The year 2016 saw the first 200-mile range electric car for under $40,000 and 2017 is expected to witness a few more.
General Motors’ well-publicized $37,495 Bolt EV is the forerunner fast-tracked to being first, but really, it is the inaugurator of a new price-for-range benchmark effectively raising expectations and dictating other automakers follow ASAP.
This double-the-range-for-the-dollar has come faster than some might have imagined just a few years ago. The first mass-production 200-mile-plus range electric cars – excluding Tesla’s limited-production 2008-2012 Roadster – was the $70,000 and up 2012 Tesla Model S.
Its 200-plus miles for roughly $70,000 has only been with us for a short time, so the jump this year to 200-plus miles for under $40,000 is mighty significant. That’s the good news. The open question is whether as big of a range-for-dollar increase can be done again as soon as early next decade using lithium-ion batteries.
Does anyone even need more than 200 miles range? No! Get over it! Why pay for and drag around all that extra battery? Even 107 miles can be enough, some advocates have said. However, mainstream consumers speaking with their pocketbooks have said “no sale” and the U.S. market share is just 0.45 percent. Most consumers say they want more and faster recharging, cost parity and no perceived downside with conventional cars. This is actually the goal in places like Norway, and they hope by next decade EVs will stand alone without subsidies.
To consumers on the fringes, this year’s progress report may sound like about what they’d expect as they’ve seen computer processing power multiply year by year to astonishing heights, but EVs are not based on the silicon chip, rather it’s batteries they rely upon. And unlike computers following Moore’s Law, cars like the Bolt are not getting a radically improved battery chemistry with double or more the energy density that comes in a Tesla Model S to enable a price cut by half.
Rather, as researchers work on “beyond lithium-ion” chemistries, li-ion is being incrementally tweaked, the Bolt itself is economically built, and a big help has been li-ion’s costs have come down faster than many predicted.
SEE ALSO: Could JCESR’s Li-Sulfur Battery Revolutionize EVs?
As observed by George Crabtree, director of the federally sponsored JCESR project working on new chemistries, cars like the Bolt and others are benefitting from less-expensive li-ion batteries, and more can be stuffed in for a lower selling price.
Li-ion battery prices have plummeted multifold from many hundreds of dollars per kWh to $145/kWh for GM which got a special deal from LG Chem for its cells. By 2020 GM would like to see li-ion cells costing $100/kWh and Tesla has indicated it wants its entire assembled battery packs to be that inexpensive. It may therefore be possible to get up to 350 miles range or so for the same bucks, assuming other cost cutting. Unknown also is whether the leaders GM, Tesla, and Nissan use up their 200,000 allotted federal tax credits by 2018.
How long this one-upmanship with tweaked and price-reduced li-ion may be done is not known. That is, whether a 450-mile EV using li-ion chemistry could be economically sold for under $37,495 by 2021 is anyone’s guess. Some believe that may be a bit much to ask, others are more optimistic, and otherwise the answer is time will tell.
As it is, automakers are throwing all they can at a market as soon as they can while more and faster charging infrastructure is being planned and put in place as well.
Synergies are happening to enable EVs with broader appeal than they’d had, and this year are projected a small handful of production or pre-production EVs to keep the Bolt EV company – which we’ll mention first, because it actually is a 2017 model.
2017 Bolt EV
As noted, the Bolt EV is this year’s most range for the dollar, representing the most advanced engineering GM has yet put into an electric car, according to Pam Fletcher, executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles.
“We got here by a lot of learning and experience, and this is our greatest electrified vehicle so far,” said Fletcher.
With a $7,500 federal tax credit whittled off a base $37,495, and possibly a state credit, these may net a couple thousand below the $30,000 mark, and offer 238 miles EPA-rated range.
Performance is also quick, with 0-60 mph in a respectable 6.5 seconds from the spacious compact crossover.
General Motors “launched” the Bolt EV to its first retail customers mid December in a way not unlike how Tesla launched the Model X – a few in Oregon and California will get them this year while the rest of the country is to get them the following year.
“A number of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States including New York, Massachusetts and Virginia will see first deliveries this winter,” said Chevrolet, adding that more will make it to major metro dealerships through the first half of 2017 with full U.S. rollout by mid-year.
2017 Opel Ampera-e
If you know about the Chevy Bolt, then little needs explaining about the re-badged Opel Ampera-e.
Sales began Dec. 14, and plans for left-side-drive versions only at this point are for first deliveries in Norway in the spring. Following that, next in line are Germany, Netherlands, France and Switzerland.
“Most other European countries will follow in late 2017 or during 2018 as production volume grows,” says Opel.
The priority for initially limited volumes in the “staggered launch” is being given to markets with existing infrastructure and/or those wanting EVs the most.
Norway, of course, is the poster child of EV adoption, with over 25 percent market share for plug-in cars and EVs are the preferred type.
2018 Nissan Leaf
Nissan IDS Concept believed by some to contain elements foreshadowing the next Leaf’s design language.
Nissan, the original purveyor of “mass” appeal EVs is fashionably – or is that unfashionably? – late to its second-generation reveal party.
Now with two range upgrades since a Dec. 2010 launch, the company has said it will compete with the Bolt but the latest indicator may be year one sees less than the whole potential range for it.
More than one battery option expected means multiple range options, and the rumor is the smaller battery will be shown first. This may be because word has it there are issues with the new Leaf’s battery, but what they could be is unknown. Its Renault ZOE and Kangoo Z.E. siblings have already receive next gen batteries, so we shall see.
When it will be shown is also a mystery. Some have suggested Tokyo motor show later this year, but a report by Forbes contributor Bertel Schmitt cites Nissan insiders saying “I think you’ll be hearing about the car much earlier than that.”
The new Leaf is expected to look more conventional than the willfully funky – others have said “frumpy” – design that screams without a word “I’m green.”
2018 Tesla Model 3
Have you heard of the Tesla Model 3? Unless you have been living under a rock, odds are good you have even if you have no other interest in EVs.
This is the $35,000 EV with 215-plus miles range that’s garnered north of 400,000 refundable pre-orders at $1,000 apiece, and is due for a second pre-production reveal this year before going on sale later this year.
The second reveal will show more than its original unveiling in prototype form last March. Among the exciting details, aside from the sporty lines and Tesla brand image, are this is to be a highly configurable car.
Unlike the Bolt and Leaf which will be front wheel drive only, the Model 3 is rear or all wheel drive, and multiple battery and power options are expected from mild to wild.
Green car analyst Alan Baum projects first sales by October, and 5,000 new owners may have them in their driveways before Dec. 31.
This is the car that’s likely to steal the show from this spring forward, and it is the big news of the year.
Something from Hyundai?
Hyundai has potentially two cars to show, but question is whether either will be here in 2017 with 200 miles range.
First up is the Ioniq which is due for first sales this year with 124 miles range, and a bump to much more is expected after model year one. Whether this is revealed in 2017 may be doubtful lest it steal thunder from the still-new original, but we shall see.
Hyundai has also said it is planning a sport utility vehicle with 200 miles or more range for 2018, so this may be revealed, but this also is unclear.
Is That It?
There’s a hodge-podge of interesting new electric cars planned but with what we know so far, none may be revealed by 2017’s end with a whole 200 miles range.
One of these is the Honda Clarity. It is to be based off the Clarity fuel cell vehicle’s platform, and though Honda may surprise everyone, it may get something like 124 miles range give or take also.
Later, it may be updated to longer range but this is a question mark.
Another we’ve heard whispers of is Ford’s Model E – yep, they own the name Tesla wanted for the Model 3, and Baum projects it won’t be shown till after 2017, possibly 2018, and in production in 2019.
In fact, it’s tough to guess what the carmaker may do as it otherwise aggressively postures its advanced tech, including autonomous drive plans.
Ford Focus EV. Range was increased this year, but the 200 mile new car is further off.
The main hint we have is CEO Mark Fields said in answer to being competitive with the Bolt and company, “Clearly that’s something we’re developing for.”
That’s pretty vague, but the remark was interpreted to mean a Bolt competitor is pending just the same.
Yet one more potential 200-miler is the Kia Niro Electric, and this also is up in the air, but may not be revealed until after 2017, possibly 2018, and in production in 2019, Baum said.
Kia Niro hybrid.
We’ve also heard a lot from the VW Group and its plans for 30 new battery electric cars by 2025, but it may not reveal a 200-miler in 2017.
Its VW e-Golf was just updated, and won’t likely be upgraded so soon again. The Audi Q5 electric will appear in 2017, but not with 200-miles range and it could cost north of $40,000.
Another, the Audi Q6
e-tron will get 200-miles range, but it won’t cost under $40,000 either and, said Baum, won’t likely appear until 2018.
At this stage, he added, it is unknown what automakers will do with respect to showing their cars in concept or production form since in most cases they have not made final decisions.
So that may be it, but then more could always come out of left field, as regulatory and market pressure is increasing, battery costs continue to decline and demand stands to rise as well.
This article appears also at HybridCars.com.
p.s. And have a Happy New Year!