Tag Archives: Tesla

EV tipping point is getting closer, and Exxon is beginning to worry

Last fall, I interviewed John Mitchell, an associate research fellow with Chatham House and a guy who knows his stuff when it comes to energy transitions. One quote I used from him — in an article I wrote for Corporate Knights— really stood out for me: “For oil, the Kodak moment will be when somebody produces a low-cost battery, as that will change the transport market profoundly.”

Mitchell didn’t mention a specific price-point, but a number I’ve heard tossed around as the likely tipping point is $100 per kilowatt-hour. At that price it’s believed electric cars can easily outcompete gas-fuelled vehicles by pretty much every measure. Tesla’s chief technology officer JB Straubel said last year that he expected that $100 target to be hit by the end of this decade.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance says it expects battery cell packs for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) to average less than $120 kWh by 2030. Colin Mckerracher, BNEF’s head of advanced transportation, had a post on Twitter last week featuring an interesting slide from a Ford investor presentation. Ford, according to the slide, thinks its battery cells for BEVs can hit $120 kWh in 2020 and projects costs hitting $95 by 2025 and $85 by 2030. BNEF will be updating its price survey next quarter, Mckerracher tells me.*

Finally, we can’t let the week go by without pointing to the soon-to-be-launched GM Chevy Bolt, which we learned will have a range of 238 miles (383 kilometres) between charges. It has been reported that the batteries used in the Bolt come in at $145 kWh. The car will still be priced in the high $30,000 range, but the fact a mainstream carmaker like GM is hitting this range at this price point in 2016 is nothing short of phenomenal, and in my opinion should silence all the EV haters who have dismissed the technology and its potential. Did they really believe that EV tech as reported in 2010 would never change, never get better, never get more affordable?

electric_busAnd let’s not obsess over just cars. Buses and big trucks, previously considered off limits to battery technology, are now being eyed as potential markets. Elon Musk, in Part Deux of his Master Plan, cited plans in July for a “Tesla Semi” unveiling next year and a desire to get into “high passenger-density urban transport” — i.e. buses. A Michigan-based company called Nikola Motor Co. is coming out with its own electric drive semi-trucks fuelled by hydrogen, while Proterra has a bus that can go 350 miles (564 km) on a single charge.

No wonder Exxon Mobil has beefed up its anti-EV lobbying. The company is getting worried. It sees the trend line, and it knows what this means for its core business. The only stalling tactic it has at this point is to continue feeding the public an increasingly tired line: EVs and their batteries need further development and cost-reductions to be competitively viable on a large scale.

It’s hogwash, of course. At some point within the next decade, Exxon executives are going to have to turn to the camera and smile for their Kodak moment.

*Paragraph has been updated from earlier version.

Ontario pulls rabbit from hat: Toyota to build Tesla-boosted RAV4 electric in Woodstock

Exactly one month ago on this blog I criticized the McGuinty government for failing to make good on its vision of turning Ontario into a hub for electric vehicle innovation and manufacturing. Premier McGuinty laid out that vision more than two years ago, announcing generous incentives to stimulate public interest in electric vehicle purchases and signal to the world that Ontario was an EV-friendly jurisdiction — a good place to innovate, invest in, and build electric vehicles and related infrastructure. My criticism is that, after 2.5 years, nothing really came of it. No major — or minor — manufacturer had announced plans to make an EV or plug-in hybrid model in Canada. All of that manufacturing and the associated jobs were going to Michigan and Ontario was still handing over money to the major automakers just to keep the status quo from crumbling — i.e. to save jobs, not necessarily create new ones as part of a future-looking industry.

Well, we heard today that there has, in fact, been something in the works. My colleagues Tony Van Alphen and Robert Benzie of the Toronto Star had the scoop: Toyota plans to manufacture its RAV4 Electric model out of its facility in Woodstock, Ontario. This is interesting news, as we know that EV manufacturer Tesla Motors is supplying technology and services — including to the battery system and related components — for the RAV4 EV as part of a $110-million multi-year contract with Toyota. Tesla actually built the prototype electric RAV4 at its own facility in Menlo Park, California.

There was an expectation out there that Toyota would eventually choose to manufacture the RAV4 EV in California. But Toyota’s Woodstock facility in Ontario already makes the gas-powered RAV4, so it made sense to build the electric version there as well. In my blog post last month, I pointed out that $140 million in loans and grants that the Canadian and Ontario governments were giving to Toyota “to upgrade its manufacturing operations in Cambridge and Woodstock” didn’t come with any electric strings attached. Seems some of that money was earmarked for this new venture — I stand corrected, with foot in mouth.

Indeed, I ended my earlier blog post this way: “Wouldn’t it be nice if the Libs, after three years of talk, actually pulled a rabbit out of the hat and delivered on that earlier promise? Perhaps there will be a pre-election surprise, but don’t count on it.”

Well, certainly we could use more good news like this, but consider this a rabbit pulled from a hat — Ontario’s Bugs Bunny moment. Keep ’em coming.

ANOTHER THOUGHT: How might Tesla Motors, based in Palo Alto, California, feel about the RAV4 electric being built in Ontario? Well, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has close ties to Ontario, as he revealed in this feature I wrote back in October 2009. He did his undergraduate at Queen’s University in Kingston, and met his former wife there. Chatting about the company’s future vehicle line, Musk told me at the time the company would itself give Ontario a serious look as a place to set up manufacturing. “It’s a cool area to do work, and I know the Canadian auto plants are some of the most efficient in North America, so it would be wise for us to take a close look,” he said. I wonder whether this initial commitment from Toyota to manufacture the RAV4 electric in Ontario is poised for greater things. On a conference call today to discuss the release of Tesla’s second-quarter results, Musk hinted that his company’s deal with Toyota could expand “by an order of magnitude” if discussions currently underway between the two companies bear fruit. Something to watch.

Desperation or long-term planning? Daimler AG acquires 10 per cent of Tesla

The subject line speaks for itself. Perhaps this will spark Ford and GM to take similar equity stakes in other emerging EV companies. Now, some may point out that the big car companies also had/have stakes in fuel-cell companies (i.e. remember Ballard). But this is different. Tesla has a car and is selling it today. It’s expensive, but it already has plans to sell its less flashy sedan in the coming year.

Here are a few places to read about the news:

Actual announcement here. Earth2Tech coverage here. CNET coverage here. And AP/CP coverage here.

Fisker’s Karma to be powered by Canadian battery system

There’s a reason why Vancouver-based Advanced Lithium Power Inc. has a message on the home page of its Web site that reads, “ALP is expanding! Click here for career opportunities.”

As you’ll read in this Los Angeles Times blog entry, Fisker Automotive of Irvine, Calif., is using lithium-ion battery packs from Advanced Lithium to power its highly anticipated Karma plug-in hybrid. The Karma, at a cost of about $88,000 (U.S.), has Tesla-like looks but costs about $20,000 less. That’s partly because, as a hybrid (that is, like the GM Volt is has a gas-powered range extender that’s used to charge the battery while driving), its battery pack is less than half the size of the Tesla pack. First deliveries of the Karma are expected in spring 2010. About 1,300 have already been preordered.

Fisker, according to the LA Times piece, will make a “sizable” cash investment in Advanced Lithium and will get two seats on the Canadian company’s board.