Tag archives for lithium ion batteries

Tesla Model S Offers a Lesson in Electric-Vehicle Economics

Tesla Model S, near the start-up's factory in Fremont, Calif., on June 22.Noah Berger/ReutersTesla Model S, near the start-up’s factory in Fremont, Calif., on June 22.

A handful of fully electric Tesla Model S Signature Performance sedans were presented to their owners at the company’s factory on June 22, each priced around $100,000. The luxury sedans were fitted with the most powerful battery pack available from the start-up automaker, rated at 85 kilowatt-hours. In combination with the vehicles’ electric motor and other running gear, those reserves of energy are capable of generating 416 horsepower, Tesla claims.

A Model S with the 85-kWh pack but without the Signature Performance frills would cost $77,400, before tax credits. Smaller packs, with proportionally diminished prices and estimated driving ranges, are scheduled to be offered later this year: a 60-kWh model starting at $67,400 and a 40-kWh model at $57,400, again excluding tax credits.

By setting three distinct benchmarks for performance and price, Tesla offered customers, and the industry, an invitation to engage in some rudimentary calculations to determine the price Tesla placed on each kilowatt-hour of capacity.

Taking the difference between the prices of cars fitted with the 40-kWh and 60-kWh packs, Tesla ostensibly charges $10,000 for 20 kWh of capacity, or $500 per kilowatt-hour.

Because the battery packs are constructed of thousands of smaller batteries, the cost of the battery is expected to escalate as its capacity increases. But the 85-kWh pack offers 25 kWh for $10,000, or $400 per kilowatt-hour.

Of course, equipment levels are part of the Model S equation as well. Tesla expects buyers of the Signature Performance level to pay roughly $20,000 over the basic 85-kWh sedan for features like a performance-goosing inverter, sport-tuned suspension and nappa leather.

In return for the extra dollars and deeper reserves of battery power are extended range and better full-throttle performance. The Environmental Protection Agency recently rated the Model S equipped with the 85-kWh pack at a range of 265 miles, which is about 3.1 miles per kilowatt-hour. That is in keeping with the widely acknowledged capability of lithium-ion battery packs, which deliver about 3 miles per kilowatt-hour in a car weighing slightly more than an equivalent vehicle with an internal-combustion engine.

Consequently, the 60-kWh Model S should offer a range of about 187 miles, and cars with the 40-kWh pack should be capable of about 125 miles.

On its Web site, Tesla more optimistically cites range limits of 300, 230 and 160 miles for the three packs, assuming a constant speed of 55 miles per hour under ideal conditions. Driving in extreme cold can reduce the range of a lithium-ion battery, and any number of factors can erode their performance, be it excessive heat, overcharging or deterioration of the electrolyte.

Battery packs used in E.V.’s have safeguard systems built in that prevent overheating and overcharging, but no device exists that forestalls the march of time. Maximum range, in other words, isn’t a forever proposition.

The hope throughout the industry is for battery prices to decline as the technology matures and manufacturing efficiencies are developed. Tesla declines to cite a price for battery replacement, saying on its Web site that it is “impossible to accurately forecast the cost of future battery replacements.”

To that, one might add that it is impossible to forecast the cost of future electric vehicles.


Reviewing the Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S.Tesla Motors 2012 Tesla Model S.

In Sunday’s Automobiles section, Bradley Berman reviews the 2012 Tesla Model S in a more thorough manner than any other journalist has yet.

In addition to driving the electric sport sedan in the vicinity of his home in Northern California, he takes his test car, fitted with a 362-horsepower drivetrain and 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack, from the north shore of Lake Tahoe to Tesla’s design studios in Southern California, driving 531 electric-only miles in a single day.

Along the route Mr. Berman avails himself of charging stations erected by Tesla in strategic locations around the state, a process he also describes in Sunday’s Automobiles section.

Mr. Berman has quibbles with the rear lighting, impractical sun visors and a lack of grab handles above the doors for passengers. Beyond these, however, he finds the Model S to produce a thrill that — if it can be transferred to higher-volume, lower-price vehicles — could very well be game-changing for the industry.

Read the entire review, check out the slide show and share your thoughts on the Model S in the comments.


Envia Claims ‘Breakthrough’ in Lithium-Ion Battery Cost and Energy Density

Envia Systems, a battery maker based in California, announced on Monday what it called a “major breakthrough” in lithium-ion cell technology that would result in a significant increase in the energy density — and a sharp reduction in the cost — of lithium-ion battery packs. Envia is financed by the Energy Department and G.M. Ventures, the venture-capital arm of General Motors, as well as other investors.

Mr. Kapadia.Envia SystemsMr. Kapadia.

“We will be able to make smaller automotive packs that are also less heavy and much cheaper,” Atul Kapadia, chairman and chief executive of Envia, said in a telephone interview. “The cost of cells will be less than half — perhaps 45 percent — of cells today, and the energy density will be almost three times greater than conventional automotive cells.”

Mr. Kapadia continued: “What we have are not demonstrations, not experiments, but actual products. We could be in automotive production in a year and a half.”

Envia, which was founded in 2007 and has licensed some technology from Argonne National Laboratory, was awarded $4 million in late 2009 by the Energy Department’s ARPA-E program, which finances advanced energy research. As a founding principle, the program was designed “to develop lithium-ion batteries with the highest energy density in the world.”

The manganese-rich powder used in Envia's cathode.Envia SystemsThe manganese-rich powder used in Envia’s cathode.

The advances were credited to the company’s proprietary cathode, anode and electrolyte materials, including manganese for the cathode. G.M. Ventures, in announcing its $7 million investment in Envia last year, noted that the company’s materials would “store more energy per unit of mass than current cathode materials.” Because the cathode was a “key driver” in the cost of a pack, the venture firm said, “the more energy the cathode delivers, the lower the battery cost because fewer cells are needed.”

Envia’s announcement said that its packs would deliver cell energy of 400 watt-hours per kilogram at a cost of $150 per kilowatt-hour. Though it doesn’t disclose a cost breakdown, Tesla Motors rates the energy density of its Roadster’s pack at 121 watt-hours per kilogram. Envia said its energy-density performance was verified in testing of prototype cells at the Naval Service Warfare Center’s Crane evaluation division.

“If it’s true, it’s a huge breakthrough, because the main problem for battery cars has been cost,” David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit research group based in Michigan, said in a telephone interview. “Right now, the lithium-ion battery is about three times as expensive as it should be for reasonable commercialization. That kind of cost target is the holy grail, and once it’s achieved it’s game on.”


In White Plains, Tesla Motors Sells the Sizzle and Maybe a Car or Two

The space, called a new design store by Tesla, has four beta prototypes of the Model S sedan on display.Jim Motavalli for The New York TimesThe space, called a new design store by Tesla, has four beta prototypes of the Model S sedan on display.

WHITE PLAINS — “I hope we never sell a car here,” George Blankenship, vice president of worldwide sales and ownership experience at Tesla Motors, said as he gestured Thursday around the company’s newest storefront. The space officially opened here Friday at the Westchester, an upscale shopping mall. “Our goal instead is to interact with people when they’re looking at new things in the mall and not necessarily in the market for a car. The focus is on answering the many questions they have about electric vehicles and the Tesla Model S.”

The Westchester outpost is the seventh such space opened by Tesla. It is also the company’s first on the East Coast, following mall-based outlets — called new design stores in Tesla’s parlance — in Seattle, Denver, Chicago and Houston, as well as Orange County and San Jose, Calif. Over 600,000 people have visited those six stores this year, Mr. Blankenship said.

For the opening weekend at the Westchester there are four Tesla Model S beta prototypes on display, each wearing the colors of the range-topping Signature model.

Mr. Blankenship, with the Model S beta prototype on Thursday in White Plains.Jim Motavalli for The New York TimesMr. Blankenship, with the Model S beta prototype on Thursday in White Plains.

In truth, the company is capable of authorizing sales of vehicles at the Westchester and can arrange test-drives. But the storefront’s approach is the opposite of the hard sell, reflecting Mr. Blankenship’s experience opening retail spaces for Apple in 2000-6 and previously for the Gap. “We were absolutely inspired by the Apple retail stores,” he said.

The task at Apple, Mr. Blankenship said, was getting people to move from the position of “I don’t want one, it’s not for me,” to an understanding of how products like the iPod or Mac computers could become integral to their lives. “Today, people don’t know much about electric vehicles, so it’s our job to educate them about the advantages of this cutting-edge technology,” he said. “We want to get to the point where people really want a Model S, so we won’t have to sell them.”

The Model S has 10,000 reservations and is sold out through 2012. A car ordered this week would be delivered in early to mid-2013, according to KC Simon, a company spokeswoman.

The customer experience at new design stores includes multiple touch-screen interfaces that provide information about expected battery life, driving range, charging and carbon emissions. The screens also contain configurators that allow visitors to visualize their potential purchases in various colors and interior choices.

The store also sells traditional branded items, like a $109 jacket, an $18 water bottle and a $30 remote-control model of Tesla’s discontinued Roadster. The cars are the main attraction, however, and visitors can check out the rear seat legroom and queue up music through the sedan’s 17-inch display screen.

The base Model S starts at $57,400 before federal tax credits and rises to $105,400 for the Signature Performance model.


Plug In America wants to survey your Tesla Roadster battery

brabus tesla roadster

Plug In America has launched a second electric vehicle owner experience survey – this time with the Tesla Roadster. It follows a survey conducted last year among Nissan Leaf owners, which was utilized and acknowledged by Nissan as it dealt with unexpected battery capacity loss reported by Leaf owners in high temperature Arizona.

Last year, Plug In America’s Expert Assistance and Research Group launched its first-ever consumer-oriented evaluation of plug in battery performance. It was intended to educate consumers on battery reliability and extended warranty purchase options, along with supporting industry-wide adoption of standard battery performance warranties.

Last year’s survey found that many Leaf owners were experiencing a high degree of stability and reliability. Along with that, the study clarified that ambient temperature seems to be the most significant factor in battery deterioration. Soon after release of the findings, Nissan announced a new battery warranty for Leaf owners. Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer encouraged Leaf owners to read the Plug In America survey results.

More people own Leaf than Roadsters, but the Roadsters have been on the road longer. The expensive Roadster electric sports car (which started at $109,000) was launched nearly three years before the Leaf, in 2008. About 2,500 Roadsters were sold through 2011, and Roadster owners have had a lot of experience behind the wheel. While the Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were lauded for returning EVs to the market following the limited number built by major automakers in the 1990s, the Tesla Roadster actually opened the door for EV commercial production.

Roadster owners are encouraged to visit the Plug In America website and take the survey. Like the Leaf survey, most of the questions focus on the battery pack’s performance and the influence of determining factors – time and mileage in use; how it compares to owner expectations; how well the Roadster’s active thermal management protected the battery pack in hot and cold weather; and distinctions between those who’ve experienced the different versions of the Roadster – 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5 and the mainstay Roadster compared to the Roadster Sport. There’s also a question dealing with what owners might expect when considering purchasing an extended warranty.

The survey project is led by Plug In America’s Chief Science Officer Tom Saxton. Along with this sort of real-world battery performance research, Saxton and the PIA research group conducted their first ever performance evaluation of charging station down time last year.

Related GalleryBrabus Tesla Roadster

brabus tesla roadsterbrabus tesla roadsterbrabus tesla roadsterbrabus tesla roadsterbrabus tesla roadsterbrabus tesla roadsterbrabus tesla roadsterbrabus tesla roadster

By Jon LeSage

Of Bricks and Batteries: The Anatomy of a Controversy

A Tesla Roadster with its battery pack on display at the Tesla showroom in Los Angeles in 2008.Gabriel Bouys/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesA battery-electric Tesla Roadster on display in a Los Angeles showroom in 2008.

In Sunday’s Automobiles section, Bradley Berman writes about bricking, a term that describes what happened to the battery pack of a Tesla Roadster electric sports car that had been left unplugged for an extended period and rendered useless — in other words, a brick.

The word entered the gearhead lexicon in late February, when a blog post circulated about an incident in which a Roadster’s battery was ruined after the owner parked the car, low on charge and unplugged, for more than two months. Tesla denied warranty coverage; the company’s service center offered to replace the battery pack for about $40,000.

Did this widely reported (and much argued) episode suggest a fundamental flaw in the design of the Roadster, or was an owner’s negligence to blame? Read Mr. Berman’s Q&A, and share your thoughts in the comments below.


During National Plug In Day, Getting the Silent Treatment

Tesla Roadsters outside the Automobile Driving Museum on Sunday.Ronald Ahrens Tesla Roadsters outside the Automobile Driving Museum on Sunday.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — For four conspicuously quiet hours on the second-annual National Plug In Day, electric cars and motorcycles swarmed the flat, oak-shaded boulevards wending through office parks just south of Los Angeles International Airport.

From a shared starting point here at the Automobile Driving Museum, a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner and 1959 Cadillac Series 62 convertible, two of Detroit’s most recognizable products of the late Eisenhower era, floated along the same route.

They all were participating in a promotion staged on Sunday in 65 cities nationwide by Plug In America, the nonprofit electric-vehicle advocacy group.

About 500 people took part in 300 test drives here, according to Zan Dubin Scott, a spokeswoman for Plug In America. The event is significant for the enthusiastic participation of private owners of E.V.’s, who make their cars available for brief test drives by the public.

E.V.’s from producers large and small, be it BMW, maker of the battery-powered ActiveE, to Coda, the California-based producer of a recently issued compact sedan, were on hand for display and public evaluation. Among these many offerings, a highlight was the cheekily customized Mitsubishi i-MiEV that echoed a traditional Southern California motif with simulated wood-grain siding, with the grain itself coming from the graphic outlines of digital circuits. And, naturally enough, the car was topped with a surfboard.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV, with graphics inspired by the woody wagons of Southern California.Ronald Ahrens Mitsubishi i-MiEV, with graphics inspired by the woody wagons of Southern California.

The museum, which regularly exercises the cars in its collection, provided the tailfins. The Cadillac 62 convertible driven by docent Andrew Wallace was an all-original car with 61,847 miles. Passengers entered by stepping over the low door sill. Once inside, they sat deep within the massive body and were only vaguely aware of the car’s gentle movements, because in part of its 130.5-inch wheelbase. The instrument panel and accessory controls spreading over the dashboard seemed quaint when compared with those of the Tesla Model S that also was on hand. Its display consoles appear to have come from an intergalactic command vessel.

Jeff Walker, the museum’s executive director, described himself as “one of the typical ‘gasser’ guys” who preferred large internal-combustion engines like the Cadillac’s 390-cubic-inch V-8 unit, but he professed to being “shocked” upon driving an electric car for the first time. “I got into a Tesla, and it shut my mouth,” Mr. Walker said. Indeed, the brisk acceleration of the company’s discontinued Roadster brought a similar awakening to other drivers. Michele Etges, 30, of Los Angeles, called the car “extremely different from anything I’ve ever driven before.”

Aside from E.V.’s of the four-wheeled variety, a number of battery-powered Zero S motorcycles were available for testing by licensed riders, and Abe Drucker took advantage of the opportunity. Mr. Drucker, 38, owner of two conventional sportbikes, had ridden from West Hollywood to the event on his electric Native Z6000 scooter with the objective of selling it there.

Riders preparing for a test of the latest models from Brammo and Zero.Ronald Ahrens Riders preparing for a test of the latest models from Brammo and Zero.

Cinching down his carbon-fiber helmet, he mounted the Zero S and glided away amid a pack of other riders. “It was stellar. Zero lag,” he said afterward, comparing the performance to that of a typical bike in the half-liter class. Describing himself as a proponent of solar energy, Mr. Drucker said he saw how an electric motorcycle could be “hyper-economical, especially if you’re tied to a solar system. If you can be off the grid, that’s being green.”

With a choice of test drives, I slid behind the wheel of the Coda sedan, wanting to see how it compared to other E.V.’s I’ve sampled, including the Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV and Tesla Model S. This was my first exposure to the new sedan. The car, reviewed in The Times in June, is largely composed of systems sourced from China but is fitted with electric drive components at the company’s plant in Benicia, Calif. It went on sale last March, and a “soft launch” is in progress, according to Matt Sloustcher, my passenger and Coda’s director of government relations.

Like Bradley Berman in his review for The Times, I noted the sedan’s satisfactory acceleration and well-tempered intercession of the regenerative braking system. Aside from the tire noise that is fairly typical of otherwise very quiet E.V.’s, the experience was embarrassingly reminiscent of my early sorties in bumper cars at the carnival midway.

A bit of historical perspective was provided by the display of Steve Pugh’s 1921 Milburn Electric brougham, which he brought from Manhattan Beach, Calif. The car typifies the second wave of E.V.’s, that came into vogue after 1910, after the advent of Thomas Edison’s nickel-iron battery. (Beforehand, battery-powered vehicles were of very limited use.)

Mr. Pugh’s Milburn, built in Toledo, Ohio, had seven large batteries in the front and seven more in the rear. He said the car’s top speed was 30 miles an hour, with a range of 100 miles. The lithium-ion cells of the Coda provide the juice to take the car just 25 miles farther, but its responsiveness beyond 30 m.p.h. is something the Milburn could never show.

Dency Nelson, co-founder of Plug In America, with the 1921 Milburn Electric brougham owned by Steve Pugh. A Tesla Roadster is parked behind them.Ronald Ahrens Dency Nelson, co-founder of Plug In America, with the 1921 Milburn Electric brougham owned by Steve Pugh. A Tesla Roadster is parked behind them.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 24, 2012

An earlier version of this post misidentified the individual photographed with the 1921 Milburn. It was Dency Nelson, not Steve Pugh.


Leaving Baggage On the Dock, a Flagship Departs From California

A Model S leaving the Tesla Motors factory floor on Friday.Paul Sakuma/Associated PressA Model S leaving the Tesla Motors factory floor on Friday.

FREMONT, Calif. — On a Friday filled with press conferences, roundtable discussions, production-line walk-throughs and chaperoned test drives, it was only at a concluding pep rally, held on the Tesla Motors factory floor here, that the mood became palpable. As executives for the electric-vehicle start-up handed keys to the first Model S sedans to retail customers, the sense of a victory, to some an improbable one, came across as loud and giddy as any celebration of a basketball championship.

Wearing cherry-red polo shirts, Tesla employees whooped, whistled and hollered as executives recalled the journey to Tesla’s first retail-ready, baked-from-scratch electric car, starting with a meeting in 2008 in which Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive of Tesla, presented “a laundry list of things that didn’t equal a sedan,” to his newly hired chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen.

It should seat seven people, have the best zero-to-60 time of any sedan on the road and be the “best-looking car in the world,” Mr. von Holzhausen recounted to the crowd.

By the rally’s conclusion, 10 vehicles had been released into the wild, most of them painted Signature Red. Mr. Musk and Steve Jurvetson, an early investor, received the first two earlier this month. Five cars were handed over to customers onstage on Friday. And two additional vehicles departed Tesla’s plant for delivery to buyers in Chicago. One Model S was to be taken just across the bay to Palo Alto.

Each car that rolled out of the factory — a former General Motors plant that had become a Toyota plant — had a glossy, 17-inch touchscreen control panel that resembled an enormous iPad. Fortunately, the screen has a night mode, which switches most of the bright whites to black, dimming the display enough to reduce the eye-magnet effect. In a move that may please Tesla’s Silicon Valley constituency but rile safety regulators, it is technically possible to use the built-in Internet browser while driving.

And the car manages to accommodate seven people, but just barely. The front seats are cushy but plenty supportive, and two passengers can sit comfortably in the second row (three adults, however, would be a squeeze). Two rear-facing child seats, which fold neatly into the floor, are tiny and cramped beneath the sloped roof.

Tesla recommends these seats for children up to age 10. Combined with increasingly stringent rules for child safety seating (California law, for example, requires children up to age 8 or a height of 4-foot-9 to ride in a booster seat), this suggests limited utility.

The sloping roof, designed to help minimize wind resistance, also hampered rearward visibility during a brief test drive on the roads and highways near the factory, leaving just a narrow slit of glass in which to view approaching traffic.

Nancy Pfund, a managing partner at D.B.L. Investors, an early Tesla backer and a former managing director for JPMorgan Chase, was one of the Model S customers presented with keys (electronic ones, of course) by Mr. Musk. On the sidelines of the event, she said the car would become her daily driver.

“I’ve been driving — keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t break down — an old Mercedes,” Ms. Pfund said. She plans to retire the 2000 Mercedes-Benz and use the Model S for errands and her commute: 14 miles across the bay to San Francisco, and south to Silicon Valley, “about 100 miles round-trip,” she said. “They do have two charging stations at my office, so they’re all excited to have me come in on Monday.”

Of course, as any Tesla employee would argue, the Model S is not intended for such narrow use. The versions that went out on Friday were built with the Signature Performance package, and priced from just under $100,000 after applicable tax credits. This package comes with an 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack, rated by the Environmental Protection Agency for up to 265 miles of driving on a full charge.

According to JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer, the pack consists of more than 7,000 battery cells. Later this year, Tesla plans to begin offering versions of the Model S with smaller battery packs, including a 40 kilowatt-hour choice starting at $57,400 and a 60 kilowatt-hour pack starting at $67,400, excluding a maximum $7,500 federal tax credit.

Tesla’s executives expressed gratitude to the 2,300 buyers of the company’s first vehicle, the Roadster sports car — built on a chassis from Lotus — as well as to investors, the raucous crowd of employees and perhaps the most polemical honoree of all, the federal government, which provided Tesla with $465 million in loans through the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.

“We hope to do really good by the Department of Energy, and show that the support was warranted, and there is a fundamental good that’s been achieved,” Mr. Musk said.

Gov. Jerry Brown made an unannounced appearance at the event. “California has its issues, but all of you are part of a state that is leading the country, if not the world, and this car is just another example of boldness,” he said.

“I certainly had nothing to do with this,” Mr. Brown added. “I love it when people spend their money and make great stuff.”

Under Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Brown’s predecessor, the state approved $28.8 million in tax breaks for Tesla in 2009 in an effort to keep the company in California.

“Hopefully these cars will keep coming,” Mr. Brown said. “By the millions!”

Tesla vehicles, he added, might even make their way into the state fleet, “as we get a little more money and the price comes down.”