Ask The Best And Brightest: What Is Obama's "130 MPG" Battery?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

When the blogging gets tough, the tough bloggers get outsourcing, and since we’re swamped with fresh news and sales numbers, I’m going to throw this little mystery over to you, TTAC’s Best and Brightest. It’s no secret that the Obama Administration is bullish on plug-in cars, as it seeks to put a million of the fuel-efficient vehicles on the road by 2015. And though several studies have shown that the White House’s goal is wildly overambitious and needs more money or a major spike in gas prices, and though even the DOE’s assessment shows that the goal is unrealistic, EV optimism springs eternal. So, whence cometh this profound, unshakeable belief that the EV is going to go from production-constrained curiosity to significant market player in just a few years?

A clue to that can be found in a Wall Street Journal [sub] profile of oil man Harold Hamm, the discoverer of a reputed 24b barrels of oil in the Montana/Dakota Bakken fields.

When it was Mr. Hamm’s turn to talk briefly with President Obama, “I told him of the revolution in the oil and gas industry and how we have the capacity to produce enough oil to enable America to replace OPEC. I wanted to make sure he knew about this.”

The president’s reaction? “He turned to me and said, ‘Oil and gas will be important for the next few years. But we need to go on to green and alternative energy. [Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.'” Mr. Hamm holds his head in his hands and says, “Even if you believed that, why would you want to stop oil and gas development? It was pretty disappointing.”

What makes this so strange is that the President expressed his optimism in an MPG format. It’s one thing to say EV battery prices will drop by 70% between 2010 and 2015 (even when the CEO of LG Chem says his firm is targeting 50% improvement), or even to say that US battery manufacturing will go from 2% of the global total in 2010 to 40% in 2015… these, like the “one million plug-ins on the road” pledge are straightforward targets. But 130 MPG based on some mysterious battery? There are so many moving parts in that goal, it’s not even funny. As the image above proves, you can order a car from Mitsubishi that is EPA-rated at 126 MPG in the city and 99 MPg on the highway… but it’s small, has only 62 miles of EPA-rated range, and starts near $30,000. Size, price, are all more important to consumers than an MPG rating for a vehicle that doesn’t even take gas, and these three factors all have the potential to decrease overall efficiency.

Presumably, President Obama was using a number from a briefing that used an average size, weight, range and price and projected the required battery size and power for a typical car, and found that by 2015 a 130 MPG-equivalent, average-sized EV would sell for not much more than an equivalent ICE or hybrid. But given that nearly every estimate about EVs ever given out by the administration looks wildly overoptimistic, it’s tough to take that estimate at face value. So I’m wondering, do we know how Obama came up with this number? Is he referring to price drops on traditional lithium-ion cells, or a new chemistry that is expected to be on the road by 2015? FInally, is the president referring to a battery produced by the “domestic industry” or one of the dominant foreign firms and their transplant factories? This private “130 MPG” revelation seems to underpin so much of the president’s optimism about EVs, I think it’s worth taking a much closer look at.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Xeranar Xeranar on Oct 04, 2011

    Why do people still get surprised when they comment that TTAC is seriously right-wing just like Car and Driver? Car culture splits along two lines roughly, the Car and Driver types who want horsepower over anything else and consider any technological advancement or attempt at safety regulations to be an abhorrent attack on their personal freedom and the Motor Trend crowd that is in love with cars but recognize the value of safety and advancement. The article literally goes out of the way to attack President Obama on what are overly optimistic numbers but in a reasonable world would be considered just a simple faux pas at most turned into a slanderous attack on his moral fiber and intelligence. Nobody really thinks about the 12 years we spent from 1980 to 1992 with right-wing presidents followed by 17 years 1989 to 2006 with a right-wing congress setting mileage standards and expressly making efforts to avoid improving technology because it didn't suit their business interests. Environmentalists while may not have been trying to save fuel as their first thought were certainly trying to create an overall more efficient vehicle and were basically laughed out of the congressional hearings about changing CAFE standards every time. Without a serious grassroots effort from the less than Pro-Business party (that would be the democrats)we're going to continue to stagnate with our vehicles. Europe is lightyear's ahead of us in terms of efficiency and that is on practically every level of size. Easily we could move standards around and welcome in direct injection diesels and get BlueTec diesels in the country but corporations are uninterested in shifting us to a more fuel-conscious society as we stand now. That being said, MPG is a measurement we've come to understand for measuring fuel versus distance traveled. Cost per mile is something we usually associate with the cost of a vehicle's maintenance and overall gas consumption. Though as it stands I think a conversion based on energy expended converting it into MPGe does make sense.

  • Zykotec Zykotec on Oct 04, 2011

    I think that as a seemingly smart president, Obama (like most administrations dealing with a population so large that you can't realistically expect everyone to understand whats going on) knows he has to exaggerate to get his point through. If he (or whoevers in charge) says you will have 1 million plug in cars and a 130 'MPG' battery by 2015, at least you might get 300k plug-ins and a 80 'MPG' battery. Even if he knew ( I'm guessing he's neither a car engineer or battery engineer, or car sale statistic major) this in advance, telling the population that you will have 300k plugins and a 80 'MPG' by 2015 ,it would only lead to you having 100k plug-ins, and a 50 'MPG' battery. It's called governing. You won't understand ;)

    • Pch101 Pch101 on Oct 04, 2011
      If he (or whoevers in charge) says you will have 1 million plug in cars and a 130 ‘MPG’ battery by 2015, at least you might get 300k plug-ins and a 80 ‘MPG’ battery. As I noted above, the EPA already uses a measure called MPGe. For the sake of comparison, the Mitsubishi MiEV is rated at 126 city/ 99 highway/ 112 combined. Using that as a benchmark, only modest improvements would be required to achieve an MPGe of 130.
  • Ted Lulis Head gaskets and Toyota putting my kids through college👍️
  • Leonard Ostrander Plants don't unionize. People do, and yes, of course the workers should organize.
  • Jalop1991 Here's something EVangelists don't want to talk about, and why range is important: battery warranties, by industry standard, specify that nothing's wrong with the battery, and they won't replace it, as long as it is able to carry 70% or more of its specified capacity.So you need a lot of day 1 capacity so that down the road, when you're at 70% capacity with a "fully functioning, no problem" car, you're not stuck in used Nissan Leaf territory."Nothing to see here, move along."There's also the question of whether any factory battery warranty survives past the original new car owner. So it's prudent of any second owner to ask that question specifically, and absent any direct written warranty, assume that the second and subsequent owners own any battery problems that may arise.And given that the batteries are a HUGE expense, much more so than an ICE, such exposure is equally huge."Nothing to see here, move along."
  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.