Quick-Charging + Better Batteries = Mainstream Electric Cars

With just one advancement in a particular technology, the entire automotive landscape could change dramatically. 100 years ago, the invention of the self-starter ushered in just such a change – looking back, we now see it as the beginning of the era of internal combustion (and, consequently, the side-lining of electric cars). Today, a low-cost quick charger, capable of adding as much as 100 miles of range in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee, could mean the birth of mainstream all-electric cars.

Nissan's new quick-charger unit

Nissan Motor Co. said yesterday that it will offer a new electric car quick-charger—resembling a gas-station pump—for around $13,000. That’s less than half of the cost of the current charger. So-called quick-chargers provide a jolt of 480 volts, filling an EV’s battery pack to around 80 percent of its capacity in approximately 20 minutes.

Today’s all-electric cars commonly provide a total driving range of 80 to 100 miles, but battery engineers are working on next-generation technology that could mean 150 or 200 miles of range for a similar cost. If combined with more affordable quick-chargers, the extended driving range of electric vehicles could greatly expand the desirability of gas-free EVs to mainstream car buyers.

“The newly developed quick charging unit retains the high performance of the current quick charger manufactured by Nissan, but is nearly half the size by volume,” the company said in a statement. “The new charger unit’s smaller size will take up less space and enable easier installation.”

Nissan is not the only company endeavoring to make quick charging a practical and affordable option. “I’m being told by equipment vendors that I should be able to get a DC fast charger for between $18,000 and $25,000,” said Michael Farkas, chief executive of Car Charging Group, in an interview with PluginCars.com. “The sweet spot for DC fast charging is around $12,000 to $15,000.”

Car Charging Group is one of a breed of new companies that owns and operates electric car charging services for large retail outlets, such as Walgreens and the Mall of America. Farkas said that the cost of the first 110-volt chargers was around $6,000, but in the past few years, the cost has dropped in half for a charger that has roughly four times the capability. “We’re riding down the cost curves,” Farkas told PluginCars.com.

Meanwhile, car companies are working to reduce the cost and extend the range of battery packs. We continue to track rumors that Nissan’s next electric car models will approximately double the range of its current model, the Nissan LEAF, which offers between 80 and 100 miles—depending on a number of driving factors. Other carmakers, including Tesla, Coda and BYD, are trying to push the envelope of driving range well beyond 100 miles—to 300 miles or more.

The real impact of more affordable quick-chargers on market adoption of electric cars remains to be seen. Yet, an even simpler invention—the automobile self-starter—had a seismic impact on cars in 1913, according to historians. In the decade prior to the advent of the self-starter, the car market was divided between electric cars, steamers and internal combustion gas cars. Electric cars had the edge, because they lacked the noise and stink of gas-powered vehicles. But self-starters made it dramatically easier for drivers to start gas engines. As a result, in 1913, sales of electric cars dropped to 6,000 vehicles, while Ford sold more than 200,000 Model T gasoline cars.

Adapted from a post at PluginCars.com