumers expect new technology to be better than current technology, not worse. This applies to vehicles in every regard, including range. We should expect our cars of the future to have great technology and equal or greater range than that of current ICE vehicles. Anything less should not be considered acceptable.

If we look at the top 20 selling cars and trucks for 2018, all of them have a rated "range" of at least 350 miles. To think consumers will accept less is asking too much. Cars or SUVs with 400+ miles of total possible range is what we should expect from our next generation vehicles.  The EV manufacturer that is able to achieve this first and implements it will be a marketplace winner.

Some people such as Fred Lambert of Electrek argue that you don't need a 400+ mile range EV. I made some strong points in favor of longer range EVs in my previous article "Let The Tesla Bulls Rage On And Chuckle At The Bears." I would like to add two points. 

First: the argument is made that what is needed is simply more charging infrastructure and faster charge times. If this is really true, then the question has to be asked, where are all the 200-mile range ICE vehicles? There is certainly plenty of infrastructure, and fueling such a vehicle would only take about 1 minute. Clearly greater range is very desirable to most people, even when infrastructure and fast fill times are there.

Second: when I go on a road trip (if I ever do again) I want to be the one that decides how often I take a potty break, NOT THE CAR.

In order for EVs to be taken seriously and widely adopted, they have to be a step forward, not a step backward, this includes overall range. A 400-mile range EV is what is needed in order for the masses to really want to adopt EVs.

As I see it, manufacturers have two possible options for creating this 400+ mile range EV.

On The One Hand

The first option is with batteries alone. 

I must mention here that there will always be a need and a market for full range battery EVs.  There will always be those who need or just want to be able to drive 350+ miles on a battery charge and are willing to pay for that ability. Some folks have long commutes or take frequent road trips. Others just want the convenience of not having to charge frequently and they're OK with paying for that convenience. Full range BEVs are an important part of the EV revolution and an important part of the EV product mix.  

As many people know, one big benefit of traveling on electric power is that it is quite often less expensive than powering an automobile using gasoline. Currently, traveling on home sourced electric power is one half to one third the cost of gasoline power for many people. And, for those who have home solar, traveling on electricity is even more compelling. So, traveling on battery electricity is and will be the naturally preferred choice for powering a vehicle.

However, batteries do have two challenges: weight and cost. Even if new battery tech does lower the cost and lighten the batteries, a battery array that could power a vehicle 400+ miles may still weigh well over 500 lbs and cost well over $8,000. That's like carrying around a sumo wrestler in the back of your car, everywhere you go, every trip, every day just in case you might need him to get out and give your car a push. It's also like having an $8,000 gas tank. This high cost makes a long range BEV impractical for many of us. To be certain, for those people who drive 18,000+ miles a year, the usefulness of that extra battery range and the energy cost savings makes a long range BEV well worth it. But for many of us who drive just 10,000 - 13,000 miles a year, it is a waste of resources. The break-even point for us on such a vehicle is too far out and the utility of the extra battery capacity is not there. It is just going to waste.

The Proposal

The other option I see that EV manufacturers have is a Range Enhanced Auto Charging BEV, or in other words a BEV hybrid.

What I am proposing is a car "for the rest of us." Most trips in the U.S. are less than 30 miles*. Many of us drive only short distances day-to-day and only occasionally take longer trips. A usable range of 60 miles meets over 90% of many peoples daily driving needs. In my case, for example, I regularly commute to work, go shopping and do other family business within a 10-mile radius. Once or twice a month I may visit my parents, which is about a 76-mile trip. For me, I have only occasional long-range needs. I need only very limited daily range, however, having a vehicle that has enhanced range available for my occasional long trips is something that I want.

I do not think that I am alone in this desire for available longer range. The market data backs me up on this. As EV adoption expands and EV manufacturers attempt to entice the broader consumer market to adopt EVs, people will go with vehicles that are affordable to them and that can make those occasional longer trips conveniently.  

The $28,000 EV

An EV with a generous 90-mile battery range and 400 total miles of Range Enhanced Auto Charging greatly reduces the battery pack weight and also provides the more affordable range that consumers want. A BEV hybrid is the best answer to meet both daily short distance trips and occasional long distance driving needs.

A BEV Hybrid, NOT a PHEV

I want to make it clear that I am talking about a simple electric traction drive EV, not a complicated gas/electric combo powertrain or a PHEV. A traction drive EV is one which is powered only by a dedicated electric motor (or motors). No other source of mechanical power is employed in the powertrain.  

It is of note that some manufacturers are shying away from powertrain hybrids. Brett Smith of the Center for Automotive Research said on Autoline After Hours 451 "more and more in the last couple years ... we hear companies saying, we've come to the point where we believe that there's too much cost in having two powertrains."

A great advantage of a BEV hybrid is that it employs a simple, straight-forward EV powertrain architecture. The very same powertrain architecture that is used for battery-only vehicles is also used for the BEV hybrid. Additionally, the Range Enhanced Auto Charging BEV is electrical power generation indifferent. It doesn't matter what form, shape or type of range enhancer is used.

I see the BEV hybrids as a natural evolution in the EV revolution. As we enter much broader EV adoption phase, Range Enhanced Auto Charging BEVs will attract buyers who appreciate the benefits of daily driving electric but demand greater affordability and longer available range.

Some purists may argue that "it burns fossil fuel." The question is, how often would someone need that fossil fuel? For many people like myself, perhaps once or twice a month if that. Most of the time, the vehicle could be charged up and driven on electricity, which again is less expensive than gasoline (in many cases) and so the preferred power source.  An owner of such a vehicle could potentially drive around for days and days with an empty gas tank and fill it up only when they need to drive a longer distance. Such a car would make owning an EV much more accessible to tens of millions more people. I think that it's plain to see that such a car would a great addition to the EV product offering.

The Main Benefit

Pursuing such a vehicle architecture has a huge benefit to manufacturers. They'll be able to build three or four EVs using the same amount of battery resources that would be needed to build just one battery-only EV with equivalent range. It is clear that battery resources are being stretched. Elon Musk recently admitted that there aren't enough battery cells available today to produce the Model Y crossover. Imagine being able to produce four times as many long-range EVs with the same amount of battery cells as it takes to produce just one.  

Moreover, as I've already stated, at present, putting a very large battery pack in a vehicle is just simply a waste of expensive resources for me and for people like me. I would very infrequently make use of that extra battery capacity. But, at the same time, I do want a vehicle that can go the distance when I want it to.

Getting the APU Right

The form that the range enhancer takes is an important question. It should be highly efficient, compact, lightweight, relatively quiet, inexpensive and low maintenance. While an efficient standard 40 hp piston engine might work, there are a few other possible solutions which might better meet these requirements. For example, a gen set employing LiquidPiston's rotary engine technology, www.liquidpiston.com might work, or perhaps a linear generator employing technology from www.libertine.co.uk might be best. Looking at these two possible solutions, it appears that an advanced APU solution could be developed to generate ample electricity to auto-charge the battery and yet fit into a small space and weigh less than 100 lbs. More research and development should be done to create optimal solutions. 

I'm sure naysayers will begin to site vehicles such as the BMW i3, the Karma Revero or the Chevy Volt as evidence that such a vehicle will not succeed.  However, none of these examples match the configuration I'm proposing. Sadly, we have yet to see the optimal configuration of a pure electric powertrain that has a generous battery range coupled with a highly efficient, lightweight, compact long-range APU range extender. Make a BEV that will run 90 miles on a battery-driven traction drive and adds 310 miles of enhanced range that sells for around $28,000 and then we'll have something.  

I think if GM was wise, they would re-engineer and reintroduce the Chevy Volt in this configuration. It's a handsome looking vehicle and very well liked by its owners. The big downfall it has is its complicated hybrid powertrain, too complicated to build, too complicated to maintain.

An Interim Solution?

Some may say that this is an interim solution. And, that future-gen batteries will eclipse the need for a high-efficiency Range Enhanced Auto Charging APU. This could possibly be true. However, that interim could be rather long. It appears that it will be quite a long time before electron storage devices begin to even come close to the available energy density and low cost of a gas tank. In order for the BEV hybrid to be eclipsed, battery pack costs would have to fall under $25 per kWh. Now, if that day ever comes, then yes, range enhanced BEV's would become obsolete. But in the meantime, I think we can all agree that seeing a much broader adoption of EVs and burning 90% less gasoline here and now would be a good thing.

Marketing The BEV Hybrid

Naturally, good marketing would be important to help potential customers grasp the BEV hybrid concept. One tagline that could be employed is "REACh EVs provide all the benefits of daily driving electric with the confidence and convenience of the car you own now."

If Tesla was willing to develop and deploy such vehicles, they would more fully fulfill their stated mission (I'm afraid that, sadly, at present, they would be philosophically against it). Imagine a $68,000 base Model S with a 600-mile total range. This would be possible because the battery pack (the biggest cost) would be one-fourth the size of the premium variant. Imagine a $35,000 base Model 3 with a 500-mile total range. Again, the reduced battery pack would slash thousands of dollars off the cost of the vehicle and the APU would provide the enhanced range.

Regardless of who does it, I'm convinced that the EV manufacturer that first figures out this strategy and offers a good battery range combined with long distance enhanced range will emerge as an immediate winner. Other manufacturers will have to follow suit and begin offering Range Enhanced Auto Charging vehicles in order to stay competitive.

Range extenders are an awesome answer to the question of providing affordable EVs to the masses while offering great range to meet all of an owner's driving requirements. Truly, the main virtue which range extenders lack is the Elon Effect. If Elon Musk said "Make it so! All of our base model cars and SUVs will offer a range extender," then it would become acceptable and then truly "every vehicle could have the opportunity to be electric."

Proposed Automobile Specs

The Model C (base model)

MSRP: $27,990
5 passenger

Horsepower: 200 hp
Acceleration: 0 to 60 mph under 8 seconds
Top speed: 110 mph (177 km/h)

22 kWh battery
MPX(kWh): 40.9 mi (64.5 km) - hwy
Battery range: 90 mi (144 km)

20 kW APU
Fuel tank: 5.75 gal (21.76 L)
Combined battery and enhanced range: 400 mi (644 km)

Curb weight: 3,050 lbs (1,406 kg)
Dimensions: 180" L x 72" W x 55-68" H

* (2009 NHTS, http://www.solarjourneyusa. com/EVdistanceAnalysis7.php)