Can electric cars break out of the niche product segment? The big question has been answered; “Can it be done?” Yes electric cars are feasible in the 21st century. Which only means that it’s been 100 year development cycle since the introduction of the electric car by Porsche and others at the turn of the last century. Ironic to say the least.
The limiting factor has been the battery. Lead acid cells are a mature, robust technology with a limited energy density. Many new battery chemistries have been developed, but the most energy dense solutions that have been much more costly and only suitable for aerospace and military application. This was most apparent in the days of solar racing. Small lightweight single passenger “cars”, sort of, racing on only the energy that could be produced on the top of the vehicle and stored in on-board batteries. So if you have a big budget and can afford space-rated silver cells, then there were certain advantages that made it very easy to place well.
Until the lithium cell became practical, if a bit temperatures sensitive, advancement of the electric cars has been slow. Strangely, the battery weight is much more important than the motor technology. If the drive motors weight 50 pounds or 150 pounds, it’s not a big issue in terms of the overall vehicle weight. Especially when compared to a 60kW battery pack that is likely to weigh in somewhere around 1200 pounds. Who cares if the motors are a little heavier?
The more important question is only beginning to get asked; “How am I using the car?” If you are thinking about a second car that only gets driven 40 miles a day, then you might be a candidate for a pure electric vehicle and never use gasoline. There are many options in the emerging electric vehicle market like the Smart Car, Fiat, and Chevy Spark all available as pure electric plug-ins with single charge ranges of 80 miles and higher.
If the next car you purchase must do more significant daily drive range, say, 150 miles a day or more, then a true hybid, like the Chevy Volt or Ford Focus Hybrid, is able to give you the efficiency of an electric with the extended range of a gasoline car. A few years ago when the Toyota Prius debuted as a dual drive train hybrid, simultaneously balancing an fuel engine drive train with an electric motor in parallel, this was called a hybrid, but it is a very different vehicle.
With emerging improvements in battery cost and technology, and declining vehicle prices, a new wave of electrics in “around the corner”. I say, keep them coming.