You may have read the back and forth exchanges between Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and New York Times reporter John M. Broder following Broder’s report of a difficult road trip in a Tesla Model S electric vehicle (Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electronic Highway) from suburban Washington D.C. along Interstate 95 to Connecticut.
Broder wrote that while driving toward Tesla’s 480-volt Supercharger station in Milford, Connecticut, he turned the car’s climate control to low and drove 11 miles per-hour below the posted speed limit. After charging in Milford he drove to Groton, Connecticut, where he spent the night. By the next morning, according to the article, the car’s range had dropped significantly. The car ran out of juice, shut down, and had to be loaded onto a flatbed truck and driven back to the Milford charging station.
In a blog post (A Most Peculiar Test Drive), Musk charged that Broder “simply did not accurately capture what happened and worked very hard to force our car to stop running.” Musk posted data logs to back up his critique. “To date, he wrote, “…hundreds of journalists have test driven the Model S in every scenario you can imagine.”
It’s likely that the decision to buy a Tesla or not has more to do with budget and intangible factors than with range anxiety but the Times review and Tesla’s response draws attention to electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
The major challenge to mass market adoption of electric vehicles is in continual improvements in weight, cost and energy storage capability of the batteries, according to Erik Spek, a chief engineer for battery testing at TÜV SÜD, the global testing and certification company.
Customer needs related to batteries include:
- Stored energy to travel a long distance before refilling
- Power to accelerate and recharge quickly
- Cost of acquisition, operation and recycling
“Electric vehicles are not for everyone yet but they can already serve urban citizens and two car families,” Spek says. “Half of the world’s population lives in cities, and if you also consider that U.S. daily travel averages 40 miles per trip, it becomes clear that range is not an issue for increased market penetration in those applications. That leaves cost and safety as the main battery technology challenges and charging logistics as the electrical infrastructure challenge.”
Spek notes that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has collaborated with industry players to develop a roadmap to ensure an effective set of standards for electric vehicles and associated support requirements. “Similarly, because of its exposure to many different technologies, the battery testing industry sees trends that are encouraging,” he says.
“As an industry, it would be beneficial to demonstrate electric vehicles’ benefits and the way they meet certain customers’ needs, rather than complaining that electric vehicles have not reached expectations for every customer.”