How to Make Electric Cars Cheaper? Use the Same Batteries!

gm volt battery pack photo

GM Volt battery pack. Photo: GM
Economies of Scale, Baby!
Mike Tinskey, the manager of sustainability activities focused on electric vehicles and infrastructure at Ford, made an interesting speech at the Plug-in 2009 conference in Long Beach. He said: "The biggest issue with batteries now is not necessarily the technology, it’s the volume. If the battery manufacturers could get north of 100,000 packs, annually, prices come down drastically. One path forward is that we all collectively focus our initial volumes on common packs." But that's not as easy as it sounds...The Shotgun Approach
One of the benefits of having each auto maker building electric cars with its own battery technology (developed in-house or licensed) is that there's a lot of R&D;, lots of different chemistries and packaging methods are tried, and progress is probably faster than if there were fewer different types of batteries out there.

Let's All Push in the Same Direction
But one of the main downsides is that this makes it hard, at least at first, to reach the high production volumes required for costs to come down. What if many auto makers agreed to use the same battery pack (at least at first)? This could reduce EV costs significantly, leading to more demand, leading to higher volumes... And once enough electric cars are being built that individual companies can still benefit from large enough economies of scale, they could go back to unique designs to get an edge on their competitors if they want.

But How do You Reach Agreement?
But the problem is to get auto makers to agree to a unique battery design in the first place. It's already pretty complex to pick a battery for a single electric vehicle, how do you get auto makers to agree on which design will be used for many completely different models of electric cars? And since almost all auto makers have bought stakes in battery makers, we can expect that they'll each want their pick to become the common supplier.

It's still a good idea, and I'l like to see it happen because I think it could accelerate the switch to electric cars, but I'm not holding my breath.

Via Green Car Congress
More Electric Cars
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Bill Clinton Suggests "EVs for Clunkers" at National Clean Energy Summit
Chevy Volt Rated at 230 MPG in City Driving

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