O/T: Talking Cars Tuesday: How long till electrics?

Submitted by JFW on March 12th, 2019 at 12:05 PM

After 10 years or so MgoCar is starting to rust out; so I'm in the market for a new one probably next fall after I retire some debt. I'm hoping for a Taurus, because I'm old, and like me my car's trunks have gotten progressively larger over the years. With my cars at least, I like that fact. 

But it got me thinking. I'm going to buy used (I always do, just my philosophy. YMMV) so I always get cars a bit behind the tech curve. But if I keep this car as long as the last one what will the automotive market look like in 2029?

Tesla, though I'm still skeptical of their build quality and their building cars in tents, appears to be getting better. And if they can get their manufacturing issues straightened out for real they do make very nice vehicles. 

GM Has the Bolt, which really impresses me. Good range, decent price. If I could get it with AWD I'd do it. 

Jaguar e-pace is impressive as well. 

Automation is coming, but while I think it will be far more prevalent I don't think it will completely dominate the market by then (I could be wrong, I admit). By that I mean, I will still be able to legally drive if I want. 

So, when I go to buy my next MgoCar when my son and daughter are in college, and I will be sad and alone at home looking for automotive fun to distract me, will it be electric? Will the entire field be electric? Will my dream car be an e-powered hellcat? Are there enough rare earth metals for all those batteries? 




March 12th, 2019 at 12:09 PM ^

My concern in electrics is long-term dependability.  My phone battery starts to go to pot after 2 years.  Am I going to be able to buy a 5 year old electric car and get good range?  If not, what will be the service cost of a new battery pack?

The Mad Hatter

March 12th, 2019 at 12:38 PM ^

Interestingly, they're not large batteries at all.  Instead they have big boxes full of AA sized batteries wired together.  It makes for faster charging and presumably cheaper replacement in the event of failure.

According to my friend at Tesla, the test models they've had on the road for several years are still at over 80% battery capacity, which is better than I thought it would be.

Still too expensive though.


March 12th, 2019 at 1:04 PM ^

They’re more reusable than recyclable.  After they have lost too much capacity to be useful in automotives, they still have substantial value in other uses.  For example, repurposed Nissan Leaf batteries are used as a backup power system for the Amsterdam Arena, providing 4 megawatts of power.


March 12th, 2019 at 1:09 PM ^

My understanding is that the batteries remain pretty efficient. I had a Honda Civic hybrid for many years, and it lasted far beyond the warranty and what I was led to expect. I understand it's a bit different than a full electric vehicle, but Tesla and others appear to be making great progress with batteries.

Personally, I'm holding off on a new car and took over my dad's '89 Jaguar XJ with around 130K miles. I hope to drive it until I can buy an affordable, self-driving electric that won't kill me by driving under a tractor-trailer. Tesla is great in many ways, but they rolled out the self-driving functionality way too soon IMHO.


March 12th, 2019 at 1:26 PM ^

Completely agree with you on most Lithium-ion batteries in phones and laptops--they seem to lose capacity/degrade with time and recharges. However, the Tesla's battery pack (as mentioned by another poster above) is actually hundreds of individual lithium-ion cells linked together and managed by a proprietary system (which I presume manages charge, redistributes load/usage, etc.).

I was concerned about this, too, when initially researching the Tesla Model S. The company reps described this system and told me that their 2500-some Roadsters (modified Lotus body, Tesla's first car) were still being driven 5-10 years after purchase with little range loss being reported by owners.

As a Model S owner for 6 years now, I can honestly report to you that my battery has not lost any appreciable capacity/range since I bought it, literally being recharged daily. Caveat: I have been charging it only to 80% capacity the whole time, as this was supposed to improve battery longevity. I was initially concerned that I might have to consider replacing the battery pack after 10 or so years of owning the car, but rationalized this by thinking that perhaps after a decade, battery technology may have improved and costs may have dropped appreciably. Now I'm fairly confident I will not have to replace it anytime soon.


March 13th, 2019 at 7:48 AM ^

Do you live in Michigan? Just wondering after reading this discussion how the batteries hold up in the cold?  Lithium ions are great but not in the cold. Hell, my auger (for ice fishing) runs on lithium and on really cold days I have to keep the battery in a little cooler with a hand warmer so the battery doesn't get too cold or else it won't work


March 13th, 2019 at 11:37 AM ^

Excellent question, and, yes, I do live in Michigan. My previous iphone used to completely die as soon as you took it outside in the winter--totally legit concern with Li-ion batteries, right? Well, my experience with the Tesla in the winter has been pretty good: definitely uses more charge on a daily basis, but not such a significant amount that it changes my routine.

My understanding is that the car's battery pack always uses a basal amount of electricity to keep it above a minimum temperature, hence the constant, slow drain, even while not driving. Even on the coldest days (single digits to negative), however, the car starts right up and drives immediately. It does seem to work on warming the battery further during operation, though, and often for the first few minutes of driving, the absolute top acceleration as well as the regenerative braking are limited while the car warms up the battery some more. So, all told, not a huge issue.

When I was first researching the car and brought up concerns about cold weather ownership, the company reps pointed out the fact that Tesla's largest per capita market at the time was in Finland. If owners in Finland weren't complaining, I guess the Model S would do fine in Michigan, right?


March 12th, 2019 at 6:07 PM ^

I am right now in market for an electric car for my daughter and this was my top concern as well. I am about to buy 2014 i3 for about $15k (only 20k miles). However, the battery comes with 8 year/100,000 mile warranty. So no real worries there.

Even if I have to replace it in about 4 or 5 years, I expect the battery prices to fall around $100/kw (they are about $130+ right now), which means I should be able to replace the battery for several thousand dollars (22KW battery on the car). Figuring all the money saved from gas and maintenance, that should be a pretty fair trade.


March 12th, 2019 at 12:09 PM ^

Tesla will not last long once the other OEMs start pumping out BEVs over the next few years. They are already struggling to keep afloat with little competition. 


March 13th, 2019 at 11:45 AM ^

IMHO the only way is if they have Elon take a step back and let people with real manufacturing expertise take over. Maybe some consultants from Toyota or Honda. 

I have a buddy who works at Ford who was very skeptical of the 'we turned up the magic dial' approach to making more Model 3's. He had to face down a boss who wanted to do that on his line. It can work.... for a short time. 

In the old days we called those line speed ups and people didn't like them because they caused bad quality and increased the chance for injury. 

They have the tech, but they need the logistics and expertise. They may disdain the 'old' auto industry but there is a 100 years of experience and misadventures to learn from. 

The Mad Hatter

March 12th, 2019 at 12:13 PM ^

My friend works for Tesla out in Fremont; it's really more of a cult membership than a job.

But a couple months ago I had to opportunity to drive a top of the line Model X and it was completely insane.  I've never driven a car even close to that quick.  It was maybe 3 seconds from 0-60 using launch control and what they call ludicrous mode.  The car did feel heavy to drive and it wasn't nearly as luxurious as cars going for 1/2 as much.  Very minimalist interior.

But holy shit that speed.  If I had that money to spend I'd have one in my garage right now.


March 12th, 2019 at 12:27 PM ^

I think the torque of electric motors really brings alot to the table. Tesla has shown how fast they can be. Soon someone will build an off roader that independently powers each wheel, with no need for a transfer case. 

It's not going to be the amazing, intoxicating burble of my uncle's old 440, but they will be damned fast. 

Blue In NC

March 12th, 2019 at 1:34 PM ^

It's a fair point, one needs to decide what is important to you.  For me the "sparse" interior but quality materials were much more important than some of the traditional luxury items.  My Model 3 interior is much nicer than the BMW I came from.  Granted the BMW was substantially less money.  But now that I am driving electric, I doubt that I would ever go back to gas (barring some drastic change in my experience).  It truly feels like an evolutionary step to me.


March 12th, 2019 at 2:04 PM ^

On the occasions when I've driven a BMW, I've found the interiors to be anything but luxury.  I just rented a Mazda 3 and that damn thing was more luxurious on the inside than a BMW.  The seat was a jillion times more comfortable.

Point being that I think BMW is just not a luxury vehicle in general.  Honestly, I think most cars have nicer interiors than the Bimmers.  You buy a BMW, you're buying a badge, IMO.

For me, I don't know anything about the materials on the Tesla, but I detest the sparse design and touchscreen-everything.  I don't like talking to the car and think touchscreens are borderline dangerous in cars, since you can't push a button by feel.  Put the instruments in front of me, please, not down next to the heater controls.

Blue In NC

March 12th, 2019 at 2:33 PM ^

For the BMW, I agree except it's not just a badge - the driving experience was quite good.  It made me feel engaged and was fun to drive.  I have always valued that higher than luxury appointments but everyone has different preferences.  But yes, my seats now are fantastic, some of the best I have ever experienced and worlds better than the BMW.

Re: touchscreen.  Part of it is getting used to it.  It's somewhat liberating not having a dashboard in front of me.  I find the touchscreen to be fairly useful and convenient but in reality I am not dealing with the touchscreen all that often other than for music, directions and HVAC.  For directions/maps, having the screen is invaluable.  I don't often use the phone in my car anymore.  For HVAC, it is very convenient.  For music, it's about a draw.  Keep in mind that many basic things like music controls, cruise control and others are controlled via the "scroll balls" on the steering wheel.  But the experience is definitely different and I am sure some will find it odd or disappointing.

Inflammable Flame

March 12th, 2019 at 12:14 PM ^

I think what will be real interesting is the landscape of transportation as a whole once countries start banning the sale of new gas/diesel vehicles. I think I saw Britain was 2040 and without looking at Google I thought I just heard another country had issued a target date as well. 


They're pushing for zero emissions. I don't think we've seen the technology yet for that to be implemented on a world scale. 


Plus gas prices and the world's economy....it's gonna be crazy for sure 


March 12th, 2019 at 2:07 PM ^

What will drive the demise of fossil fueled vehicles in the US will be the adoption of EV's.  This, of course, assumes that battery development continues to evolve. There are vast sums of money being spent on EV development all over the world, including here in Ann Arbor.  One or more of the new technologies will bear fruit; it's just a question of time and money spent in the lab.  Assuming my vision is correct, EV's will displace ICE cars and gas stations will start to disappear.  The market, not the government, will drive EV deployment. 

Once you solve the battery issue, there are lots of upsides to EV's, particularly the the simplicity of the drivetrain. BMW/Porsche just came out with a new charging scheme that is three times faster than Tesla's.

If it were me buying an EV, I'd wait a few more years.  I want 400 miles per charge without significant degradation in cold weather.  We will get there.



March 13th, 2019 at 11:59 AM ^

I totally get that part. But (from what I've read. Caveat emptor: I'm not an engineer)  some of the new designs are much safer wrt meltdown risks, and produce far fewer radioactive end products. Gen III reactors are safer, and Gen IV reactors look to really have alot of promise. 

Not that we should treat them lightly. No way. But they go a long way towards helping with energy issues. 



March 13th, 2019 at 3:55 PM ^

The fears of meltdown consequences are an issue of failing to imagine the negative effects of other sources. The most recent public health scholarship estimates there are about 10,000-30,000 annual premature deaths associated with emissions from coal-fired power plants. That dwarfs anything associated with nuclear (Chernobyl's premature deaths are estimated at from 4,000 to 27,000, Fukushima at 14,000.) 

And that's to say nothing about the consequences of global warming. 


March 12th, 2019 at 12:14 PM ^

I'm a bit of an electric skeptic at this point, but things can change. And I think they probably will--I suspect that we have still yet to see the critical innovation and/or refinements that will make alternative power really practical in automobiles. 

To use an analogy for technology that is now familiar: If the endgame of alternative power for cars is that they will be as ubiquitous as touchscreen smartphones, I think we're still at the "palm pilot with stylus / RIM has some cool pagers" stage of that tech tree. 


March 12th, 2019 at 1:21 PM ^

Yup. Solid state batteries are already a thing, but as of today they haven't devised a way to mass produce them. As soon as they do, you'll immediately see them in cell phones. Then maybe 2 years later, cars. The energy density is through the roof and they eliminate the major cause of battery health degradation: dendrites. 


March 12th, 2019 at 4:10 PM ^

There's hype around the glass electrolyte batteries but so far that seems like all it is- hype. If they're feasible on a large scale they will eventually come around because mining lithium is a dirty business and is a major rate limiting factor to battery/EV technology, but any kind of commercial production is a long way off. 

I'm skeptical that our energy infrastructure can handle what would happen if even half of our passenger cars went electric; fast charging and long range is great, but that energy still has to come from somewhere. Windmills, wave generators and solar panels aren't going to cut it. The only thing close is nuclear and we've effectively scared people off of that path. 

This is not me poo-pooing the idea of EVs, I think problems like this are a great opportunity for innovation and enterprise, as long as the government keeps their nose out of it. I'm excited to see what we come up with.

Indiana Blue

March 13th, 2019 at 7:57 AM ^

Correct Brian ... the scare results from most nuclear power plants are operating on technology from the 1960's and 70's.  A number of Universities have made huge strides regarding the safety of nuclear power ... but the fear still persists.  However IMO, at the current time nuclear power is the only affordable and available source for the US for the next 50 years.

Go Blue!


March 12th, 2019 at 7:00 PM ^

I've followed solid state battery tech for a while.  It still has a long way to go before it will start replacing current lithium batteries.  Before companies start producing different batteries, you can bet they will make damn sure that the technology is bulletproof due to the costs involved of establishing battery manufacturing on a large scale.


March 12th, 2019 at 12:20 PM ^

Since this is the car thread, here's a video of the decidedly non-electric Renault Espace van that had Renault's 800-hp world championship F1 engine installed. Skip ahead a few minutes for the actual driving.

Desert Wolverine

March 12th, 2019 at 12:28 PM ^

The biggest myth of the electric car is environmental friendliness.  One poster has mentioned the availability of the rare earths necessary for the batteries.  The mining and processing of these materials have some really nasty bi-products (which is why we are skillfully sub-contracting them to the Chinese to destroy their property.  Then there is the electricity sourcing.  If we actually transitioned 50% of the cars on road to e-vehicles, it would crash the grid every evening when all the commuters got home and plugged in.  Further, along with banning ICE vehicles, the Green's are all for shutting down those nasty coal burning power plants with two primary effects.  First, jacking cost of power immensely, and second, reducing availability of power exacerbating the grid problems.  Solar panels and bird cusinarts aren't anywhere near industrial output levels yet, so we are looking at an incredibly reduced economy making it impossible to afford the changes proposed on the societal scale.  So I guess the elites will enjoy the benefits and the hoi polloi can go suck the tail pipe of the their now useless cars



March 12th, 2019 at 12:54 PM ^

You are right that electric car's aren't as environmentally friendly as many people think, but the mining of minerals to make the batteries is really the only one of those problems that doesn't have an obvious solution. As for the other two problems,

  1. It will be pretty easy to distribute charging over longer periods of time using variably priced electric costs
  2. Renewable energies aren't ready to take on the increased demand yet, but they might be in 20 years. I think we really need to push for more nuclear power, though. 


March 12th, 2019 at 12:56 PM ^

Actually, one of the really intriguing things about electric vehicles is that if you upgrade the grid, you can use them as local storage buffers to increase the output of fluctuating renewables, especially wind and solar (since most people aren't commuting during peak solar power windows, aka mid-day).