DOE: The Cheap, Effective, Unsubdsidized Electric Car Is Coming

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Though The Department of Energy has offered only the flimsiest of evidence for the practicability of President Obama’s electric vehicle goals, Energy Secretary Steven Chu is out writing checks about the future of EVs that the industry may not be able to cash. Speaking at the installation of the 500th ChargePointAmerica charging station in Southern California, Chu explained his vision for the future to the LA Times.

“Because of increased demand, we’ve got to think of all the other things we can do in transportation. The best is efficiency,” Chu said.

Batteries are the “heart” of electric vehicles, he said, adding that the Department of Energy is funding research that will drop the cost of electric-vehicle batteries 50% in the next three or four years and double or triple their energy density within six years so “you can go from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a single charge,” he said. “These are magical distances. To buy a car that will cost $20,000 to $25,000 without a subsidy where you can go 350 miles is our goal.”

So, a 300+ mile car costing less than $25k without a subsidy, within the the 2017 time frame. Which essentially means that within six years, the Nissan Leaf would have to triple its range and lose the equivalent of the government subsidy’s $7,500 in costs. That’s not a wholly unreasonable goal, but what’s not clear is how it will be reached. After all, the Leaf is already behind on the government’s volume predictions, and starting next year the Volt will be too. A tripling of range in one long product cycle (or two short ones) seems as optimistic as the government’s EV volume projections, which imagine 120k Volts being produced next year, as well as 5,000 of the nonexistant Fisker “Nina” PHEV. Chu’s vision is commendable, but at this point the DOE’s credibility is more than a little strained when it comes to the future of EVs.

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  • Dhanson865 Dhanson865 on May 23, 2011

    @Edward Niedermeyer "imagine 120k Volts being produced next year, as well as 5,000 of the nonexistant Fisker “Nina” PHEV" I don't understand why the Volt which is a PHEV makes the mention all the time but the Prius PHEV doesn't. Even the DOE does it in that 4 year projection they list cars with only 1000 units but they don't list the Prius PHEV in 2012 through 2015. Are they really unaware of Toyota's future products or is the exclusion of Toyota PHEV products a case of spin?

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    • Dhanson865 Dhanson865 on May 24, 2011

      @SVX pearlie Oh, ok. in that sense Leaf = no gas ever Prius PHEV = would drive without gas but only for extremely short ranges. Would enter limp home mode pretty quickly even on a full charge unless you paid an aftermarket 3rd party to mod the system for EV only use. Since the computer knows the fuel levels just mashing the pedal wouldn't make it try to start on an empty tank but you wouldn't get normal performance on an empty tank. It'd be way more sluggish. Volt - I'm not sure if it'd act like a Leaf with no gas or if it'd act more like the stock Prius with no gas. That'd be a very good question. I agree it'd be nice to be able to just press a button or flip a switch or even just charge it and let it run out of gas to force EV mode. I'm sure from the reading I did this morning that Toyota isn't designing their car to do that just like you said but maybe Chevy did? While I think it could be cost effective to take a Gen II Prius and turn it into a PHEV, going the next step and trying to make it a full EV is not something that is cost effective. It'd be cheaper to buy an EV outright than to covert a Prius to full EV. Even a PHEV conversion could be net negative if you pay too much. Yes, it's definitely cheaper in most states to just have a spare vehicle but unfortunately in some states they tax you out the wazoo for having any car so your gas car better be a beater if you want to avoid taxes in those states. Oh and in some states it has to be a beater by Blue Book values not just what you could buy or sell it for as they tax a wrecked parts only clunker just as hard as a pristine floor model if you want tags for it.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on May 25, 2011

    Either this guy's really optimistic or nobody has begun putting any effort into battery design until now. At that rate, modern batteries will be obsolete in six years.

  • Dukeisduke I don't like how they've changed their nameplates and font from the Star Trek-ish LEXUS, to L E X U S, kinda like VW's lettering on the back of the T A O S, or those stick-on letters you can buy at the parts store that people use to their own names on the back of their cars.
  • Dukeisduke So, the screen goes blank for two-tenths of a second, every once in a while - what could go wrong?
  • Dukeisduke "Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?"(Roy in The IT Crowd)
  • Dukeisduke Just Say No To Bugs!
  • Dukeisduke So, avoid calcium? You're going to increase osteoporosis, among other things.