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What if it doesn't happen as Elon thinks?

What if it doesn't happen as Elon thinks?

So, Lexus is now supposed to be building hybrid supercar that has 400HP and electric drive in the rear axle. (http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20130813-toyota-teases-hybrid-r)

So one after the other, established manufacturers seem to be making a beeline for the hybrid bandwagon.

What if, the public is just happy with half an electric car? What if they just don't care for the full electric feature? We know there are a lot of people who don't care about the environmental aspects, judging by the number of posters who jump to say AGW is not real ( some of those DO admit to pollution caused, though ).

So it's performance. Well, these new breed of hybrids offer the starting power and torque of the electric and then fall back to the warm complexity and dirtiness of the gasoline drivetrain that most of the other automakers find comfortable and cozy.

Imagine your nouveau riche neighbor showing his new BMW 400 horse sedan which can go 100 miles on pure electric. "Oh, how far can you go in your Tesla? 300? Me too, but I figured 98% it will be electric, in the city. On those long journeys, dude, I can fill up on gas ANY damn place I want to. I don't care if its gas during those times!" He says with a smug smile.

Is this going to be the future? Is tesla going to be the lone ranger?

AmpedRealtor | September 2, 2013

Any car that uses a hydrogen fuel cell for propulsion is still an electric car. The stored hydrogen is piped into the fuel cell stack which combines the hydrogen with oxygen in order to create electricity to power the vehicle. Electricity recaptured through regenerative breaking would be stored in a small on-board battery to supplement the fuel cell when necessary, so batteries will still be needed.

One of the biggest advantages to EVs, in my opinion, is the ability to charge at home and not have to stop at a filling station. That advantage disappears with a hydrogen fuel cell. So we still have to deal with gas stations, it's just that we are using a different type of "gas". A hydrogen economy only extends our dependency on "big oil" which will transition to "big hydrogen", as they are the only ones in a position to produce hydrogen in the needed quantities and possess the distribution network. Hydrogen is just another way for the big oil companies to stay relevant. If we move to an electrified transportation future, guess what? Exxon, Chevron and most big oil companies are out of the picture as our reliance on fuel shifts towards the local utility companies and sunshine.

bb0tin | September 2, 2013

A pure electric vehicle is the cheapest car to manufacture if you do not consider the batteries.
A pure electric vehicle can be the best performing, safest, roomiest etc car because it has much more flexibility in design due to the lack of an ICE.
There is no inherent physics or supply reason why batteries cannot be an order of magnitute better in either cost/mile or weight/mile than they are now. There are multiple versions already developed in labs which are already there, although they have not yet solved all the problems.
In summary, pure electric vehicles will win on straight economics, plus win on the other fronts mentioned. Hybrids are a short-term stepping stone.

cab | September 2, 2013

I don't own a Model S, but I do own a Volt and can see both sides of this coin. One thing owning a Volt does for you is tell you whether or not you could live with a pure BEV. In my case, after owning the Volt for 13 months/13K miles, is "Yes, I could do a pure BEV". My daily commute is 36.4 miles round trip and, to date, 87% of my driving is on battery - I burned less than $200 in gas over that time. During my three year lease, I expect to do one oil change, etc. There was only ONE day last year that wold have been an issue with battery range on a 60kw Tesla Model S.

Ultimately though, I would guess most of you (as others have noted) are operating in a "Garage Hybrid" mode where there is a second (or third or fourth) car in the garage with a gas engine, but that's OK. For many, that second car serves other purposes (i.e. a larger SUV or mini-van - hauls more stuff, people, etc.). I actually see the immediate future (call it 15-30 years) moving to a model where the "commuter" cars are pure BEVs and the SUVs/Trucks/etc. become EREVs and/or plug-in hybrids.

I MIGHT move upmarket to a 60kw Model S or BMW i3 (yes, I know, it looks...well...) for my next ride, but am just as likely to consider a second gen Volt or an ultra cheap Spark EV. The latter may satisfy my need for a quick little hot hatch, while staying pure EV and being cheap.

As an aside, the electric driving experience is compelling and rare, but at some point it will become commonplace and Tesla and others will move away from competing on range, EV "experience" and the like and will start to compete on all the other things cars compete on. That day is probably sooner than most realize.

Volleyguy | September 2, 2013

In 1972 oil was $2 a barrel and solar was over $100 a watt. Today oil has gone up 55x in price and Solar is down more than 99% to less than $1 a watt.

Only Electric will allow one to have ever decreasing cost of fuel unless some big company can claim the sun as theirs? What does one feel better owning a car that can have multiple sources of fuel (electric) or a fuel that has only went up for 40 years.

The question is now batteries which are only going to improve and get cheaper... A Natural gas car is really just the same as oil but harder storage methods.

I think electric is a forgone.

Andrzej1 | September 2, 2013

@pebell

Next time someone tells you that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are the way of the future, ask them who is going to pay for the installation of hydrogen fuelling stations? Japan opened its first hydrogen station for the general public this past spring for a price of $6 million dollars. Now do that 121,000 times to replace all the gas stations across the US. EV infrastructure is much cheaper to build out and is well underway. Tesla is building out its supercharger network at an estimated cost of between $100,000 and $175,000, which is a small fraction of what a hydrogen station would cost. Even transporting liquid hydrogen by tanker truck is really expensive at an estimated $1.80 per gallon of gas equivalent.

As for charging times, they keep on improving and are expected to be on the order of several minutes with improving battery technology. Already I see ABB has 200 kW DC fast charger which is 2 and half times that of Tesla's standard 80 kW charger.

With the coming improvements in battery technology, the need for supercharging stations will grow less and less. Lithium-ion energy density should double over the coming decade and lithium-air should provide over 7 times the energy density once it arrives next decade. Would you really need to drive over 1500 miles in the course of a day?

I know that Los Alamos' announcement of having developed a “zero cost catalyst” has really re-energized the whole fuel cell business and a few engineering blogs but as it pertains to the auto industry it's about a decade too late.

As for energy density, lithium-air has an energy density close to that of gasoline but because an EV has about triple the efficiency of an ICE vehicle, gives nearly triple the range on a weight basis.

As for weight issues the Model S at 4647 compares favourably to the 2013 MB S550 at 4740 lbs.

pebell | September 3, 2013

@Andrzej1: thanks, your post contained many interesting and useful facts! Especially how difficult it is to build hydrogen infrastructure was new to me, I guess I assumed as many seem to do that it would be relatively simple to "upgrade" existing infrastructure to also provide hydrogen, and then over the years gradually downsize the "gasoline" side and scale up the hydrogen side as demand shifts. I know that's rather naive thinking, but it seems that "Big Oil" is dead set against batteries but is experimenting with hydrogen, leading me to think that hydrogen infrastructure is closer to their "DNA", more in their "comfort zone", so to speak.

When discussing pro's and con's of fueling/charging infrastructure, there is another issue that comes up often. What gasoline and hydrogen have in common, is that they can scale up to service all the worlds cars, because they can operate on a "fuel while you wait" principle and thus service a lot of cars per hour on each "slot". Current EV charging is "charge while you are parked", and that is a very different concept. What battery-nonbelievers are quick to point out, is that if battery powered EVs become more than a tiny niche, not only the number of charging stations will need to scale up, but also the number of slots, to the point that it will resemble a "parking lot" more than a "fuel station". Especially in densely populated areas (where even regular parking space is a constant problem) this could be prohibiting: more cars to service, much less available and much more expensive space.

Bigger batteries by themselves do not help here - you need to charge less often but when you do, it takes longer. So the only way to scale up, I think, is to vastly improve charging times, up to the point that it becomes "charge while you wait" again. But that will make EV charging stations much more expensive - electrical components generally increase exponentially in price with increasing power ratings.

I know that the "charge at home" principle would mean that people are not so dependant on public infrastructure as you are with gasoline (and hydrogen). But here again, scalability is an issue. The average Model S owner has a house with a garage, carport or driveway where they can put up a charger. But the majority of the world's population, especially in densely populated areas, do not have that luxury. They have to park on public roads, often a block away from their house. So as battery EVs become a commodity, the need for public charging infrastructure will increase.

So, unless charging times can be reduced by an order of magnitude, I guess I remain a bit apprehensive about the scalability of the battery powered EV concept.

Volleyguy | September 3, 2013

The current cheapest way to produce Hydrogen is to remove the carbon atom from Natural gas giving us carbon free but still needing big oil. I can see how some people in certain industries would much rather have this than electricity produced by a multitude of suppliers and if you did not like the price something most can do at home!

Some people will be up at night with that idea!

Mark K | September 3, 2013

The hydrogen economy has long been a bankrupt concept.

It's a more lossy medium than Lithium Ion storage, costs more per kWh, and is a hassle to get.

The reason it keeps getting trotted out is that anyone in the energy distribution business sees it as way to stay relevant. But now diffuse power production with solar obviates the need for more distribution infrastructure.

When you can run your cars and your house from the free energy harvested on your roof, why the hell would you pay a hydrogen supplier or grid utility for that power?

Energy independence at the individual household level is a fundamental new liberty. Now it's become possible.

pebell | September 3, 2013

@MarkK: "Energy independence at the individual household level is a fundamental new liberty". If you mean by fundamental: "for everyone": impossible. At best, it is a "new possibility for a percentage of the population". Like charging your EV at home, it is the perfect solution if you live in a lovely suburban house with your own garage.

If you live in an apartment on the 12th floor in a major city, and have to drive around the block every night to find a place to park your car, not so much. And although these people do not have any presence of significance on this forum doesn't mean that they aren't the majority of the world's population.

My fear is that these densely populated area's (that actually suffer the most from ICE pollution) are the least likely to benefit from this ideal "charge at home and drive on sunshine" solution.

RedShift | September 3, 2013

@pebell

The other solution as battery capacity goes up and number of EVs increases in the future is to do battery swaps.
Fully drained 500 mile battery gets dropped off and you pick up a charged battery to run around the town at your destination. When you are ready to go back, simply pick up your fully charged battery for 500 mile range.

For a cross country tour, you'll have to charge overnight or little by little, as we do today in SCs along the way.

gooshjkc | September 3, 2013

In my opinion, Tesla has started something that other manufacturers will follow suit as long as Tesla keeps up with their game and people continue to buy it. Other manufacturers are not going to fully jump in the water until they see how water is. In other words, they are too scared right now on how it's going to affect their bottom line. Lastly, they don't care if they're late comers to the party. They are in the hopes their brand recognition is going to help them catch up with what they have lost in the beginning. The funny thing, all of the them are putting a boat load of money into R&D. What Tesla has done for the industry is speed up the development of better and more efficient batteries and ways of charging them quicker (and maybe making it more main stream by having them all over the place like gas stations). However, the most important thing that Tesla has done is given the idea to the masses that there is an alternative fuel vehicle that is possible instead of using fossil fuel.

pebell | September 3, 2013

@Redshift: +1, battery swap combined with large batteries will be useful for exactly those "demographics" that will have difficulties charging at home. Maybe even a valid business case for non-rechargeable aluminum-air batteries.

Andrzej1 | September 3, 2013

@pebell

A few additional facts to consider. The Model S performance can put out about 310 kW. Now a fuel cell is priced per kW today in the range of $3500 - $5000 per kW. So a fuel cell that could put out 310 kW would be priced in the range of $1-1.5 million.

Now DOE says if you scale the latest lab developments to about 500,000 annual units you can get the cost down to about $47 per kw or about $15k for the above mentioned fuel cell. However numerous problems still remain not the least of which is limited lifespan of the fuel cell to about 75,000 miles(current estimate) with 10% power degradation during its service lifetime.

Now let's turn our attention to the fuel cost. Given the high cost of transporting liquid hydrogen, most schemes involve reforming natural gas at the hydrogen station to produce the hydrogen. With today's relatively low natural gas price this works out to about 3 bucks per kg of hydrogen or 3 dollars a gallon of gasoline equivalent. However given that the US has decided to export its nat gas then this would mean it is about to import the world price for nat gas which is much more then the current Henry Hub price. This would certainly improve the prospect for electrolysed hydrogen, as renewable power sources would then become very competitive.

Now if we consider electrolysed hydrogen, an electrolyser makes hydrogen at just under 70% efficiency while a Tesla charges at about 85% efficiency. An electric induction motor on the other hand runs at about 88% net efficiency while a fuel cell today has about 60% efficiency. So the bottom line is that an electric motor/battery combination is nearly twice as efficient overall as the combination of electrolysed hydrogen/fuel cell.

To hit all the DOE price targets requires massive scale and massive investment and even with that, the technology at present is still not sufficient. EV tech with incremental improvements/investments will be able to meet the needs of most people over the coming decade.

So in summary, I would say that hydrogen fuel cell auto tech is DOA and if someone tells you that hydrogen fuel cells are the way of the future you may want to ask them what are they smoking?

Andrzej1 | September 3, 2013

@pebell

BTW, I think you should reconsider what the dominant residence type is in America. The single family home still makes up about 60% of all housing stock. Furthermore only 8% of US households rely on street parking according to the US Dept. Of Housing and Urban Development and 40 % of these households have no car so less then 5% have to circle the block looking for a parking spot!

AmpedRealtor | September 3, 2013

@ pebell,

Using your example of someone living in a 12th floor apartment with no garage to park in, unfortunately I don't agree that is how the majority of people live in the US. If we are going along with this example, it's likely that most inner city dwellers do not even own vehicles because they don't need to. None of my friends who live in San Francisco own cars - not because they can't afford them, but because they don't need them.

The other aspect is that EVs may not currently be for everyone. But just because you can't address the entire population doesn't mean you shouldn't start somewhere. That's what Tesla has done. Nobody is in a position to market a superior technology to EV. Now that EVs are here to stay, in my opinion, the next few years will bring many wonderful and amazing improvements in battery technology.

This is just the beginning.

Brian H | September 3, 2013

Maybe some of the reason Elon calls them "Fool Cells" is safety. Find a nice video on YouTube of a hydrogen explosion and fire and refer your Fool-ish challengers to it.

Bob W | September 3, 2013

According to this source, so far in 2013, pure electric vehicles are outselling plug-in hybrids (PHEV) such as the Chevy Volt and plugin Prius.

They are not outselling all hybrids of course, just the plug-in / range-extended types. I don't think that's a trend that is going to be reversed any time soon.

pebell | September 4, 2013

@AR: I was under the impression that this thread was not about the current status of the EV, or even the Model S, but about Elon's dream to bring about the end of the ICE age (pun intented). His vision is to do that with battery powered cars. As I took it, the OP wondered if it could be possible that "the world" would end up moving in a different direction than BEVs.

So I mused a bit about what would be the obstacles that the BEV could encounter that would prohibit global and "universal" adaptation (comparable with current ICE adaptation), and cause a different direction, such as hydrogen/fuel cell EVs.

I do not live in the US but in The Netherlands, one of the most densely populated area's in the world. Our cities (and many West European cities, for that matter) are not so big that people live their entire life in the same city and don't need a car - "everyone" has a car. Although the "12th floor apartment" was just an example, I can tell you for a fact that at least 90% of our population does not have private parking space, but parks their car on public roads. Maybe not a block away, that again was just an example, but at least not in a designated spot where you can be guaranteed to be able to park your car every day and charge it. Charge it, that is, IF you get permission to put up a private charger on a public road (and somehow get power there). Or will we see the pavement littered with extension cords running from houses to the cars on the street?

These are VERY REAL obstacles to _universal_ adaptation of BEV's, or to be more precise, to overnight charging of BEVs at home and not being dependent on public charging infrastructure, which was the point I was responding to earlier.

Will it cause one less Model S sale? Nope! Will it limit Model E adaption? Maybe, probably not much. Will it prevent replacing the vast majority of ICE cars by a BEV in the next 20 years. IMHO option, it might.

Andrzej1 | September 4, 2013

@pebell

Sorry pebell! It looks like I'm the one who needs to do some reconsidering and realize that not everyone on this forum lives in America. With that said other countries are looking at different ways of electrifying their public road infrastructure. Scania is looking at bringing inductive or conductive charging to roadways in Sweden and has partnered with Siemens to construct a pilot program in northern Sweden. See here, http://www.scania.com/sustainability/featured-stories/towards-sustainabl... .

The Netherlands may follow suit one day. See here, http://green.autoblog.com/2012/10/27/smart-highways-can-charge-evs-give-... .

The only way I see how you could avoid public charging infrastructure if you park overnight on a public road and do not wish to use an extension cord would be to beam the power by microwave from your house to the car. Passing pedestrians may object but just post warning signs!

In the end though, I believe that super-fast DC charging at fuelling stations will win out as being the most cost effective way of getting power to your car away from home for not much longer then it currently takes to fill your car with gasoline.

pebell | September 4, 2013

@Andrezj1: First, thanks for the facts and logic that you provided regarding hydrogen fuel cell tech: I am looking forward to the next time the subjects comes to the table with a "non-believer" ;-D

Also I was very interested to learn about how many US homes have private parking, that is even more than I already suspected!

About your microwave comment - I had to laugh because I just realized that the man who gave us the AC motor AND the name of the company we all adore, was wayyyy ahead of us: http://www.damninteresting.com/teslas-tower-of-power/

Andrzej1 | September 4, 2013

@pebell

Thanks for the link. Tesla was definitely a man well ahead of his time.

To further strengthen the EV proposition vis-a-vis the fuel cell car I would like to comment briefly on fuel cost.

In the US, the DOE has a very ambitious goal of reaching at retail a price of $4 a kg of hydrogen or $4 of gasoline equivalent. On the other hand, solar power in the US is expected to hit a LCOE price of 8 cents a kWh or $2.70 a gallon or $.71 a litre in the next few years(33.7 kWh per US gallon of gasoline). With ever increasing scale(Swanson's Law) and technological improvements this price will fall even further while there is little hope of such a future for hydrogen given the challenges of reaching the $4 mark. Better yet some utilities in the US offer their customers very cheap off-peak EV charging rates like Virginia Electric and Power Co whose super off-peak EV rate comes in at 1.69 cents a kWh or $.57 an e-gallon or .114 Euro per litre! So the question you may want to ask a fuel cell advocate is would you prefer to drive a relative fuel hog at $4 a gallon or a fuel miser(EV) at $.57 a gallon?

If none of that convinces the fuel cell fans than you can always clinch the argument by yelling, Remember the Hindenburg!

pebell | September 4, 2013

@Andrzej1

LOL re:Hindenburg!

Another argument that I sometimes had a quick win with, is: the reason hydrogen infrastructure will always be more complex and expensive than for oil, is that H2 molecules are about the smallest molecules there are. If a H2 molecule is the size of a grain of sand, other molecules are the size of ping pong balls. Try building a container out of those that will contain sand without leaking! You can't change the physics of that, dude!

No idea if it's accurate, but it sounds good! :))) And next time, I'll wrap it up with "Remember the Hindenburg??"

Q.E.D. :)

Andrzej1 | September 4, 2013

@pebell

You're quite right that storing hydrogen is a real pain as it will leak very slowly through almost anything including steel(through diffusion). Hydrogen can form flammable mixtures in air in as little concentrations as 4%. That's why hydrogen storage areas have to be well-ventilated to make sure that the gas cannot accumulate in any way as it can be ignited with very little energy. The ignition energy of a hydrogen-air mixture can be as low as 20 microjoules, an amount approximately equal to the energy contained in a small particle of sand travelling at 4 m/s. Self-ignition is always a concern. Needless to say precautions need to be taken around any electrical equipment as a result. Many space shuttle flights were delayed because of hydrogen leaks.

If that weren't enough hydrogen attacks and embrittles metal. It would be interesting to see what my homeowner's insurance would say if I wanted to keep a fuel cell vehicle with a hydrogen tank in my garage. I am confident that at a minimum they would insist that garage be hydrogen certified which would mean a leak detection system, alarm and proper ventilation and perhaps even a restriction on what type of equipment was stored or used there. In this case parking on the street would have its advantages.

BTW, I see you added a couple question marks after Hindenburg so in case you missed the reference watch this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgWHbpMVQ1U .

Brian H | September 4, 2013

Hydrogen is sneaky dangerous, the ninja molecule.

pebell | September 4, 2013

@Andrzej1: The Hindenburg reference definitely wasn't lost on me :) Quite the contrary, I love it's potential as a dramatic "pause for effect" closing argument :))

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