This week Tesla Motors unveiled a larger battery pack for the Tesla Model S. With a 100 kiloWatt-hour battery pack they’re now up to 315 miles EPA range, and it also let Tesla juice up the Ludicrous mode for an even faster 0-60 miles/hr time and claim to be selling the 3rd fastest production car in the world. That’s cool… but it ignites the long-running question of whether or when there will be a 500 mile range electric car, whether from Tesla Motors or anyone else. I have to wonder “why”. Isn’t 315 miles range sufficient? 350 miles? 380 miles?
In a way there’s no mystery about building a 500 mile range electric car. There was a 300 mile range car built in the early 2000’s by Solectria, the Solectric Sunrise that had a big enough NiMH battery pack that they could drive from Boston to New York City in one go. In a way Tesla Motors simply caught up with Solectria’s achievement. It’s just a matter of putting enough kiloWatt-hours of battery into the car, while making sure the car is still light enough it can drive. That’s the tradeoff between weight and performance, and Tesla’s cars are already suffering from low efficiency due to their heavy weight giving them a lower eMPG rating than other electric cars.
The real question is – How much range is sufficient? If the person with 285 miles electric range still wants “more”, how much “more” will stop them from asking for more?
The gasoline car world holds a big clue for us — most gasoline cars supply 300-400 miles range per charge. A few hybrid or plug-in hybrid cars hype up an even longer range, but the norm is in around 300-400 miles. Seems likely that the last 100+ years of selling gasoline cars has taught those marketing departments this is the sweet spot.
There’s a bigger macroeconomics question to ponder. Worldwide we have X capacity for lithium-ion battery production. How should that production be allocated? Do we need more total electric cars? Or do we need electric cars with longer range, even if that means fewer total electric cars? I like the answer from Tesla Motors, increase total battery production. Even so, that just gives us a bigger value for X to allocate and we’re still left with the same question: More total cars, or fewer cars with more range?
When the Tesla Model S was first introduced and there was a choice between 40 kWh, 60 kWh and 85 kWh, I wrote an article suggesting the 60 kWh model with Supercharger option was the sweet spot. My reasoning was the 200+ mile range at 60 kWh is enough for driving around town, and the Supercharger is there to handle longer trips, and the supercharger support is cheaper than buying the extra battery capacity. Bang for the buck, in other words, and I stand by that reasoning. The current low end, 70 kWh, gives adequate range.
What would a 500 mile range give you that 300 mile does not? That’s 8 hours of driving at a stretch versus 5 hours driving (at 60 miles/hr). I don’t know about others, but I think even 5 hours at a go behind the wheel is unhealthy. I would want to stop somewhere in that time range to stretch my legs, and unwind a bit, so that stop might as well involve charging.
I did a quick web search on “won’t be 500 mile range tesla” before writing this and see lots of postings eagerly hoping for a 500 mile range electric car. Count me as being puzzled about this.
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