Lots of press about the amazing Tesla story, which is still emerging. Even General Motors is sitting up and taking notice. In the first quarter of 2013, Tesla received orders for 3500 of their Model S luxury sedans that are pure battery electrics. They start at a hefty $69,000, and at that price they are somewhat exclusive. And frankly, 3500 cars is not enough to sustain a car company when first production is typically 50,000 units. But the Tesla is getting rave reviews, a 99 out of 100 in Consumer Reports. With more than 200 miles per charge and 0-60 mph acceleration close to the Corvette, it is an impressive mechatronic solution to the electric vehicle problem.
GM is producing the Volt which is a true drive by wire hybrid vehicle. The battery runs an electric motor, like the Tesla, but uses an 83 cubic inch gasoline engine to run a generator to recharge the batteries. As a result the Volt has a shorter drive range on pure electric, 25-50 miles depending on driving conditions. The advantage is it has a drive range of 350 miles with the generator. Averaged together the car gets a reported 95 mile per gallon equivalent mileage. This is because the electric drive train is way more efficient than an internal combustion drive train. The Chevy Volt base price is $39,145 on GM’s Volt website.
When it comes to making a buying decision, for most consumers, price is the #1 determinant. Personally, I can’t afford the Tesla Sedan. The key factor in the cost is the battery pack. By designing a hybrid drive train, the low cost 83 cubic inch engine replace a much costlier portion of the battery pack and gives the car greater driving range. The shortcoming is that it does requires gasoline from time to time. However, that’s where the important variance must be considered.
Drive range is frequently used to tilt the conversation. The logic for some is that an electric car must be able to drive 400 miles between charges. In my case, my office commute is 26 miles each way. And I am sure that my employer would not object to me recharging in the back of the building. In this case, the car would rarely use any gasoline. So the effective miles per gallon of gas equivalency calculation would go up to 250 miles or more.
So it all depends on how you use it. Both are great solutions to the mechatronic challenge of electric cars. There are others, obviously. But comparing the two solutions is very informative. More on this next week.