C&B Notes

The Push-and-Pull Over Electric Cars

Physics is a stubborn thing:

In presentations Tuesday and Wednesday at the annual Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, senior auto-industry executives in charge of technology strategy, research, and regulatory issues delivered the same message: Barring an unforeseen breakthrough that significantly drops the cost of automotive batteries, fully electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles are likely to remain confined to a niche of under 10% of the market through 2025 and beyond.

“By 2025, we see battery electric vehicles still with too long a payback, and inadequate range,” said Joseph Bakaj, vice president for powertrain engineering at Ford Motor Co.

Sam Winegarden, executive director of powertrain-engine engineering at General Motors Co. made a similar point with a chart comparing the amount of energy delivered by a given volume or mass of fuel.  On his chart, lithium-ion batteries, used in electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and GM’s plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt, were ranked close to zero compared to gasoline and diesel fuels, which delivered the most energy for the least amount of weight and cost to the consumer.

“The rumored death of the internal combustion engine is premature,” Mr. Winegarden said.

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Robert Bienenfeld, senior manager for environment and energy strategy at Honda Motor Co.’s U.S. arm, said that by 2025, a customer who buys a plug-in hybrid could wait 10 years to recover the added upfront costs, compared with a 2025 car outfitted with a more efficient gasoline engine and transmission.  The payback for an all-electric car would be even longer.

“Long term it’s hard to see how (government) incentives address this in any sort of sustained way,” he said.

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