Revisited: The $28,000 Tesla With a 440-Mile Range?

What if we could eat our cake and have it, too?

“Tesla was not founded to make expensive cars or to make luxury or high performance cars.  This is a misconception that comes up all the time.  It’s perhaps understandable based on the cars that we’ve built to date.  But it is not our mission.  Our mission is to make cars that everyone can afford and to change the electric mobility equation, so that essentially every vehicle could have the opportunity to be electric.”

JB Straubel, Oct 15 2015, University of Nevada

An Affordable EV?

The question gets bantered about from time to time asking, when will there be a more affordable EV? The $35,000 Tesla Model 3, along with the Hyundai Kona Electric and the Kia Niro EV are steps in the right direction. But, $35,000 is still beyond the budget of many people.  In 2018 the average SRP of the 10 top-selling non-truck vehicles was about $24,000.

We have to wonder, when will we see an EV priced below $30,000? A $28,000 sticker price would be more competitive with non-luxury IC vehicles. Such a vehicle would make owning an EV more accessible to millions of additional buyers. A well-designed vehicle around this price point would drive EV adoption to the levels that many of us would like to see.

It is clear, however, that simply offering an affordable vehicle at the sacrifice of range is not a winning broad market strategy. Marketing survey data tells us a competitive range is an important feature. EVs need good range in order to be widely adopted. Consumers expect new technology to be better than current technology, not worse. This applies to electric vehicles in every regard, including range. We should expect our cars of the future to have great technology and equal or greater range than that of current IC vehicles. For many people, anything less is considered not acceptable.

If we look at the top 20 selling cars and trucks for 2018, they have an average rated “range” of about 400 miles. Expecting that most consumers will accept less than this is asking too much. Affordable cars with 440 miles of range is what we should expect from our next-generation vehicles. The EV manufacturer that is able to achieve this first and implement it will be a marketplace winner. (I’m using “cars” as a generic vehicle term.)

Some people such as Fred Lambert of Electrek argue that you don’t need a 400-plus mile range EV. I made some strong points in favor of longer-range EVs in my previous article “Let The Tesla Bulls Rage On And Chuckle At The Bears.” I would like to add two points. 

First: the argument is made that all we need is more charging infrastructure and faster charging. I’ll admit that these are important. However, if this is really the solution, then the question has to be answered, where are all the 200-mile range IC vehicles? There is certainly plenty of infrastructure, and refueling such a vehicle would take about 1 minute at the pump. Clearly range is a very desirable characteristic to most people, even with infrastructure and fast fill times are in place.

Second: when I go on a road trip again, I want to be the one that decides how often I take a break, NOT THE CAR.

In order for EVs to be taken seriously and widely adopted, they have to be a step forward, this includes overall range. A 440 mile range EV is what is needed in order for the masses to really want to adopt EVs.

As I see it, manufacturers have two possible options for creating this 440 mile range EV.

On The One Hand

The first option is with batteries alone.

I must mention here that there will always be a need and a market for full range battery EVs.  There will always be those people who need or just want to be able to drive 350-plus miles on a battery charge and are willing to pay for that ability. Full range BEVs are an important part of the EV revolution and an important part of the EV product mix.

A big benefit of traveling on electric power is that it is often less expensive than powering an automobile using gasoline. Currently, traveling on home sourced electric power is about one half to one third the cost of gasoline for many people. And, for those who have home solar, traveling on electricity is even more compelling. So, traveling on battery electricity is and will be a naturally preferred choice for powering a vehicle.

However….

Batteries do have a big challenge: cost. Even if new battery tech does lower the cost, it would still be like having a $10,000 gas tank. This high cost makes a 440-mile range BEV impractical for many of us. To be certain, for people who drive over 18,000 miles a year, the usefulness of that extra battery range (energy cost savings) makes a long-range BEV well worth it. But for many of us, who drive under 10,000 miles a year, it is a waste of resources. The break-even point on such a vehicle is too far out for us. The utility of the extra battery capacity is not there. It is just going to waste.

The Proposal

The other option that I see EV manufacturers have is a Range Extended BEV, a RExEV.

What I am proposing is a car “for the rest of us.” Most trips in the U.S. are less than 30 miles (1). Many of us drive only short distances day-to-day and only occasionally take longer trips. A usable range of 60 miles meets over 90% of many people’s daily driving needs. In my case, for example, I regularly commute to work, go shopping and do other family business within a 10-mile radius. Once or twice a month I may visit my parents, which is about a 76-mile one-way trip. For me, I need only very limited daily range. However, a vehicle that has extended range available for my occasional long trips is something that I want.

I know that I am not alone in this desire for an available longer range. The market data backs me up on this (2). As EV adoption expands and EV manufacturers attempt to entice the broader consumer market to adopt EVs, people will go with the vehicles that are affordable to them and can conveniently make those occasional longer trips.

The $28,000 EV

A RExEV with a generous 80-mile battery range and 360 miles of extended range will provide the affordable range that consumers want. A RExEV is the best answer to meet both daily short-distance trips and occasional long-distance driving needs.

A RExEV, NOT a PHEV

I want to make it clear that I am talking about a simple electric traction drive EV, not a complicated gas/electric combo powertrain or so-called PHEV. A traction drive EV is one that is driven only by a dedicated electric motor (or motors). No other source of mechanical power is employed in the drivetrain. In truth, I think the moniker PHEV is most often a misnomer for vehicles so designated. The correct label really should be PHICV.

It is of note that some manufacturers are shying away from hybrid powertrains. A great advantage of a RExEV is that it employs the simple, straight-forward EV drivetrain architecture. The very same drivetrain architecture that is used for battery-only vehicles is also used for the RExEV. Additionally, the RExEV is electrical power generation indifferent. It doesn’t care what form, shape or type of range extender is used.

I see the RExEV as a natural evolution in the EV revolution. As the market matures and we enter the much broader EV adoption phases, RExEVs will attract buyers who appreciate the benefits of daily driving electric but demand greater affordable range.

Some purists may argue that “it burns fossil fuel.” The question is, how often would someone need that fossil fuel? Most of the time, the vehicle could be driven on electricity, which again is the preferred power source.  An owner of such a vehicle could potentially drive around for weeks with an empty gas tank and fill it up only when they need to drive a long distance. I think that it’s plain to see that such a car would be a great addition to the EV product offering.

The Main Manufacturing Benefit

Pursuing such a vehicle architecture has a major benefit to manufacturers. They’ll be able to build three or four times as many EVs using the same amount of battery resources that would be needed to build just one equivalent range battery-only EV. It is clear that battery resources are being stretched. Even Elon Musk has commented in the past about the need for many more battery cells. Battery availability is a limiting factor in the production of EVs of every kind. Moreover, as I’ve already stated, at present, putting a very large battery pack in a vehicle is simply a waste of expensive resources for me and for millions of people like me.

Getting the REx Right

The form of the range extender is important. The optimal REx should be highly efficient, compact, lightweight, relatively quiet, inexpensive and low maintenance. While a standard 40 hp piston engine might work, there are a few other possible solutions already in the works which might better meet these requirements. 

For example, the specialized engine by obrist-powertrain.com could be good. Perhaps a gen-set employing rotary engine technology from freedom-motors.com might work. Or possibly a linear generator using technology from www.libertine.co.uk might be best. It is clear to me that an advanced REx solution could generate ample electricity for on-board-charging and yet fit into a small space and weigh less than 100 lbs.

I’m sure naysayers will begin to site vehicles such as the BMW i3, the Karma Revero or the Chevy Volt as evidence that such a vehicle will not succeed. However, none of these examples match the proposed configuration. Sadly, we have yet to see the broad deployment of a BEV coupled with a highly efficient, long-range range extender. Make a RExEV that will run up to 80 miles on a battery and adds 360 miles of extended range and sells for around $28,000 and then we’ll have something.

An Interim Solution?

Some may say that this is an interim solution. And, that future-gen batteries will eclipse the need for a high-efficiency REx. This could possibly be true. However, that interim could be rather long. It appears that it will be quite a long time before electron storage devices begin to even come close to the available energy density and the low cost of a gas tank.

In order for battery-only vehicles to eclipse RExEVs, battery pack costs would have to fall under $35 per kWh. Now, if that day ever comes, then yes, RExEV’s (along with all hybrid vehicles) would become obsolete. But in the meantime, I think we can all agree that seeing much broader adoption of EVs and burning 90% less gasoline here and now would be a good thing.

A Tesla RExEV?

If Tesla was willing to develop and deploy such vehicles, it would more fully fulfill its stated mission. Imagine a $35,000 base Model 3 with a 440-mile total range. How popular a vehicle might that be? The reduced battery pack would slash thousands of dollars off the cost of the vehicle and the REx would provide the added range. To be honest though, I’m afraid that, sadly, at present, they would be philosophically against it.

Regardless of who does it, I’m convinced that the EV manufacturer that figures this out first and offers a limited range battery combined with plenty of extended range will emerge as an immediate winner. Other manufacturers will have to follow suit and begin offering long-range RExEVs in order to stay competitive.

Range extenders are an awesome answer to the question of providing affordable EVs to the masses while offering great range to meet all of an owner’s driving requirements. In truth, the only virtue which range extenders lack is the Elon Effect. If Elon Musk said “Make it so! All of our base model cars and SUVs will offer a range extender,” then it would become acceptable and then truly “every vehicle could have the opportunity to be electric.”

Proposed Automobile Specs

  • The Model C (base model)
  • MSRP: $27,990
  • 5 passenger
  • Horsepower: 200 hp
  • Acceleration: 0 to 60 mph under 7 seconds
  • Top speed: 110 mph (177 km/h)
  • 22 kWh battery
  • MPX(kWh): 40 mi (64.3 km) – hwy   [that is 40 miles per 10 kWh]
  • Battery range: 88 mi (141 km)
  • 20 kW REx
  • Fuel tank: 6 gal (23 L)
  • Combined battery and extended range: 440 mi (644 km)
  • Curb weight: 2,950 lbs (1,338 kg)
  • Dimensions: 180″ L x 72″ W x 55-68″ H

1. 2009 NHTS, www.solarjourneyusa. com/EVdistanceAnalysis7.php

2. 2. How much electric-car range is ‘enough’? 300 miles much better than 200 miles: survey

www.greencarreports.com/news/1112298_how-much-electric-car-range-is-enough-300-miles-much-better-than-200-miles-survey

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