Let's look into an extremely deep dive into what may finally spur EV adoption.
Huge thanks to the many readers who commented on my previous article, "The $28,000 Tesla With A 400-Mile Range?" I was pleased to see that some readers such as "ga2500ev" got my point and supported my point of view. There were, however, plenty of people that took issue with what I had to say.
I've had time to reflect on what various readers had to say. Because of the strong opinions in some of the comments I decided to do a followup article. I hope to explain my current thoughts and better explain why I think the way I do. I will do my best to connect a few dots, so to speak. This explanation will delve into the two aspects of my current thoughts. I will talk about my position from a marketing perspective and I will speak a little to the technology-based aspects of my opinion.
I want to begin with a huge up-front caveat. If at any time in the future any automaker can profitably sell a pure BEV with 400+ miles of range for $27,000 or less, then my point of view expressed in this and the previous article will be obsolete.
If automakers can ever do that, then all hybrid automobiles of ANY kind will be obsolete and unnecessary. In addition, my stance is based on freedom. I believe that free choice is better than compulsion. I believe that as often as is practical, free-market innovation is better than government-mandated regulation. Lastly, my observations are for the US market only. It is the market that I know best and for which I readily have available data.
I have a few questions. Do we want EV adoption to be limited to 20% of the population, or do we want adoption to be quite universal? Would it be better to have 20% of the population gasoline-free and everyone else burning fossil fuel or would it be better to have 80% of the population using 90% less gasoline than they are using today? How long do we want to wait for mass EV adoption? Can we be satisfied with mass adoption taking up to 20 years?
The Automotive EV Market
To understand my position, it is important to understand the true nature of the automotive EV market. We need an accurate understanding of what buyers want. To do so we should start by considering a survey done in California by Autolist. This survey asked respondents how much range is enough. The Autolist survey points out that less than 20% of respondents said they would buy an EV if the range was only 200 miles (1). The other 80% wanted 300 miles of range or better. This is a simple truth. No matter what anyone wants to think or say, the truth is that the greater portion of the automobile buying market wants ample range.
While I recognize that range is not the only consideration in adoption, it is the number one concern. AlixPartners did a survey not long ago to research the stumbling blocks to EV adoption. Their survey concluded that the number one concern for buyers is having enough range. Number two is charging infrastructure.
Being curious, as I am, I went to work myself and asked 100 people this question "How likely would you be to buy an electric vehicle if the rated driving range on a full charge was 100 - 500 miles, (1 being not at all, 10 being for sure). My Utah-based survey results were not as encouraging as the Autolist results. My survey suggests that at 250 miles of range, only 14% of respondents have a 9+ likelihood of buying an EV. Blending the two surveys together we may arrive at the following approximate EV adoption rate, as influenced by range.
It is of note that over 50% of my survey respondents said that they are less likely to purchase an EV unless the range is greater than 250 miles. This survey, and the Autolist survey suggest that there are many millions of people who will NOT consider buying an EV unless the range is 400 miles or greater. That said, I readily acknowledge that there may be upwards of 50 million people in the US who may be OK with owning a 250-mile range EV.
AAA conducted a survey in 2018 about members' attitudes toward EVs. Every 1-in-5 respondents said that they plan to make their next vehicle an EV. Or, in other words, when it comes time to replace their current vehicle they plan to go electric (2).
Auto manufacturers should be encouraged by this. The surveys suggest that YES there are many millions of people who will buy today's EVs, even with the moderate ranges that are being offered. These buyers will make this switch as their individual vehicle replacement windows open up.
So, we should already be seeing upwards of 500,000 EVs sold per year in the US, even with the ranges that are currently being offered. We should be seeing more brands and more EV models than one selling in the 5 figures per month. The fact that we are not seeing this says more about the sellers and their product offerings than the buyers and their market interest. My guess is that most automakers are simply not sufficiently profit-motivated to really push their EVs, at least not yet.
So, there may be 25 to 50 million people who are willing to buy an EV with 200 to 250 miles of range, if the price is right. As part of my survey, I also asked the open-ended question "What is an affordable EV?" My survey suggests that as the EV price comes down, there are (no surprise) greater and greater numbers of these 25 to 50 million people who are able and willing to purchase an EV, including EVs with moderate ranges. We may graph the results as follows.
Tesla Model 3 and a few non-Tesla EVs are priced in a range accessible to a large number of people. We should be seeing much greater sales of non-Tesla EVs than we are. Hopefully, VW Group's apparent headlong entry into the EV market is not just window dressing and we will see some strong sales from them in the future.
We can look at the chart above and realize that there are those folks who see a 250-mile range, $40,000+ EV as affordable. It may be that upwards of 3.5% of the US car buyers are willing to purchase a 250+ mile range EV in the $40,000+ price range. This maths out to be possibly up to 9 million EV purchases in the coming years, possibly over 1M US vehicles per year for the next several years. So there is plenty of room for middle- and higher-priced EVs with 250+ miles of range.
While $35,000 to $45,000 is a price point accessible to a sizable number of car buyers, we can see above that there is, however, a much larger group of these potential moderate range EV buyers who need a lower-priced EV, something under $30,000. We can hope that battery costs will come down enough in the near future to meet this demand. Hopefully, lower battery costs will make it possible for Tesla or others to profitably create sub $30,000 cars (Mini Cooper SE?).
Offering a lower-priced EV is in line with Tesla's core mission. A while ago, JB Straubel said "Our mission is to make cars that everyone can afford ... " (3). Elon has commented several times that he wishes the Model 3 could be more affordable, more in reach to many more people. Elon mentioned in an interview with Marques Brownlee about the possibility of a $25,000 Tesla vehicle (4).
We can only hope that in a few years Tesla will be able, and willing, to offer a 220-mile range vehicle for under $30,000. My guess is that, if they do, they will be the first automobile manufacturer to do so. And if they do, they will open up and capture additional EV market share.
While there is a large group of potential EV buyers who are good with a modest 250-mile range EV, there are, on the other hand, over 100 million people who may consider buying an EV IF, and only IF, the range is greater than 350 miles. This is a fact, full stop. There is no argument to this (sorry Fred).
Going against this is like a car salesman pushing to sell you a puke green car ("but it's got such great features"). If we want these people to adopt the EV lifestyle, without compulsion, EV technology must advance forward to provide greater affordable range. Given the choice, buyers will most often prefer more range over less.
CEO Elon Musk has mentioned that Tesla will likely have a 400-mile range vehicle in the future. We can rest assured that if they do, there will be buyers to support this. This can be thought of as the price/range value proposition. Buyers will intrinsically gravitate to the greatest range for the lowest relative price.
As I mentioned above, the AlixPartners survey supports the importance of range. As Ben Sullins of Teslanomics has said, "You have to look and see what it would take for an electric vehicle to compete with the range and convenience of a gas-powered car."(5) What is needed are many more EVs with 350+ mile ranges.
A specific example of someone who falls into the category of needing range is Alex Guberman, creator & host of "E for Electric" (6). He drives a Chevy Volt. He purchased the Volt because his leased Tesla Model S did not have enough range to make his frequent distance commutes without stopping for a charging session. For him, this added too much time and inconvenience to the commute. He has since returned his Model S and exclusively drives the Volt.
We need to again consider figure 2 above. We have to keep in mind as we look at those over 100 million people who insist on ample range before considering an EV, that a great number of them are going to be people who are currently purchasing IC vehicles in the $24,000 price point. The question has to be answered, how can EVs be made with great range and still be attractive to these buyers?
Falling Battery Costs
If we believe the whispers out there, we can hope that battery costs will continue to come down. Perhaps over time, battery costs will fall enough that we will see many 220-mile range EVs profitably sold for under $30,000. We hope so, but that could possibly be far off. And, it seems even much less likely that electron storage costs will fall enough anytime soon to make possible a 350+ mile range EV (100 kWh?) for under $30,000.
Some hyper-EV enthusiasts talk as if someone is going to wave a magic wand and "poof" electron storage will be $25 a kWh. I don't think so, not any time soon. If nothing is done, EV adoption will slow down and stall. So what is the answer?
Swappable, Rentable Batteries
A couple commenters mentioned the idea of making a very limited range EV (90 miles) that has the ability to add on an extra rentable battery pack. The idea is that day-to-day driving is done on the OEM provided battery. When you want to take a road trip, you rent an add on battery pack and "voila," you have the extra needed range.
I've seen this idea put forward by several people on several forums, so perhaps there is a market for this kind of solution. Aluminum air batteries might be a good fit for this type of application. My hunch though is that while this idea may work for some people, it wouldn't be a viable general solution. I will concede that the nice thing about markets is that there is often room for many types of solutions. But, what is really needed is a general solution that will work for the broadest number of cases and people.
PHEV. Alright, Alright, OK - IF!
There was a lot of discussion in the comments about PHEVs, some pro and some against. It was suggested by more than one reader that I should be satisfied with what is labeled as a PHEV. After some reflection about this, I am ready to back-peddle and say YES, IF the PHEV has an electric range of 90 miles and sells for $27,000 or less, then that is a go.
I am almost ready to concede that ANY type of engine-motor configuration hybrid will do fine, regardless, but IF, and only IF, the battery range is sufficient (minimum 80 mi electric) and the cost is affordable. Much like the Chevrolet Volt, which has since been discontinued. Point proven?
But, unfortunately, that is not what is currently offered in the market today. The current offerings are mostly NOT what I consider true PHEVs, but rather ultra-limited range PHICs (Plug-in Hybrid Internal Combustion). They are ICE vehicles which just so happen to have an electric motor in the mix.The BMW i3 with its range-extender is another example
I should like to point out that according to Wards Auto, sales of PHEV have been down as much as 28% this past year. The thought is that today's PHEV's don't provide enough range to truly fit into the EV market. And, they are confusing to customers who buy non-plug-in hybrids. They simply don't fit well into either segment. It is of note that GM and VW are pulling out of the hybrid market altogether.
In my humble opinion, any vehicle that offers less than 60 miles of real-world dependably-usable electric range is NOT a true EV. Instead, it is an ICE car with an electric motor attached (PHIC). Keep in mind that to get 60 miles of dependable usable range, a safe buffer of rated battery range is required (cold or hot weather and other factors come into play). So give us a 400-mile range PHEV, selling for under $30,000 that has 90 miles of rated battery range and I think a lot of people will go for it, no matter what the engine-motor configuration.
Less Battery Resources
I'll say it here again. One of the huge immediate benefits of these types of vehicles, a benefit which I think can't get enough attention, is the wise use of limited battery resources. Until we have ultra-inexpensive mega-capacitors or some other type of giga-electron storage devices, batteries are likely to continue to be used, batteries which are comparatively costly and also use scarce ingredients.
The use of range-extending technologies would enable manufacturers today to produce four (or more) long-range EVs using the same amount of battery resources that would have been used to produce just one long-range BEV. This is particularly poignant when you consider that for many of us we will use that extra range only once in a while. For someone who averages over 18,000 miles of driving a year a pure BEV makes a lot of sense. But for someone like me who drives less than 8,000 miles a year, a 100-kWh battery pack is simply a waste of resources. It makes much less sense, at least for now.
So Why A Range Extended EV?
The main reason I suggest a range-extended EV is because it seems much simpler for auto manufacturers. Instead of building two types of powertrains, an electric and a complicated hybrid, only one type of powertrain is required, all-electric.
A very limited range EV can be built with a small battery pack and an optional range extender to boost the EV to full range. The only serious alteration needed to the vehicle is some space to accommodate the gas-powered range extender and gas tank (frunk space?). Commenting about traditional hybrids, Brett Smith, Center for Automotive Research said on Autoline After Hours "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"(7).
There is another reason to use range extenders. Some readers were concerned that the cost of a range extender would add too much to the cost to the vehicle. The cost would be prohibitively high. They pointed out that the cost of a 20 kW generator found online is $4,000 and up.
The trouble here is they are thinking inside the box. The fact is that the opposite is true. As I pointed out in the article, there are up and coming solutions which can compete handily against batteries to provide a 400+ mile range. Two examples of these are an inline generator based on Libertine FPE's technology, libertine.co.uk and the rotary motor gen-set by Freedom Motors, freedom-motors.com.
Libertine makes linear machine solutions for OEMs and developers, "High performance linear motor-generator systems for the world’s leading free piston innovators". Sam Cockerill, Libertine Chief Executive, told me that a 20 kWe linear generator could possibly be produced for OEMS for as little as $1,200, when produced in high volume.
Freedom Motors makes lightweight, compact motor solutions for a variety of industries and uses. Freedom Motor's mission is "To produce the most powerful, flexible and durable engines to enhance human experience and environmental sustainability". Paul Moller, Freedom Motors' President, told me that they could possibly produce a 15 kW "RotaPac" generator unit for as little as $1,500, when produced in high volume. Hopefully a more powerful 25 kW unit could be produced for a similar or lower cost per kW.
When you consider that a range extender of this type could replace 75 kWh of batteries or more, you can see that the truth is that a range extender would be much less expensive. In order for batteries to be price competitive with range extenders, battery costs will have to fall to as little as $20 a kWh. While that may happen, it could be many years before it does. We may be waiting a long time, and while we wait, EV adoption will be stalled. On the other hand this technology could be used to produce affordable full range EVs right away.
Mazda MX 30
It appears that the era of a range-extended EVs may possibly be just around the corner. Mazda recently unveiled it's all-electric MX 30. This crossover will soon be available in the US with an optional small Wankel rotary engine range extender (8). The Wankel engine is well-suited for this job because the engine is compact and comparatively lightweight. Hopefully, the range-extended version of the MX 30 will include a usable gas tank larger than 2 gallons. Moreover, hopefully, it will be 6 or more gallons and add 250 miles of range or more.
Range Extended EVs, a Natural Evolution
There is one catch with the range extended MX 30. Mazda has been talking about doing this kind of thing for almost 10 years (9). This is not a new idea. It was originally proposed even before the first Volt was sold. So why the delay? Some of you reading this may want to chime in and say how range extenders are just a bad idea and altogether a failure. But I think there is a more subtle and simpler explanation.
Besides the needed technology not being fully there, the time was not right. The broader car buying market simply hasn't been ready to accept EVs. Sure there are those EV enthusiasts and innovator-adoptors, those millions who will purchase the 200- to 250-mile range EVs, but the bigger market isn't thoroughly primed for EV adoption yet.
I look around my world and I see that I am the only EV enthusiast that I know. I long to have a nice heart to heart nerdy EV chat with someone. But there is no one with whom I can do that. If I bring up the subject of EVs to people I know nod their heads courteously as their eyes gloss over and they begin to get that deer in the headlight look. They're really not interested.
After surveying 100 people I can say that some of the people were interested, but a very large number of those respondents were courteous, but not that into it. The general public will have to see a lot more EVs on the road before attitudes really begin to change. I am of the belief that once 5% of the cars on the road are EVs then adoption will begin to really accelerate. At that point, the market will begin to open up to buying "true" PHEVs and range-extended EVs.
This Range-Extender Progression is Counterintuitive
This evolution of the EV market is counterintuitive. One would think that the natural evolution of the EV market would go something like this. First car buyers are introduced in traditional hybrids and soon begin to adopt them until they become nearly universal. Then plug-in hybrids take hold and spread through the market. And finally, pure EVs take over and are adopted en masse.
But this is not what we actually see happening in the market. Instead the greater number of car buyers are slow to accept change, of any type. The fact that GM and VW are exiting the hybrid market highlights this.
The actual adoption process may go something like this. There is a small but obvious core of EV innovator adopters (possibly 5%). These adopters want only pure EVs (BEVs). Range and infrastructure are not big issues for them. Automobile startups and legacy automakers are jumping in (OK, some are being dragged in) to meet this pure EV demand.
As a reminder of the mass-market begins seeing more and more EVs on the road, attitudes about EVs will soften and many of these buyers will begin to consider buying an EV. Some will convert soon. However, many of them will be looking for EVs which match their current automobile specs and price. This is where range-extended EVs enter in (leaping past IC hybrids).
As the market matures, we will see a wide acceptance and thus deployment of range extenders. This deployment of range-extended EVs may be seen as an interim solution. However, that interim could be a decade or more. How long-range extenders reign will depend on technological advancements in electron storage.
The use of REx BEVs along with pure BEVs will make gasoline a specialty product and provide the time, space, and impetus to advance battery and electron storage tech. If storage costs ever do fall sufficiently (say $20 a kWh), then pure EVs will take over and saturate the market.
Me And Big Oil - LOL
More than one reader made the mistaken assertion that, because I was proposing a gas-burning range extender, I must be a friend to "Big Oil." I found that comment very amusing. If what I propose comes to pass, many of us will seldom use the range-extending engines. We would all be using 90% less petrol than we are using today. In which case there would be no more "Big Oil", but instead only "Not So Big" oil :o)).
The 30% Non-EV buyers
You may notice in figure 1 above that about 30% of respondents did not show a strong likelihood of buying an EV regardless of how much range it had. This could be a little discouraging if taken at face value. However, I believe that just as with so many other new inventions introduced in modern times, once we reach early-majority adoption a lot of those folks who rated their likelihood as a 7 or 8 will reconsider their position. Eventually, many will make the switch as late-majority adopters. Only a smaller percentage of this group will hold out and be laggards.
There are a lot more EV sales to be made. The market is out there to support a large number of EV sales today. As technology advances to bring down costs there will be even greater numbers of EV sales in the future. As the market matures REx BEVs can play a significant role in the transition to sustainable transportation. REx BEVs can save on valuable battery resources. They can give the price/range value proposition that makes much sense to many millions more future EV buyers.
I feel confident in my research. I feel confident that it does indicate that range is an important influence in many people's consideration about going electric. However, there would be value in broader, more extensive market research. This research could yield a more precise and in-depth understanding of what consumers want now and in the future.
Related videos and links:
1 How much electric-car range is 'enough'? 300 miles much better than 200 miles: survey www.greencarreports.com/news/
2 AAA: 1-in-5 U.S. Drivers Want an Electric Vehicle https://newsroom.aaa.com/2018/
3 JB Straubel Oct 15 2015, University of Nevada
4 Talking Tech with Elon Musk! https://www.youtube.com/watch?
5 Tesla Model 3 vs Honda Civic - Why 400+ Miles Makes Sense https://www.youtube.com/watch?
6 E for ELECTRIC https://www.youtube.com/
7 Will The Internal Combustion Engine Survive? - Autoline After Hours 451 https://www.youtube.com/watch?
8 Legendary Mazda technology set to return, but not as you know it. https://www.news.com.au/
9 Will EV Range Extenders Give Rise to a Rotary Renaissance? https://www.greencarreports.