Electric Cars: Charging Ahead – 9/26/16

Plug-in electric cars are coming. If you need proof look at all the charging outlets being built.

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The U.S. Department of Energy says there are now 14,349 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations nationwide, comprising almost 36,000 outlets. Not included in the tally, the home outlets where most EV owners do their charging.

Having more places to charge up will help mitigate drivers’ fears of getting stranded with a dead battery but, so far, the increase in car-charging ports hasn’t been matched with rising purchases of EV’s from dealers. In the first six months of the year, Americans bought about 65,000 cars that required charging. Ford alone sold that many pickups, on average, every month.

Of course, it is a lot cheaper to install an electrical outlet than it is to buy a new car so this may be a case of smoke coming before the fire, especially with most major car-makers prepping electric models to roll out before 2020.

Tesla Motors Inc. has long promised an era of long-range affordable cars is coming soon. Presumably, Tesla had hoped its Model 3 would serve as the vanguard for the new generation of EVs; however, it will probably be fighting General Motors Co. like never before in the next few years. The GM 2017 Chevy Bolt with its 238 mile range and $37,500 sticker price is not quite “affordable” for the average American buyer, but represents significant progress for EVs and a potential competitor for the Model 3.

The chart below breaks down the race for cheap battery range and the source of some concerns.

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GM, Volkswagen, Ford, and others are each investing billions of dollars in electric-car development. And, as battery prices are fall, EVs may be cheaper than the average gasoline car within the next five years, according to analysis Bloomberg conducted in February.

Yet, GM’s approach and Tesla’s differ in a key way that favors Tesla in the long-term. At the moment, the world supply of large Li-ion batteries used in electric cars is not large enough to equip a global fleet. Tesla has accounted for this fact, GM has not.

While Tesla has been learning the ins and outs of manufacturing cars as it goes, it’s also been constructing the world’s biggest battery factory, which is set to double the world’s lithium-ion battery supply. GM on the otherhand outsourced battery production entirely to the LG Chem chemical company. Though the company has done demonstrably good job bringing down costs, it has nowhere near the production capacity that Tesla’s new Gigafactory is projecting for 2018. As a result, GM will face severe constraints on how many cars it can actually deliver relative to Tesla.

Though it can easily best Tesla in scale when it comes to making most of a car, GM will not make truly affordable mass-market EV in the 2017 Bolt so long as it doesn’t have the battery output to back it up. Still, this is only the beginning of the race to electrify automobiles and a promising one at that.

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