Forget 400-Mile Electric Cars, Bring On Affordable 200-Mile EVs

By · June 17, 2019

We need more affordable EVs like the 226-mile, $30,000 Nissan LEAF Plus.

The pro-Tesla blogosphere champions nearly everything that Elon Musk claims is fantastic and ground-breaking. But Musk’s announcement earlier this month—that Tesla will soon offer EVs with 400 miles of range—landed with a thud.

Electrek, the enthusiast website, responded to the news by stating what is obvious to any experienced EV driver: “Two-hundred miles of range is more than enough for well over 95 percent of the population, especially when combined with expansive quick charging networks like Tesla’s Superchargers.” The site explained that, except for the few rare long-distance commuters, EVs beyond 200 miles are mostly superfluous.

That’s precisely what Dr. Wolfgang Ziebart, technical design director for Jaguar Land Rover, told me last fall. “I believe that 90 to 100 kilowatt-hours is the peak,” he said. “In the future, it won’t make sense to install bigger batteries.” Dr. Ziebart said the day is coming in about four years when a 200-mile EV plus abundant highway fast-chargers is all we’ll need.

There’s a more significant reason to stop the battle for ever-bigger batteries EVs: cost.

In other words, progress with battery technology should make a dramatic and decisive shift to lowering the cost of EVs for mass accessibility. “Decreasing prices as a function of the battery price has allowed automakers to put vehicles out there with larger and larger batteries,” Scott Shepard, an analyst at Navigant Research, told me a couple of months ago. “But the purchase price hasn’t dipped. As federal purchase incentives come out of the market, you’re likely to see prices stay at the same level for the next four to five years.”

If that’s the case, it’s a bummer. Mr. Musk himself acknowledged the challenge in January right after announcing job cuts at Tesla. “While we have made great progress, our products are still too expensive for most people,” he wrote.

Nonetheless, the big-battery narrative keeps getting pushed. The counter-productive mythology of needing monster EV batteries is echoed by awe over the much-ballyhooed 180 kilowatt-hour Rivian truck, promises for a 500-mile battery from Henrik Fisker, and clickbait articles about start-ups planning to offer 600-mile EVs.

Thank goodness, there was a sign last week that the auto industry is coming to its senses. General Motors President Mark Reuss said last Wednesday that GM would soon be able to sell EVs at a profit for “very average transaction prices.” Mr. Reuss added, “We’ll reach parity a lot sooner than people think.”

Luxury long-range EVs arriving from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes is nice to see, but let’s face it: They are beyond the budget of everyday drivers. We need fewer $40,000 Teslas and $80,000 European luxury electric cars. And we need a lot more LEAF-like EVs with 226 miles of range for $30,000 (or less) selling in massive quantities. Which automakers will step up to make that happen?

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