Tesla founder and VW EV expert spells out to Autocar when electric cars will come of age

Electric vehicles will have a range of more than 500 miles within the next 10 years.

That is the view of Martin Eberhard, a man who sprang to prominence when he co-founded the Tesla electric sports car company in July 2003.

One of the world’s most forthright advocates of electric cars, he was ousted from control of Tesla in 2007 and became electric vehicle engineering director at Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL) in Palo Alto, California, in early 2009.

Here, he answers Autocar's questions about the future of EVs in general and about VW’s electric offerings in particular.

What does VW’s ERL do, and where do you come in?

The ERL is the Volkswagen Group’s biggest R&D centre outside of Wolfsburg. We employ around 100 people, we opened in 1998, and we focus mainly on the development of new driver assistance systems and new human-machine interface technologies, as well as improving the multimedia functionality and connectivity of Volkswagen Group cars.

Read more on the Audi A8's Google Earth sat-nav

We developed the new Google Earth functionality for Audi’s A8 and A7 sat-nav systems, and worked with Stanford University on VW’s driver-less DARPA Challenge cars. We’re also working on the development of the power electronics and battery systems for Volkswagen Group’s forthcoming breed of electric cars, which is where I come in.

Which EVs are you working on right now?

Our biggest projects at the moment are 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. We’re working exclusively with ‘18650’-type lithium-ion cells. They’re the same size as the ones you’ll find in most laptop computer battery packs; that’s why they’re referred to as ‘consumer cells’.

See the official pics of the electric VW E-Up city carRead more on the VW Golf Blue-e-motion

Why use laptop batteries when other manufacturers are developing bespoke cells for automotive applications?

Because 18650 cells are at the leading edge of battery development, and by using them we can benefit from state-of-the-art technology straight away. Put simply, 18650s develop faster than any other kind of battery because there’s more demand for them; the industry is already making two billion of them a year.

To illustrate the point, the lithium-ion cells we’re currently working with contain 2.9 amp-hours of power; five years ago the ones we were using at Tesla only had 1.4 amp-hours. That rate of development has already had an impact on the cars we’re working on. The batteries we used in the original Audi e-tron prototype, for example, gave it 60kWh of power and a range of just over 150 miles.

Read more on the Audi A1 e-tron concept car

But with the 3.4 amp-hour cells we’re about to take delivery of, it should have 100kWh and do close to 300 miles on a charge.

Is there a cost advantage involved with using existing batteries?

Of course. Even with the latest-generation 18650 cells, we’ll be looking at a commodity price of about 200 euro per kilowatt-hour. (Nissan’s batteries for the Leaf reportedly cost around 400 euro per kilowatt-hour). Using more, smaller cells also gives us greater built-in redundancy in our battery packs. If one cell dies, you wouldn’t notice in a battery pack containing thousands of them.

Read Autocar's first drive of the new Nissan Leaf

So when can we expect the fully mature electric car?

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?

Matt Saunders

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Comments
31

13 August 2010

electric cars should also come with life measured in duration rather than distance. i want to know how long i can "drive it like i stole it", rather than how many miles i can go by letting it roll down hills on regen brakes and by getting out and giving it a gentle push away from traffic lights.

it needs a new universal high performance measure, such as how long it lasts on the nurburgring at flat out before losing full power. single lap time doesn't matter as that is performance rated but what matters is how long in minutes were they having fun for on the ragged limit.

Autocar could do this for their own full road test on their usual test track, it will obviously mean them putting some time in to get the battery off, but it will be worth it. and to remember to completely ignore computer readouts of battery remaining/expected miles left etc.

13 August 2010

[quote beachland2]electric cars should also come with life measured in duration rather than distance. i want to know how long i can "drive it like i stole it", rather than how many miles i can go by letting it roll down hills on regen brakes and by getting out and giving it a gentle push away from traffic lights.[/quote]

+1

I think they should also have some sort of lease or long life warranty on the battery, therefore holding residual values for vehicles that are reaching say 5years old, which may be life span for the battery.

13 August 2010

[quote Focus ST] think they should also have some sort of lease or long life warranty on the battery,[/quote]

You mean like the 8 year battery warranty that Nissan have announced for the Leaf? And a "how long will it go flat out" battery test sounds even less realistic than the current EU economy tests. I've no interest in how long it will drive flat out for because I'll never drive it like that. Any manufacturer can lob a massive battery in a car. It takes more effort to develop effective regeneration and power saving techniques that will make a real world difference to range.

That said, I'd like EU tests modified from the currently absurd "test at 20C with A/C off" to a more representative "test at 10C with the heater full on, then test at 25C with the A/C full on".

13 August 2010

[quote MrTrilby]And a "how long will it go flat out" battery test sounds even less realistic than the current EU economy tests. I've no interest in how long it will drive flat out for because I'll never drive it like that. Any manufacturer can lob a massive battery in a car. It takes more effort to develop effective regeneration and power saving techniques that will make a real world difference to range.[/quote]

any manufacturer could lob a massive battery in, but it would make the car bigger or have less space, it would make it vastly more expensive and it would make it handle like crap. so your easy solution would make zero sense.

my test still applies, it would be a great way to find a good car. and ironically they would achieve it ways like you say by "effective regeneration and power saving techniques".

in what way don't you think that doesn't apply to being able to go flat out at the nurburgring for as long as possible? its absolutely directly linked....

13 August 2010

[quote MrTrilby] I'd like EU tests modified from the currently absurd "test at 20C with A/C off" to a more representative "test at 10C with the heater full on, then test at 25C with the A/C full on".[/quote]

anyone can just bung in a bigger battery to do well on that test.

13 August 2010

[quote beachland2]anyone can just bung in a bigger battery to do well on that test.[/quote]

No they can't. The EU test is a measure of efficiency, not how big your fuel tank is.

The Nurburgring is a poor test of the real world. It involves zero stop starts like urban driving. It involves zero steady state driving like motorway journeys. If anything, it's a test of how tall your gearing is, and how aerodynamic your car is above 100MPH - which is not representative of EV driving at all.

13 August 2010

[quote MrTrilby]If anything, it's a test of how tall your gearing is, and how aerodynamic your car is above 100MPH - which is not representative of EV driving at all.[/quote]

i dissagree because most city cars/eco cars bluemotion etc have extra tall gearing.

most EV cars have a top speed under 100mph...

but i can agree in a change of track, a shorter racing circuit with less straights is fine.


13 August 2010

[quote MrTrilby]The Nurburgring is a poor test of the real world. It involves zero stop starts like urban driving. It involves zero steady state driving like motorway journeys. [/quote]

i'm not interested in urban driving, my test is for how long it lasts going flat out or as reasonably flat out as possible. which is perfectly doable in the real world, i dont live in a big city far away from the countryside. for the same reason i'm not interested in steady motorway driving either, my test would apply to how madly it can be accelerated down the slipway from a roundabout with the tyre squealing, onto the motorway, take the next exit balance the power on the limit of traction on the exit and slam on the brakes for the roundabout. test over, repeat until battery dead.

my test is about car battery life when used for performance. it has nothing to do with commuting driving etc.


13 August 2010

[quote beachland2]i'm not interested in urban driving, my test is for how long it lasts going flat out or as reasonably flat out as possible. which is perfectly doable in the real world, i dont live in a big city far away from the countryside. for the same reason i'm not interested in steady motorway driving either[/quote] so basically what you're saying is "I want an industry standardised test to be made specifically to my exact goals and circumstances, even if they're nothing like what an average driver or in fact anyone else in the world might do" ANyway, track driving as a test for cars these days is ridiculous. Every single new car is taken to the Nurburgring to see how it handles, and you think wow that's gonna be awesome. Then you realise, wait a minute, this is a Ford Ka, why do I need to know what its gonna handle like round the 'Ring - I'm gonna be heading through town, over the speed bumps to Sainsburys on a Saturday?

13 August 2010

Of course we need both, just as with current cars. We need fuel efficiency (like mpg, measured in kilowatt-hour used per kilometer) and energy storage capacity (amount of kilowatt-hours stored). The state of play is currently quite sobering; the state-of-the-art Audi eTron battery pack weighs 400 kg and packs 55kWh, or the equivalent of 5 litres of diesel... Or 10 litres at best, taking into account the higher efficiency of electric engines.

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