Volkswagen’s Eberhard Sees 500-Plus Miles EV Driving Range By 2020

By · August 15, 2010

Volkswagen E-Golf

Volkswagen’s first all-electric vehicle, either the Blue-e-motion Golf or the E-Up city car, will arrive in 2013. Will either of them be equipped with 18650-type lithium-ion cells like those in laptop computers?

Most early automobiles ran on batteries. But when the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine arrived in the 20th century, even Thomas Edison knew that petroleum transcended electricity when it came to powering a car that wasn’t attached to a wire. The big advantage? Driving distance.

Today, some experts believe the energy of electric car batteries eventually will catch up to gasoline. One of those experts is Martin Eberhard, founder of Tesla Motors and currently the electric vehicle-engineering director at Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL) in Palo Alto, California. In an interview with Britain’s Autocar, Mr. Eberhard said, “At the current rate of progress, I’d say we will have banished the range anxiety problem, and will be making EVs with greater than 500 miles of operational range, within 10 years. At that point, the further development of fast charging infrastructure won’t be so important—because how often do you drive more than 500 miles in a day?”

Eberhard wasn’t that definitive three weeks ago when he gave a presentation to the media at ERL. At the event, when asked by Auto Week magazine about electric vehicle range, he said, “Cars get really interesting when the range in miles has three digits, and more is always better.”

Is Eberhard suggesting that the Nissan LEAF and other electric cars with 100-mile range are not sufficient?

18650 or Bust

The main focus for Eberhard’s group at ERL is the development of the lithium-ion battery packs for Volkswagen’s Blue-e-motion Golf, the E-Up city car and the Audi e-tron. The group works exclusively with 18650-type lithium-ion cells, the same size found in most laptop computer battery packs, and Tesla’s electric cars.

Repeating to Auto Car what he said at the earlier ERL presentation, Eberhard outlined why he is a believer in the 18650 cell: it has the highest energy density, thus providing the longest driving range; new chemistries always go in this cell first; and the 18650 is absolutely the lowest price per kilowatt hour. Additionally, he says, the cells are ideally suited for vehicles because they can take advantage of space available that is otherwise not used.

Volkswagen’s first all-electric vehicle, either the Blue-e-motion Golf or the E-Up city car, will arrive in 2013. Will either of them be equipped with 18650-type lithium-ion cells? It would be easy to guess yes, since Eberhard said that the original Audi e-tron prototype had a range of just over 150 miles and they are expecting close to 300 miles with cells they are about to take delivery of.

Then again, maybe it will be something entirely different. At the ERL presentation, Eberhard stated, “We are not wedded to lithium-ion.”

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