Monday, April 13, 2009

Mainstreaming Electric Vehicles- from Tesla to Reva

One sure sign that a particular innovation is approaching mainstream consciousness is a burgeoning of obscure acronyms in that technology, and by that yardstick, electric vehicles are about about to leap onto the great American Highway. Do you know what REEV is? A Chevy Volt is one. Who would have thought! Chevrolet? EV being an electric vehicle, REEV is a Range Extended EV (when there is a gas engine also that kicks in), HEV is Hybrid EV and PHEV is a Plug-in HEV and so on - all modifications to address the main issue with electric cars - what is know in the industry as "Range Anxiety" - which is the nervousness people have about running out of charge on the highway. Tesla - is all EV, and so one of the world’s most closely watched start ups, and having the most brand recognition of any “green” or alternative-energy company- even though the Indian company's Reva EV (typical daily distance requirements being smaller in India) has been shipping for a while. So last Thursday I went to to the Stanford Law and Technology Association (SLATA) seminar with Craig Harding, General Consul, discussing the regulatory environment relating to the sale of electric cars, the batteries that power the cars, and current state and potential developments in the electric car industry. I learned about how laws obsolete as fast as technology- e.g. Tesla body designers found they could significantly extend the range of the car by replacing the side-view mirrors with digital cameras in the back - but they found they cant eliminate the mirrors because of how the car-safety laws are written- and it will take a few years of work to get the guidelines rewritten - who had heard of cameras when the car manufacturing laws got written? The biggest issue for Tesla is safety (batteries get hot and explode). The Tesla all electric vehicle has 7,800 small batteries- there are no large batteries for safety reasons. Their solution to safety and range anxiety is to lash all of these together and never let the temperature vary by more than a few degrees across the entire set. That's $25,000 of battery cost. Batteries are pretty simple in principle with just three parts - Anode/Cathode/Electrolyte and they have three main issues when it comes to passenger cars- Materials/Costs/Safety. Hence the Tesla innovation is a big deal. And yes, Craig said there is an agreement with recyclers to process spent batteries (expected life 5-7 years at this time). They say that in two years, by the time a more affordable roadster comes to market, there will be plenty of competition in the XX-EV space. I think that's good news. Though Craig was a bit down that day - saying orders are slow right now and he had to let his administrative assistant go as part of the cost cutting measure. But he is not getting much sympathy from me. The Tesla sedan, standard price tag at $60K has 165 mile range and the premium version with 300 mile range is $80K. The Reva car is expensive (for India) to buy but pays the extra off in just a few years.

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