Although electric vehicle (EV) sales are growing rapidly in the United States, they still account for only 7.9% of new car sales in the third quarter of 2023.
When the Pew Research Center asked Americans in July 2023 about their views on EVs, 50% of respondents said they were “very or not at all likely” to buy one, while 38% said they were “somewhat or very likely”. to do this. Chief among the misgivings of EV skeptics were concerns about range, charging speed and price.
The simple fact is that many Americans won’t consider switching to an EV until electric vehicles are functionally equivalent to gasoline vehicles and priced similarly. Gas vehicles today have an average range of about 400 miles, refuel in less than five minutes, and typically cost between $25,000 and $45,000. EV models currently sold in the US have an average range of 250 miles, recharge 10% to 80% in 18 to 40 minutes, and have an average cost of $57,000. For consumers who simply want an affordable, convenient car that works, an EV can be a tough sell.
The price divide is sharper when you consider that there are only eight electric vehicles available for under $40,000 in the US, all sedans or small SUVs. Automaker Toyota itself makes 11 gas-powered models in that price range — cars, SUVs, trucks and vans among them.
Equality in cost, range and charging
So when will EVs achieve true parity with gas cars? To put some concrete measurements to the question, when will there be an EV that has 400 miles of range, recharges in 10 minutes or less, and costs $30,000?
Recent trends give reason for optimism. In 2011, the average range for an EV was 80 miles. By 2022, it was 250. Between September 2022 and September 2023, the average cost of an EV in the US fell 22.4%. This benefit to consumers was made possible by falling battery pack prices and increasing battery energy density. The energy density of lithium-ion batteries has increased more than eightfold since 2008, while costs have fallen by nearly 90%.
Chao-Yang Wang, a professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State University who specializes in batteries and fuel cells, tempered this rosy view in an email interview with Big Think. He has created an EV battery that charges in 10 minutes and is in the process of commercialization.
Wang explained that a future mid-size EV would likely need a 100-kilowatt-hour battery to achieve that 400-mile range. To recharge such a battery in 10 minutes, it must receive 600 kilowatts of energy for 10 consecutive minutes. Not only would this rate of power transfer severely degrade current batteries, it is also about twice what commercially available EV fast chargers can provide. Additionally, having many of these chargers side by side would pose a significant energy demand, posing cost challenges for the facilities that host such charging stations and stability challenges for the power grid if these stations proliferate.
Cost would also be an issue for an EV with a 400-mile range, Wang said. Even if battery pack costs fall to $80 per kilowatt hour, well below the Energy Department’s $100 target, an EV’s battery will likely cost twice as much as a gas car’s power train, making a $30,000 purchase price challenging for automakers. .
To reach a $30,000 price point with a 10-minute charging time, Wang said consumers will have to sacrifice on range, at least in the near term. With some of the new, lighter 60-kilowatt-hour batteries on the horizon, an EV could achieve 250 miles of range and quickly charge to full with the 350-kilowatt fast chargers available today.
“In short, we’re going to see a future of EVs with 60 kWh batteries, 10-minute rechargeables anywhere, anytime to eliminate distance anxiety and charging anxiety, and costing $30,000 per car, so no more cost anxiety,” he speculated.
Whether consumers will be happy with this compromise remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether EV manufacturers will deliver. Three years ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a $25,000 EV within the next three years. Tesla’s cheapest car today, the Model 3 sedan, costs just over $37,000.