Tesla Co-Founder Ian Wright Questions What We Should Really Be Asking About EVs

JUL 9 2016 BY MARK KANE 97



Ian Wright, Founder & CEO of Wrightspeed, and co-founder of Tesla Motors doesn’t really believe in the short term prospects for success in building an affordable passenger electric cars, which he didn’t hide even when it comes to his Tesla roots.

Of course, the fact he is now in the business of building electric hybrid powertrains for large commercial vehicles (which we still definitely approve of) may have something to do with that stance.

By way of 2016 World Economic Forum, where Wrightspeed was named a Technology Pioneer, Mr. Wright penned an interesting article on the questions that we should really be asking about electric cars?  Or rather, the greater benefits of focusing on converting the ‘work-horses’ of transportation industry of today first.

Ian Wright notes that EVs are very efficient, but they only hold 0.5% of market share (although the “new norm”going forward is quite likely the ~1% level that was hit in the US in June), and the reason is a lack of scalability.

The answer for that – at least for heavy duty trucks and buses targeted by Wrightspeed – are turbine generators or range extenders. Calculations shown in the article show that switching class 8 trucks to range extended electric vehicle (REV) would benefit from a short payback period and huge savings – something that can’t be found today (or in the near future) for small electric vehicles.

The question we should really be asking about electric cars

“So, why do plug-in vehicles only make up half a percent of the total market? Scalability.

Case in point: a Nissan Versa costs about $14k and uses about 350 gallons of fuel per year, which is about $1,225 at $3.50/gallon. The same car with electric drive – a Nissan Leaf – costs double and, if driven the same 12,000 miles, uses the equivalent of 106 gallons per year, which is about $371; saving the driver $854. But the Leaf driver invested $16k more than the Versa driver, so the payback for the Leaf takes almost 19 years.

When thinking about scaling electric vehicles, it’s almost as if we asked the wrong question. If you ask, “How can we make more efficient cars?” to a roomful of engineers, you will immediately get back “What’s the most efficient car we make? And how can we make it better?” And you will get a Nissan Leaf.

If instead you ask, “How can we save the most fuel, per vehicle per year, to get the shortest payback?” You will immediately get asked, “Which vehicles burn the most fuel per year, in the hardest drive cycle?” The answer: trucks. Big, smelly, noisy garbage trucks. Driving 130 miles per day at 2.8 MPG is about 12,000 gallons of fuel per year. At $3.75 per gallon, that’s $45k on fuel alone, not even including maintenance. If we get the same proportional gain as in the Leaf case, we would save 8,366 gallons per year, or $31,372. Plus about $20k per year goes on maintenance, mostly for the brakes. That’s $51k saved per truck, per year.

Class 8 garbage truck

Class 8 garbage truck

While it costs about 10 times more to build a powertrain for a garbage truck than for the Leaf, it is actually a more economic proposition. For an additional $150k to replace a conventional diesel powertrain with a range extended electric vehicle (REV) powertrain, the payback is simple: $150k/$51k in fuel and maintenance per year in just under three years. Thus, the economic opportunity to scale electric drive with garbage trucks is an order of magnitude greater than a personal car. The economics are comparably compelling in scores of other heavy- and medium-duty applications – from delivery trucks and city transit buses to drayage trucks.

The cost of the powertrain goes up as you move up into heavier vehicles with harder drive cycles, but the fuel and maintenance saving goes up much faster.

You may ask: can you even do that? And the answer is yes. Locomotives have had electric drive for more than 100 years, and freight trains can weigh 10,000 tons. Massive mining trucks use electric drive. The Queen Mary 2, at 75,000 tonnes, is propelled by four 28,800 horsepower electric motors. So Class 8 garbage trucks that weigh 66,000 lbs. or heavy public transportation buses certainly can too. But it can’t be done with batteries alone. The battery pack for a Class 8 garbage truck would weigh 10,000 lbs., cost half a million dollars, and take up half the payload space.

However, it can be done with a range-extended EV powertrain, with only a sixth of that battery pack, and a 50kW range extender or turbine generator, which is actually ideal for these applications. The battery pack can be sized to deliver the peak power (or more importantly, to absorb the peak regenerative braking power) while the range extender only needs to supply average power, which is surprisingly low. That’s a consequence of the drive cycle. One-hundred-and-thirty miles in an 8-hour shift is only 16 mph.

If we analyze scalability for the shortest payback time, a range-extended EV powertrain is the clear winner for a Class 8 garbage truck and also for our cities’ most demanding vehicles. The scaling properties work towards the higher consumption vehicles and away from the light duty vehicles. Moreover, a powertrain’s fuel, and maintenance savings all follow a curve and as vehicle weight is reduced and the drive cycle relaxed, the payback gets longer, or vice versa. With current fuel and battery prices, 14,000 lbs. loaded weight in a metro delivery drive cycle is about the lowest limit for a reasonable payback, so Class 8 garbage trucks are the holy grail for displacing fuel and making big savings.

When we think about scaling EVs, it pays to ask the right question. At Wrightspeed, rising demand for our Route powertrain throughout the global transit market indicates the scalability of our approach to transit. Our customers, including FedEx, Ratto Group and NZ Bus, show the strong business case in opting for REV powertrains to improve efficiency and performance for the most challenging jobs on the road. Ultimately, REV powertains offers an ideal and economically attractive to tack urban drive cycles and offers an effective way to improve urban conditions.”

source: 2016 World Economic Forum

Categories: General, Tesla


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97 Comments on "Tesla Co-Founder Ian Wright Questions What We Should Really Be Asking About EVs"

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What about the environmental emergency?

If you really care about that in transportation, use more public transport – less cars means less infrastructure for roads and parking lots and less traffic on the roads.

Unfortunately, I do not have access to mass transit to haul my garbage with…

Not that simple. Public transport in US runs mostly empty in giant busses. People get off public transport when they can as the drop in ridership in Los Angeles showed when illegal aliens were allowed driver’s licenses. I suspect this sentiment is universal. Public transport is not a way to fight pollution.

Also, I hate being behind “public transport”. They are smelly. I even smell stuff from some nat gas ones when they accelerate.

As for environmental emergency, there is no such thing, especially nothing that can be solved with EV. Don’t Panic!

What kind of blindness are you affected with?


All the hoopla about CO2 is nonsense. No matter what humans do as they discuss in Paris, etc, we’re not going to stop the increase in global temperature / climate change.

Something human can do is to reduce CO2 (not keep same) if we go back to 18th century level of CO2 production per capita. That ain’t happening with EV. That _could_ happen with revolution in energy, which cheap Fusion comes to mind. We don’t know when that will happen. Based on past trend and upcoming new economies of the developing world, there is no way we’re going to reduce CO2; I suspect we will have much more CO2.

But even going to low level of human made CO2 won’t affect climate change much in our lifetime; lots of heat is trapped in oceans, which has momentum. Then why panic about something that you can do nothing about? Enjoy your EV for being a great vehicle, not because you’re saving the world.

You forgot to mention the huge rate of global population growth here on Earth that shows no signs of letting up.

The population is going to peak about 10B (from about 7B today). Population growth is mainly in developing countries. As they become richer, the growth rate slows. Hans Rosling has nice set of youtube videos about this.

In general, I don’t worry about the future other than Berning/Dump Chavez being the biggest worry.

You don’t have children or grand-children to care about don’t you? Me Myself and I.

It might be a bit subtle to some, but if one cares about the future (habitability, environment, politics, etc) only because of one’s own children and descendants, it’s only a little bit “better” than selfishness and the me-myself-I mentality.

“Bonitas non est pessimis esse meliorem.”

Well, because the Pentagon forecasts increased global instability due to climate change – which may include brutal civil wars that are already underway as ethnic groups try to exterminate their competition for access to jobs and land – at a time when the Pentagon has already put bases in over 130 countries. Unless we’re willing to bring all the troops home, we will be entangled in these wars.

SparkEV said:

“All the hoopla about CO2 is nonsense.”

I certainly agree that the alarmism over CO2 emissions causing a piffling couple of degrees of global warming does amount to hoopla, and so do a lot of the alarmists’ claims, such as rising levels of the seas. (Yeah right, rising at very nearly the same incredibly slow rate at which they’ve been rising for a couple of centuries now.)

But there is a much more immediate effect of the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels: Acidification of the oceans, and its effect on marine life. This is causing a mass extinction on a level not seen since the days of the end of the dinosaurs.

For example, just look at what is happening to coral reefs around the world. The massive die-offs, not only of the coral itself but all the species that depend on it, is very sobering indeed. It certainly isn’t “hoopla”. And it almost certainly is an early warning signal of much more significant environmental changes to come; changes which most definitely won’t benefit our species.

There are some cause for concern, but certainly not the global doom-and-gloom hoopla that is today. You mention ocean acidification gloom, but can you cite some examples of species benefitting from that? Current hoopla is saying it’s all bad without any hint of benefit. Skeptical mind should ask, wtf?

And as I mentioned, even if it’s all bad, there’s nothing you can do about it with EV or much of what’s proposed today. Developing countries will do what they’ll do, and there’s really no penalty for breaking “climate contracts”. Unless there’s real self-sufficient economic reason for clean energy (which there isn’t for developing countries), all the talk and hoopla is meaningless.

So in the words of the most wisest philosopher, “what, me worry?”

scott franco (No M3 FAUX GRILL!)

We can get rid of 300,000 carbon dioxide generators in very short order….

scott franco (No M3 FAUX GRILL!)

Opps, slipped several orders of mangnitude:


Well, it depends upon what you mean by “short order”

300,000 is actually pretty realistic, if we are “short” means 2 years.

300,000,000 vehicles is going to take an order of magnitude more than 2 years.

Nix, I think Scott was rather snarkily referring to the U.S. population as 300 million “carbon dioxide generators”.

And yeah, overpopulation is the real elephant in the room. Most — not all, but most — of what the popular press (and even popular science magazines like National Geographic) call the results of “climate change” are actually the result of human overpopulation.

Overpopulation causes resource depletion, followed by civil unrest and wars, as people fight over a dwindling supply of resources. This is already happening, very visibly, in East Africa and the Mideast. Human overpopulation isn’t a problem with an easy solution, but we should at least acknowledge what the real underlying problem is, and stop focusing on behaviors such as tribalism and religious differences. Those are just the excuses people use to divide humans into “us” and “them” when resources run too short. They are not the real reason for most civil strife and wars. (And yes, that’s a glittering generality. As they say: “No generality is always true, not even this one.” Not all wars were caused by overpopulation. But all wars were, and are, caused by collective struggles to control resources, including land as a resource.)

I think the earth could easily host 10 billion humans, IF we drastically reduced consumption of 1.) meat, 2.) fossil fuels, and 3.) violence. And the three are loosely related to each other, so in no particular order.

But what are the odds that any of that is going to happen?

And while overpopulation might be the elephant in the room to *you*, if one accepts that, a new elephant enters: i.e., what do you propose to do to stabilize, or — even harder or worse — reduce the present population (and/or its rate of growth).

This isn’t a forum for discussion of geopolitical policy. But let me just briefly point out that our choices are only two: We can either use a planned method of population control, or let nature do it for us. As a reminder, nature controls overpopulation with famine, epidemic disease, and deadly strife between members of the same species.

If there was an easy solution, we’d already be doing it. But this rule is very applicable here: “If you don’t control events, then events will control you.” We’re already seeing some of the results of nature taking its course, in East Africa and the Mideast. This problem is going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

You’re an “illegal alien” yourself.

Jay/editors: can you delete SparkEV’s offensive dog-whistling comment, a comment that has ZERO to do with electric vehicles, by any stretch of the imagination?


The only offensive comment here I see is yours.

Political correctness has really gotten out of control. I was watching Shark Week on TV the other day and was surprised to see the latest example of the PC police run amuck.

Whining about political correctness is even more out of control than political correctness….

Whining about someone whinging about political correctness is even more out of control than whining about political correctness….

You ignore the whole point that people don’t want to be in public transit if given the chance and only see “illegal alien”. Wake the hell up. They are “aliens” as defined in legal terms and “illegal” because they are not legally allowed.

Maybe in lala land where you have built freeways everywhere, but in other major cities, people take public transit because they don’t want to be stuck in traffic.

Actually, people don’t want to take public transit even if there’s traffic; just ask people of LA where grid lock is 24/7. If there are self driving cars where traffic and parking don’t matter (much), they will prefer that over buses. In the long run, that’s what’s going to happen.

You have a blurr crystal ball.
What do you know about the future so much?
Please, step outside of your basement for a ride around the world.
Mass transit exist and is part of the equation.

scott franco (No M3 FAUX GRILL!)

Bet sparky knows more about grammar than you….

I have no doubt of that either.
So much skill useless is a shame.
Just try me in french!

My crystal ball is crystal clear. People prefer to be in cars alone, not share space with others, not even in Taxi/Uber. But traffic / parking is forcing them to take public transport. Once there are self driving cars that remove that burden, people will use that instead. And we all know that self driving cars (and they will be EV) will be coming soon. It’s crystal clear what the future will look like.

May I respectfully submit that it doesn’t matter if the public transportation bus is full or empty when it goes down the street, it is still a fuel hog. Converting it into something hugely more efficient is a plus since it’s going to be on the road burning our tax dollars anyway.

The problem is getting the purchasing agencies for public transport, private transportation companies and waste management companies to give these vehicles a trial run. They may not even be aware of them, especially with all the FUD that gets spewed.

No, the problem is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, it doesn’t make economic sense to convert heavy trucks to EVs. I certainly hope the EV revolution will progress as fast as it can, but that doesn’t mean I want my tax money to go to “experimental” tryouts of vehicles using technology that quite obviously isn’t competitive. That’s exactly the same problem with using taxpayer money to build or subsidize hydrogen fueling stations in California and elsewhere, and would be every bit as monumentally wasteful and stupid. We certainly should advocate for government support of R&D into improved batteries and other tech (perhaps battery swapping for fleets of trucks?) which could push forward the EV revolution. But such tech should remain in the R&D stage until it’s actually ready to compete with gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles in any given market. As I noted in a previous comment, there is some use now of EV heavy trucks in a restricted niche, where those trucks are driven only very short distances, such as seaport loading docks and railroad loading yards. We should certainly support any advancement in EV tech which would allow that niche to expand. But EV tech is far… Read more »

The Los Angeles area has horrible public transportation services. Buses are dreadfully slow and trains have limited schedules and don’t allow much flexibility. Cars aren’t preferred by commuters, they are the only option due to an infrastructure that was designed before the city’s population exploded. Designers of the L.A. freeways had no idea there would be 50X more people living in the city. If you look at public transportation in cities that were designed to have subways and trains from the very beginning you’d notice there’s a huge proportion of public ridership vs private transportation. London, New York, San Francisco, and Portland all have great bus and light rail systems. Your argument regarding illegal aliens has no bearing either since many of them still drove regardless of having a license or not. People who had the balls to cross the border illegally into another country don’t let little things like not having a driver’s license stop them from getting to work.

SparkEV is 100% correct. I’ve used NYC subways and buses to commute and get around NYC my entire life. People in NYC will drive over taking public transit if they know they will find a parking spot.

All the cops, firemen, sanitation workers, and employees of other city agencies drive rather than take readily accessible public transit when they have a city issued parking permit to place on their dashboard, which means they park on the street and not get a ticket like us non-city employees. 🙁

scott franco (No M3 FAUX GRILL!)

Right answer. Parking is a natural self limit to car population growth. It is pure capitalism (value of a car space).

And capitalism has the answer to that as well, as car sharing or even bike sharing takes off, as well as Uber use, etc.

Look at the relative success of San Francisco car share solutions vs its huge mass transit network.

Quite correct, sven. It’s pretty silly to talk about mass transportation as if it can stand or fall in isolation from population density. The fact is that mass transportation only makes sense where population is dense enough to support it; support it both economically, as well as practical to use on a daily basis. It makes sense in NYC and in Washington, D.C.; in areas where urban density is high, and in general you don’t have to travel far to get from one place to another. But in cities which are much more spread out, like L.A. or my own hometown, the Greater Kansas City area, it makes far less sense. Much lower population density supports far fewer buses, with much longer wait times between each bus running on a given route, and fewer routes that make any sense for the city to support running a bus line. Furthermore, with cities which are so spread out, chances are any place you want to go is a lot further, so would take a much longer bus ride… or rather series of rides, as you’d likely have to transfer one or more times, with again an extended wait at each transfer. Comparing… Read more »


Using the descriptive phrase “illegal alien” is a “dog whistle”?

Dude, if you’re offended by a neutral descriptive phrase like that, then the problem exists only in your head. There are certainly bigoted, racist, and intolerant terms for foreigners who are living in our country illegally; foreigners (or aliens) living here without permission, people who are breaking the law every single day they remain. That ain’t one of ’em.

I certainly hope the editors of InsideEVs aren’t going to practice the kind of extreme political correctness censorship that you’re calling for.

Try telling that to the entire population of just about every major city in China.

What a stunningly unhelpful string (aka waste of time). A post on hybrid engines becomes cause to claim CO2 emissions are a waste of time, sea level rise is silly, buses smell, public transportation is pointless, and how “illegal alien” is a harmless term. A new low.

Why not both? Fortunately for us, that’s what we have! I’m glad someone is seriously working on the heavy-duty end of the spectrum.

Speaking of which, what ever happened to Via Motors?

yes, what is Bob doing? Is he putting gas motors in Karma bodies or what??? C’mon VIA.

Nope, it’s BMW that supply the hybrid drivetrain to Karma

Big is referring to Maximum Bob’s “maximum performance solution” for the Karma; to drop a Corvette engine into a face-lifted Karma and call it a “Destino” I believe was the name.

Agreed. But on the passenger vehicle side, where the **** are the SUVs? Other than the X, and the Mitsubishi which we can’t buy here, we NEED more SUV options. Because the SUV:Nissan Versa is a corollary to what Ian refers. Given a fixed number of miles/year, we do more good turning an 18mpg SUV to 50mpg than a 50mpg Prius to 100mpg.

Perhaps us environmental nutjobs on this forum aren’t looking to replace an Escalade, but those are the vehicles we need to be targeting, not the Prius. In that, Ian is correct.

A few years ago GM offered a hybrid large SUV. Sales were horrible. Part of the problem was that the cost increase was large, but part was – or at least seemed to me – to be that large SUV buyers weren’t that interested. It clearly costs alot more to build the large battery packs that would be required for large vehicles (including long distance towing that these customers expect). If Mitsu finally bring their’s to the US, and sells a ton of them at large markups, then there will be lots of copycats. If Mitsu has to sell them near cost there won’t be many copycats.

It seems to me that sales of hybrids is driven by the mpg number rather than anything else. People love to say they get 50 mpg, but saying you get 21 mpg in a full size SUV doesn’t impress as much. The Tahoe Hybrid was rated at 21 mpg combined vs. 14 mpg – 16 mpg combined for the non-Hybrid Tahoes.

Ian is correct that you save more on larger vehicles. For example, let’s compare a Toyota Corolla (32 mpg combined) to a Prius (52 mpg combined). At 15,000 miles per year, the Corolla uses 468.8 gallons per year vs. the Prius’s 288.5 gallons, for a fuel savings of 180.3 gallons per year by driving a Prius.

Now compare a regular Tahoe (16 mpg combined) to a Tahoe Hybrid (21 mpg combined). At 15,000 miles per year, the Corolla uses 937.5 gallons per year vs. the Prius’s 714.3 gallons, for a fuel savings of 223.2 gallons per year by driving a Tahoe Hybrid. Obviously, 223 is more than 180.

Of course if you don’t need a full size SUV, the point is moot.

I wanted a hybrid Silverado but couldn’t get out of the dealership for less than 45k. instead I bought the standard v8 for 21k. Price was too high and they tied it to the top of the line trim.

Yes, both you and MMF have made the point that the GM Escalade hybrid didn’t sell well, but then, it didn’t get much better mileage than the non-hybrid model. A plug would change that.. And a 60 kwh battery no longer costs a king’s ransom. The big suv currently gets 15/21 mpg EPA, if we can assume a bolt would get less than 30 mpg if it had the typical gas engine in it, then we could take its battery and halve its range. So an Escalade ESV (or chevy EXT) – the long models – would certainly have room for an LG 60 kwh battery stuffed between the frame rails to get 100 miles all electric range. Those cars in typical range, wouldn’t use much gasoline at all. And that’s assuming the 5 year old hybrid design was used. Perhaps with a bigger battery, GM could depend more on the electric motors providing the acceleration and use a much lighter and space efficient 4 cylinder engine as opposed to the big V-8, it gaining its acceleration ability from the large battery and 2 electric motors. This could also help improve mileage, and is not a significant engineering change since… Read more »

Exactly. There is need for both pure EVs and PHEVs. Pick the right tool for the right job. Get the vehicle that works best for your driving patterns. I like pure EVs but for others that have to drive long distances often or live in cold climates, a PHEV is often the better solution.


I personally applaud both efforts and both should be encouraged. Additive efforts to reduce effluents are a good thing.

We shouldn’t think of the false dichotomy of one versus the other.

He makes an economics argument, when something missing is his (and German makers) failure to recognize electric drive provides a better experience in torque, transmission, one-pedal driving, low Cg, no fuel stops. It is more about affording these experiences, than it is the Versa, Leaf, or big truck pay-back calculations.

He’s also:
-Assuming Leaf-premium per kwh = $666, when pack costs are now much cheaper
-Not including lifetime ICE maintenance

Yes, yes, and YES! For consumer cars, value is not simply efficiency and cost. It’s a combination of experiences. If someone has $18K (pre subsidy; see autotrader) and wanted the quickest accelerating car in the world for that price, it’d be SparkEV, an electric car. Being the most efficient car in the world at that price is a side benefit.

Same argument can be made for all cars. Why does BMW/Mercedes/blah able to sell 21 MPG car when when similar cars get close to 40 MPG and cost far less? Overall value is not so simple. Otherwise, we’d all be driving SparkEV.

I agree the SPARK EV is the best cost most efficient EV you can buy if it fits your needs. Hauling trash for the city is not the same.
The SPARK is small and light yet carries 4. Great battery liquid cooling for 20-30 year pack life. A good 100 mile range driving moderate and easy to park.

His thinking is good, but maybe doesn’t go far enough. What if we simply reduce the amount of waste and therefore the number of garbage trucks on the road? A trip not needed costs $0 and emits 0 carbon.

He is wrong about EVs because a LEAF is not an electric Versa. I own a LEAF and recently drove a rental Versa. Versa is a low-end car and drives like one. LEAF is more like an Altima (which I also own), a mid-range car. It is a way better driving experience than Versa.

He is also wrong about the price. LEAF cost was only $24K after rebates and tax credits, about the same as my Altima.

Rebates are not free. Somebody is still paying for it. In this case, the government. What this analysis is showing is that the rebate money is better spent investing in EV tech for government commercial vehicles rather than your Leaf.

Hmmm, well that’s what Mr. Wright’s sales pitch is arguing. I don’t know that it qualifies as an “analysis”, or at least not an objective one. And it certainly hasn’t been “shown” to be correct, at least not to me.

Mr. Wright is correct to point out that the greatest potential for reducing actual pollution (and not just CO2 emissions, which aren’t actually pollution) is with heavy trucks, when we consider which vehicles are the heaviest emitters of pollution.

But what he’s eliding — what he wants us to forget when reading his sales pitch — is that it’s far, far more difficult to make an EV heavy truck which can actually compete economically with a diesel truck when performing the same tasks. Far more difficult than making an economically competitive EV passenger car.

My garbage is greatly reduced, but I still have three different “garbage” trucks pass by my house to pick up the three bins – garbage, recycle, and yard waste. So, they have not decreased the trips, they have increased them in an effort to reduce the volume going into landfills.

He doesn’t give the size of the battery packs. Just guessing what he is talking about.

But BYD and others are selling urban transit busses like hot cakes. And garbage trucks are also being electrified with a pure battery drive train. These are 20 year investments, and you don’t want to be stuck with an ICE solution in your cities.

It is simple arithmetic: 3 mpg at 16 mph X 8 hrs a day; versus (for example) 12 mpg at 16 mph X 8 hrs a day.

Where commuters cars drive 0.5 to 2.0 hrs a day, working vehicles drive 8 to 16 or more hrs a day, at a much higher fuel burn rate, making just 1 truck burn 75% less fuel is about equal to switching 16 or more cars to electric!

Obviously, putting the numbers into a spreadsheet gives faster and more accurate comparisons, but you get the premise here.

While it’s true that converting one garbage truck is like converting 16 cars, there are a whole lot fewer garbage trucks than one for every 16 cars on the road. It’s more like 1 out of 100.

I still like the idea, but I think your logic is a bit flawed is all.

The vast majority of BOTH consumer and commercial decision makers with regards to purchasing their next car/truck are not going to make a large upfront capital outlay for a far horizon payback…that will never change. That is why the Tesla Model 3 is an important EV entrant…it will be the first EV with better performance at a similar price to its category (Mid Level Luxary Sedan) ICE equivalent.

I disagree at least as relates to commercial and municipal customers. They are VERY focused on TOTAL cost of ownership. If this, or any other technology can demonstrate real durable significant savings in total ownership costs (3 yr payback) – there will be a stampede. This is where demonstration efforts will be critical – to show that significant savings are real. Most of these enterprises are very focused on costs – if this technology reduces total vehicle lifecycle cost – it will be a stampede.

That 3yr payback is a marketing illustration “ideal” case…in real-world more like 5-7 years which is about the useful life of the commercial truck….hence having to make an upfront investment to get a break-even pay back. I’m an EV proponent for both consumer and commercial but reality is that most commercial operators are cash & operating margin constrained and will calculate their net ROI of any upfront investment beyond the marketing ideal scenario that is being presented to them. If price of fuel in future goes up that may tip in favor of EV hybrid. Until the , most commercial operators will continue to deploy EV hybrids into their fleet on a very limited “demonstration” basis. Hence, near term consumer EV conversion via-a-vis Tesla Model 3 type offering will prove to deliver the highest net EV conversion.

shane said: “…as relates to commercial and municipal customers. They are VERY focused on TOTAL cost of ownership. If this, or any other technology can demonstrate real durable significant savings in total ownership costs (3 yr payback) – there will be a stampede.” Perhaps even moreso for UPS and FedEx delivery vans. Altho both companies have done testing using EV vans, neither has yet made any significant move toward replacing their fleets. That, to me, is an excellent barometer saying the tech ain’t ready yet. Yes, it does appear that for city buses, with their frequent stop-and-go travel pattern, it does make sense to make them battery powered, at least on many routes. But I question that the tech is ready for garbage trucks. If the U.S. Post Office isn’t ready to make the switch, not even for their small “jeep” vehicles, how much less is the tech ready for a heavy vehicle like a garbage truck, when driving very similar routes? I’m quite interested to read, in comments here, that there are EV garbage trucks operating now. I’d like to know a lot more about those, whether or not they’re economically competitive, and whether or not the driving pattern… Read more »

I think the argument makes sense in general when it comes to large trucks, but why is he comparing the Leaf (a compact car) with the Versa (a sub-compact car)?

Is’t the relative comparison the Nissan Sentra (a compact car)? That changes the comparison price by a full $5k, more if you include the Leaf’s standard features on a Sentra.

True. Not a fair comparison.

I’ll add that both the both the Versa and Sentra are made in Mexico with labor rates of $3-$10/hr, versus the Tennessee made Leaf with labor rates of $15-$25/hr. Manufacturers sell for what they can get, but costs do effect the minimum sales price in order to break even and turn a profit. A better comparison would be a USA made ICE compact car, like the Toyota Corolla made in Mississippi. The mid-range Corolla LE Eco is $20,670, versus $29,860 for a Leaf S. I also think that Nissan recently offering $4K-$5K dealer cash on the Leaf portends an upcoming price cut on the next generation base model. This is likely due to falling battery costs, without taking into account increased EV volume of scale in the future.

Ugh, why do those macho baby-boomer auto execs who meddle in EV business, feel the need to open a circular firing squad? This is like Bob Lutz cloned.

Especially ironic for him to whine about “scalability”, when the Tesla he’d left has been nearly doubling its production year-over-year, while lowering the price of its base model, even before opening its Gigafactory.

As the article notes, EV market share is already nearly double where he’d pegged it 2 weeks ago, and the China EV market is still experiencing runaway growth.

There’s plenty of room for different solutions for large commercial vehicles (I’d actually put my money on fuel-cell plug-in hybrids for those segments), and for the passenger/light-truck segments, which BEVs now seem en route to dominating within 10-15 years tops.

Absolutely the right analysis. Really just a riff on the idea that you save more gas getting a truck from 12 MPG to 16 MPG than you do replacing a Prius with a BEV. Basically small efficient vehicles don’t use that much gas in the first place.

I think he’s basing his math on battery prices from 5 or 6 years ago. In reality we should be basing the price on what we expect the price to be in another 4 or 5 years when mass adoption begins.

I’m of the understanding that the battery in my Chevy Volt costs somewhere in the ballpark of $3,000. That could drop to as little as $2,000 in 5 years.

Call you local dealers’ parts dept., tell them you broke your Volts’ battery “experimenting on it” so you know it won’t be covered by warranty, and ask them how much it will be for a new one installed.

I’ll say it will be somewhere in the $10-15k range.

1) Dealership parts departments don’t sell at cost. They add their 50% markup on top of whatever markup GM puts on parts before they sell them to the dealerships. So when talking about a car maker’s Cost for putting a battery in a car, comparing it to the parts cost at the parts counter is not a valid comparison. If you tried to build a Nissan Versa out of parts at the parts counter, it would probably cost you over $100K (number pulled out of my backside just for argument’s sake). That doesn’t mean it costs Nissan $100K (or whatever) to build a Versa. 2) In your defense, there is a difference between “Cell Price” and “Pack Price”. Where the Cell price is just the cost of the cells alone, and the pack price is the cost of the battery cells plus the cost of the pack/wiring/cooling on top of the batteries themselves. I think the numbers he was quoting were “Cell” prices only, excluding the rest of the battery pack. Unfortunately there is a massively frustrating high level of conflation of cell and pack prices in the media and automotive industry press releases. There seems to be a very… Read more »

Nix said:

“There seems to be a very intentional vagueness [about battery cell and pack prices] in the industry, intentionally designed to make things confusing.”

Well, this is a result of the new car market being so highly competitive. EVs, especially PEVs (Plug-in EVs), are competing on the basis of their battery packs; and the price of PEVs is greatly affected by the per-kWh cost of their battery packs.

So while frustrating for us EV industry watchers, it’s understandable that EV makers treat battery cell and pack costs as trade secrets. Giving out that info would give their competitors an advantage. You can be sure GM isn’t happy about the (apparently accidental) release of the $145/kWh price they’re paying LG Chem for Bolt battery cells! And LG Chem was apparently even more unhappy about that info being made public.

How many cars in my development? About 200. How many garbage trucks? 2 one day a week or 0.3. So that’s a multiplier of 600 in favor of the Leaf (or whatever passenger BEV) than the garbage truck.

Here’s the killer, the garbage trucks already run on reclaimed from the garbage methanol, seems like we’ve already solved this particular problem.

“However, it can be done with a range-extended EV powertrain, with only a sixth of that battery pack, and a 50kW range extender or turbine generator, which is actually ideal for these applications.”

Are these numbers correct? Can you really power a garbage truck with a range extender smaller than the Volt? If so, why not use a simple and cheap ICE instead of an expensive gas turbine? I would think a simple 6-cylinder ICE could easily deliver the 75 or so horsepower necessary for continuous operation.

Some folks have advocated the use of Voltec technology in trucks. Nay sayers say this is not possible, trucks are too big and heavy. My 13 year old pickup has averaged a bit over 40 mph over its lifetime. Based on what Wrightspeed is doing the 55 kW range extender and 16 kWh battery from my Volt should be able to adequately provide power for an electrically driven pickup.

If your goal is to reduce petroleum usage just look at the top three selling vehicles in the US. All full sized pickups. Convert them to range extended EVs will have a significant impact.

Urban garbage trucks average something like 12 mph, so average power usage is pretty low despite their size and weight.

Pickup trucks are usually bought based on their ability to haul and tow up grades. 50 kW is nowhere near enough for that.

But when garbage trucks return to their fleet parking lot, or go to the landfill to dump their load, they need to be able to travel at highway speed.

Perhaps it’s true that the average power usage of a garbage truck isn’t more than 50 kW. But very few if any vehicles can operate with top power use being limited to no better than average power use.

I certainly have a lot of respect for Mr. Wright, who was not only one of the founders of Tesla Motors; he went on to create his own Wrightspeed company. Still, I very seriously doubt that you can build a PHEV garbage truck which can effectively operate in the conditions required for most of those trucks, using only a relatively small battery pack plus a “50kW range extender or turbine generator”.

Why does this guy think the reason to buy an EV is to save money? Maybe the more important thing is not to pollute our cities with smog and subject the earth to drastic climate change?

Worth noting that these calculations are predicated on cheap oil. That can change in a heartbeat, as we’ve seen many times.

Also, the calculations don’t account for the externalities of oil use, which are definitely not free. These would be reflected in a carbon tax, but we don’t have that for political reasons.

Still, any work done to reduce emissions of very dirty and noisy vehicles like garbage trucks is more than welcome. At the very least this can improve quality of life in cities.

He has some great points but the Model 3 is the game changer. Because it’s not like a Nissan Versa but more like a BMW 3 series at the same cost.

Tesla has succeeded because their cars are cheap compared to other cars in their class. For $100k you get performance of a $150k or more car plus fuel huge fuel savings compared to high performance cars.

To support his point he doesn’t give the whole picture. Nobody in california pays $3.50 for a gallon of gas. But a lot of people pay too much for electricity at their home already, so adding solar will pay for itself AND cover the additional use by an electric car, so saying they pay $371/month is wrong for those people too. I got a 10kW solar system on my roof since May 2015 and it pays for itself in 4-5 years. It produces about 60kWh per day currently.

Thumbs up on the article and Wright! Electrification of every kind (both hydrogen and electric) for fleets of ICE vehicles (of every kind, including trains and airplanes) is both appropriate and necessary to beat the ICE/pollution problem.

Here’s a great example: http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/CouncilNews/ci_cns/pr_hydrogen_bus_190314.asp

Anybody who has driven the Versa and the Leaf absolutely know that the price difference isn’t just because of the drivetrain. The Leaf is better equipped than a stripper Versa sold at base price.

scott franco (No M3 FAUX GRILL!)

I disagree with the basic premise of hybrids. A single drive vehicle, either totally gas or totally electric, is going to cost less and be less complex than a combination of drive types. Locomotives and large ships work by using constant speed turbines to generate the electricity, thus decoupling power generation from power use, and thus not really being a hybrid.

Pure BEVs have an inherent cost advantage that will take time to work out. For garbage trucks or buses? Yes, that works ideally because they are inherently short range vehicles with lots of stop and go, feeding to the basic advantages of BEVs.

I would assert that we have not really got started on the basic cost advantages of BEVs. But that will occur over the next 10 years.

I agree with both your analysis, and your timeline.

By that I mean that everything you said will become true about a decade or so from now. And at around that time PHEV’s will phase out.

But until then, the reality is that PHEV’s and HEV’s are a necessity to meet the wide range of different needs of different drivers. There is no single silver bullet right now that works for everybody in every situation.

Unless I am reading this wrong that is what he is talking about doing. He it talking about building a BMWi3 with REXX but with a bigger gas tank and better software. The drive train would be completely electric and just using the fuel part to generate electricity. His design could use Diesel, Gas, or NG he choose was to use a gas based one.

“…cost less and be less complex..”

and not work as well.

My Gen1 Voltec products are very complex, true, but the efficiency during the wintertime (contrary to popular opinion, waste engine heat is utilized most of the time, – the electric heater is rarely used) is truly amazing.

A fine watch from 100 years ago was more complex than a junky alarm clock at the time.

But even I could see which was more desirable. And the watch kept running much longer.

Likewise, Gen 1 GM Voltec products seem to go 300,000 miles with no overhaul.

As Danny DeVito stated (who had also leased a EV1).

“… You’re not going to take this one (VOLT) away from me are you?”

and, “…This is the most solid Chevy I’ve ever driven.”

Its too early to speak with authority re: the GEN 2 products but no one criticizes the stoutness of GM’s GEN 1 products – complexity and all.

Another Euro point of view

Making profits selling EV’s will be tough for the 3-4 years to come but loosing money selling EV’s now is needed for making profits selling them in the future (needed ramp up of batteries and electric motor production to reduce prices). People believe EV’s should be cheap because they are simple. NO. Electric motors for one are bloody expensive not to speak of the battery that comes with it, this is why a car maker like Dacia still makes profit selling an ICE at EUR 7,500 while the Hyundai Ioniq with a rather small battery (28 Kwh) will be sold here at EUR 34,000. Work in progress then.

I take Mr Wright’s point on the scalability of cost savings not being as good for cars as it is for trucks but he appears to be suggesting that we should, therefore, not bother trying. It seems to me that with the ever reducing cost of batteries that his thesis will eventually become irrelevant and electric (not hybrid) drivetrains will make sense in cars as much as they will in trucks, ships, trains and even planes.

Half agree, great idea to electrify trucks and other large vehicles, but we need passenger EVs as well and as soon as possible. It’s not one or the other, it’s both.

Mr. Wright’s comments were interesting, but it’s very apparent that he’s selling something. That is, his arguments and assertions are clearly intended to favor what his company is selling, not necessarily what’s best for the future of our planet or the future of humankind. I find his use of the word “scale” to be rather confusing, perhaps deliberately so. For instance, he says: “So, why do plug-in vehicles only make up half a percent of the total market? Scalability. “Case in point: a Nissan Versa costs about $14k and uses about 350 gallons of fuel per year, which is about $1,225 at $3.50/gallon. The same car with electric drive – a Nissan Leaf – costs double and, if driven the same 12,000 miles, uses the equivalent of 106 gallons per year, which is about $371; saving the driver $854. But the Leaf driver invested $16k more than the Versa driver, so the payback for the Leaf takes almost 19 years.” But that has nothing to do with scaling, or scalability. It’s a pure economic analysis. Now, he’s perfectly correct to say that if you look at it on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis, heavy trucks emit the most pollution and therefore would… Read more »

His numbers are bogus. A Versa Note equipped similarly to a base Leaf is just under $20k, not $14k. And the Leaf is larger in almost every interior dimension, quicker off the line, etc.

Hybrid garbage trucks exist, including some very interesting hydraulic hybrids. They save a lot on fuel and brakes. I question Wright’s approach — microturbine efficiency is much lower than diesel (26% vs. mid-40s). He probably uses Capstone’s “projected” efficiency from a joint DOE program which basically failed and was shut down.