Plug In Vehicle Advocate Polls Battery Industry Executives

Battery industry executives dispute conclusions of National Research Council report on battery cost projections.

Published: 27-Jan-2010

Calcars founder and long-time plug-in hybrid vehicle advocate Felix Kramer took the opportunity while attending the Electric Drive Transportation Industry conference in Washington, DC to ask several leading battery manufacturers their views on recent studies suggestion that the pace of electric car battery development will be very slow, stretching out to 2030 before prices are competitive with gasoline engines and even fuel cell technology. Here is what he learned during his informal polling today:

The National Research Council recently issued a report predicting that plug-in vehicles will remain uneconomical without subsidies for decades. This report attracted much attention, with media concluding the growing interest could be just one more example of overblown expectations. Its message has percolated through Congress, undercutting the efforts of legislators and government agencies seeking effective rapid ways to create clean jobs, revive domestic industries, reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut greenhouse gases. Just one problem: its assumptions are deeply flawed -- and as they say, "garbage in/garbage out." How can anyone respond effectively? We've heard experts say their comments were not taken into account. One way to set the record straight is not to turn to "other studies with other viewpoints." The only thing a forecaster can't dispute is reality. Now leading battery manufacturers are beginning to come forward, reporting their real-world experience and business assumptions. Our efforts, with partners, to respond to the report, are gaining momentum!

THE QUESTIONS WE ASKED BATTERY MAKERS: On January 27, we had the opportunity to ask top executives of many of the leading companies in the industry to state their views publicly at the Electric Drive Transportation Associations' battery session. Here's (roughly) what we asked:

Your presentations are reporting your real-world views on the battery business--that's very different from forecasts. As you know the National Research Council's report says that current prices for battery packs are greater than $1,000/kw-hr; will take overt 10 years to get under $400/kw-hr. CalCars has pointed out the impact of this report on the Energy Department's efforts to prioritize transportation electrification. We've suggested to your companies, publicly and privately, the need to respond. While we recognize the generally approach of keeping valuable pricing information private, released only to customers, will you be willing to draw the curtains apart a little? In particular, today, or soon, are you willing to:

  • consider responding individually or joining with other companies to respond to the report?
  • disclose your selling prices for battery packs, in dollars per usable kilowatt-hour, two or three years ago when you begin to have volume production, and ten years out?
FIRST TO RESPOND WAS RIC FULOP, CO-FOUNDER & MARKETINGVP OF A123 SYSTEMS: after complimenting CalCars for our continued advocacy, he said "their data is off," confirming what anyone would know who's been watching A123's presentations in the past year. It should get everyone's attention that he then confirmed that the company's selling price for packs in 2012 will be lower than the report projects a decade out. Three years from now, the company's price points will be at the levels seen in 2030 by the NRC.

CHARLES GASSENHEIMER, CHAIRMAN & CEO OF ENER1, pointed out that the projections didn't take into account strategies to take advantage of how the auto industry defines battery vehicles' "end of life." At that point they can still deliver 80% of the power they originally supplied. Unless secondary uses are factored in, the "full value" of batteries are not being counted.

SANKAR DAS GUPTA, CEO OF ELECTROVAYA, declined to engage with the specifics of the projections, instead saying "there are a lot of crazy reports out there; we can't pay attention to them all." Of course, that got a laugh -- though we take the reports seriously because of their impact on policy making as well as public understanding and expectations. He also predicted the time not too far away when, as happened with cigarettes, the broad negative impacts of fossil fueled-vehicles on, health, economics and the environment would speed our transition to plug-in vehicles.

MICHAEL ANDREW OF JOHNSON CONTROLS - SAFT also commended CalCars, and reminded the audience that it has previously said it sees pricing under $500/kwh by 2015, and going forward reaching substantially lower levels in the following years.

AND BY THE WAY, NO LITHIUM SUPPLY ISSUES: In response to a later question, A123's Ric Fulop cited the analysis by the Electrification Coalition (see our recent posting and http://www.electrificationcoalition.org ). He said there's enough lithium for two billion vehicles -- currently under one billion vehicles are on the road. Unfortunately we don't have a session transcript -- all the more reason for journalists now to follow up, and for the National Research Council and the Department of Energy to take this new information and determine how best to integrate it into their analytical framework, conclusions and strategic recommendations.

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