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Elon Musk dismisses his competitors gains in battery tech costs, stating that his company is the only one to currently produce EVs that are reliable at a full range of standard temps from blazing hot to icy cold.  (Source: Brendan McDermid / REUTERS)

Tesla says it has big improvements in store for its upcoming $57,400 2013 Model S electric.  (Source: Tesla Motors)
Remarks come in the wake of Nissan bragging that it is far ahead of competitors

If there's one main factor that is turning people off from truly considering electric vehicles for their next purchase, it is the price.  Thus when Nissan claimed to have reached production costs of $375/kWh for its upcoming 2011 Nissan LEAF EV, it turned heads.  After all, most auto companies were saying that they hoped to reach $400-$700/kWh with their upcoming models.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is not impressed with Nissan's claims, though.  While he does not comment much on the battery cells themselves, during a call to analysts and investors he blasts Nissan's supporting systems, saying that they are more primitive than his company's first prototype.

At issue is the fact that the LEAF uses air cooling for its batteries, while Tesla uses a superior liquid heating/cooling thermal management solution.  By opting for the cheaper air cooling, Musk says Nissan's battery temperatures will be "all over the place".  Worse yet, he says that they will undergo "huge degradation" at colder temperatures, and literally "shut off" at warmer ones.  Competitor GM has stated that its 2011 Chevy Volt EV may have similar issues.

Tesla Motors' current system for the Roadster sports over 6,831 laptop-sized battery cells designed for automotive use.  It packages cells together in modules and then places modules into a full pack.  Each module is equipped with liquid cooling and temperature sensors.  Firmware controls the rate at which the cooling fluid (or heating in cold weather) is pumped through the system, responding to changes in heat.

Despite having a huge profit margin on its current Roadster, Musk says that his company is "giving up" hopes of overall profitability in exchange for "pretty astronomical growth."  Tesla is instead opting to spend up to $500M USD (currently its hoping to stick to under $400M USD) to develop its new Model S electric vehicle.

Musk says the new vehicle will sport significant improvements to its battery.  It will feature 50 percent more density per module -- meaning that it will pack 3 cells into a similar sized module for ever 2 of the Roadster's pack.  It also ditches the expensive all-cobalt electrode in favor of a nickel cobalt aluminum cathode (positive electrode).  The new composite cathode will be much cheaper, while not significantly impacting performance.

The company has not revealed the cost per kWh that it's targeting for the Model S.  In 2009 the industry average, according to a Deutsche Bank report [PDF], was $650/kWh, but current orders being placed for the 2011/2012 timeframe are averaging $450/kWh.  The rapidly dropping prices are helping to cut the cost of laptop batteries as well, which are priced at $350/kWh, according toLG Chem subsidiary Compact Power’s CEO Prabahkar Pati.  Pati says that low price is a sign of things to come for the auto industry.

Tesla Motors plans on having an "Alpha" version of the Model S built later this year.  That version will be 80 to 90 percent complete in terms of production intent.  Then next year it will build a "Beta" version, which will be 99 percent complete.  The production Model S is launching in 2012 priced at $57,400 USD.

While that price may seem high, price inflation may make it more competitive.  Some dealers of the upcoming Volt EV are reportedly adding $10,000 to $20,000 USD markups on to its base price, raising the cost to as high as $61,000 USD before tax credit.

Still pressure is on for Tesla, which lost $38.5M USD in its last fiscal quarter, bringing its total losses for the year to $68M USD -- over $10M USD more than it lost 
all of last year.  The company has an upcoming contract with Toyota to produce an electrified RAV4 that also promises great future payoffs, but at the present is sapping cash.

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Both are primitive tech
By corduroygt on 8/9/2010 11:56:36 AM , Rating: 3
$375/kWh looks good until you consider a 15 gallon gas tank costs about $300 and stores over 500 kWh of energy at a cost of 0.6$/kWh.

RE: Both are primitive tech
By bobsmith1492 on 8/9/2010 2:12:06 PM , Rating: 2
But, then the batteries can be recharged at a rate of ~$.1/KWh (electricity)... eventually they'll break even if the battery lasts long enough!

RE: Both are primitive tech
By moenkopi on 8/9/2010 2:38:05 PM , Rating: 5
They will break even if gas costs $3/gal, then it will be 80000 mile break even point, assuming you have the latenight charging plan at 6cents/kwh. That doesn't even include the lower maintainance.

RE: Both are primitive tech
By Solandri on 8/9/2010 10:26:52 PM , Rating: 2
The Nissan LEAF costs $32,780k and is supposed to have a 42 kWh battery pack and 100 mi range. 80,000 miles means 800 recharges. It can be charged to full in 20 hours @ 120 V and 20 Amps, which is 48 kWh (87.5% charging efficiency). To get the overnight electricity rates, you will need the 8 hour 240 V 40 Amp charger (54.7% charging efficiency) which consumes 76.8 kWh to charge the pack. At $0.06/kWh, 800 charges to full will cost you $3686.40.

Looking at similar compact gasoline cars, I'll compare to the Civic since it's the most popular car in the size class, expensive (helps the LEAF out in the comparison), and gets about average gas mileage for the class. 25 city, 36 highway, call it 30 MPG average. Costs $16,255. Over 80,000 miles it will burn 2667 gallons, which at $3 gal will cost $8000.

So @ 80k miles, the LEAF has cost you $32,780 + $3686.40 = $36,466. The Civic has cost you $16255 + $9600 = $25,855. It's only after you factor in the $7500 federal tax credit, a $1500 state tax credit, and factor in $3000 for maintenance costs on the Civic that the break-even point is at 80k miles.

Without any tax credits, if you figure 15,000 miles per year and $600 maintenance per year, the purely flat economic break-even point is after 11.7 years, or 176,000 miles.

RE: Both are primitive tech
By greveeghesduiff on 8/9/2010 10:58:40 PM , Rating: 2
supposed to have a 42 kWh battery pack

It has a 24 kWh battery pack.

If the car has a 100 mile range on a 24kWh pack then it gets 240 Wh/Mile.

If you have the national average $0.10/kWh electricity, then
100,000 miles * 240 Wh/mile == $2,400 for 100,000 miles of driving.

The Civic cost $10,000 for 100,000 miles at 30 MPG and $3.00, for only the gas.

Several places put the sticker price for a 2010 Civic (standard) is ~$22k (only $3k less then the Leaf).

Plus after all of that, you end up driving a Civic. :)

RE: Both are primitive tech
By Solandri on 8/10/2010 7:09:48 AM , Rating: 2
Thanks for the correction on the battery pack size. But that doesn't change my cost calculations. Charging a battery is hardly a 100% efficient process, especially if you want to do so reasonably quickly. The charger specs I got are from the manufacturer's website, which seems pretty authoritative:
A: It takes about ~30 minutes to 80% at a 480 volt quick-charge station. Starting from a depleted battery, ~8 hours at 220/240V (depending on amperage), about 20 hours at 110/120V.
A: It will charge on a regular 110/120V 20-Amp dedicated outlet. This is considered a "trickle charge," which means it would charge at a slower rate. For home charging, we recommend a home charging dock on a dedicated 220/240V, 40A circuit.

240 V @ 40 A for 8 hours is 76.8 kWh to charge the battery pack, not 24 kWh.

The price I used for the Honda Civic was the MSRP for the 2010 base model with automatic transmission. I wasn't able to find any info on the LEAF's trim models, so I assumed they followed the standard in the automotive industry and gave the lowest price of the lowest trim model.

RE: Both are primitive tech
By corduroygt on 8/10/2010 4:13:25 PM , Rating: 2
You should also add the cost of a car rental any time you want to go somewhere more than 80 miles away to the price of the Leaf.

RE: Both are primitive tech
By RedmondChad on 8/13/2010 6:15:30 PM , Rating: 2
Solandri, you still have a problem with your electricity cost calculations. The charging overhead is nowhere near what you're suggesting, it's only about 10%. The amps decline at the end of charging, so not as much energy gets put in to the pack. You can't figure it by multiplying a suggested charging time by amps and volts.

3 miles per kWh is a good metric from other EVs (many owners put meters on the outlet to measure it); that includes all charging (and other) overhead. To cover 100k miles, you will need around 33.3kWh.

You also neglected to mention that the base Leaf is equipped much better than the base Civic. And with no emissions inspections or oil changes, maintenance costs will be lower. (My 7.5-year-old EV has seen nothing but wiper blades and tires). And that gas prices are a lot more likely to rise than electricity prices. I think the Leaf is going to be astoundingly cheap to own; although of course nobody can prove anything either way because it all depends on assumptions about the future.

But all of that is beside the point, anyway. Why does a solution that helps our economy (buy less AND buy local), improves our country's strategic position (no dependence on the Middle East), pollutes less (unless you're in the ~1% of the population that gets all your power from coal--then it pollutes about the same), and reduces carbon emissions have to cost less? I'm willing to pay quite a bit extra for it.

RE: Both are primitive tech
By homebredcorgi on 8/9/2010 4:47:03 PM , Rating: 1
But of that energy in gasoline, only 10-15% gets to the wheels (you're actually thermodynamically limited to about 60% efficiency in the first place), while a good electric motor and transmission should get you into the ~75% efficiency range at least.

RE: Both are primitive tech
By corduroygt on 8/9/2010 5:17:11 PM , Rating: 2
Prius has 29% wheel to well efficiency, and there are also losses from the way the powerplant generates electricity (about 50% for gas turbines) until it comes to your outlet.

RE: Both are primitive tech
By Alexvrb on 8/10/2010 12:00:47 AM , Rating: 2
Bingo. Prius and other efficient gas burners do much better than some of these low numbers people like to sling around.
When it comes to EVs they never factor in losses at the plants (if it's a gas/coal plant, for example), in the transmission lines, during charging, losses from the battery operating conditions, in the eletric motor(s), and maybe other drivetrain parts (depending how it is configured, trans, diff, etc).

RE: Both are primitive tech
By RedmondChad on 8/13/2010 6:22:32 PM , Rating: 2
Well, they never factor in the losses unless it's a scientific study. (Just like most people don't count in the costs of finding, extracting, transporting and refining petroleum--unless it's in a good study). There's been dozens of studies. Sherry Boschert has reviewed about 60.

There are minor differences between them because some have different assumptions, and they don't all account for the same things. But the overall consensus is that absolutely worst case (all electricity from coal), an EV and a gas car are pretty equivalent in terms of pollution and carbon emissions.

Of course, that worst case only applies to about 1% of the population. And you can clean up power generation later, whereas a dirty car stays dirty. And even when pollution is equal, the EV still wins on economic and energy security criteria.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

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