The future for electric cars

I’ve been very skeptical about the future for electric cars. Either the cost of the electric option in a hybrid has been too expensive, the car itself has been too expensive (such as a Tesla), or the car suffers from range limitations. However, this demonstration from Tesla changed, if not completely blew, my mind:

Fast Pack Swap Event from Tesla Motors on Vimeo.

Suddenly, I see huge potential for the electric car market. If enough stations can be put in place and the process made as simple as shown in the video, then we are at the early stages of a market conversion to electric vehicles. In order to realize this potential, I believe the following needs to happen:

  1. Standardization of battery pack technology
    Without a standard for battery packs across car manufacturers, this idea is a non-starter. I know Tesla wants to build their own stations, but it will be way too inefficient for every car manufacturer to build their own stations. We need a common battery pack technology so any car can pull into any station and have its battery changed.
    Think about this way, what if every car ran on a different type of gasoline, and each manufacturer had to build its own station. It would be a nightmare. As it is, when I buy a car, I don’t worry about where I can buy gas.

    To make this work, as my friend Danny pointed out, you could make 3 standard sizes for different types of vehicles. A small pack for cars, a medium pack for trucks and SUVs, and a large pack for tractor trailers and haulers.

  2. The battery should not be owned by the user
    Why do I have to buy the battery? A battery comes with the car, and then I rent it for the lifetime of the car. It’s just like buying gas. When I pull into an battery pack changing station, I pay for the refill of electricity with a small carrying charge for the vessel and handling. There’s really no reason to ever own the battery. In other words, the station owners would own the battery.
  3. A large network of battery exchanging stations
    There needs to be a large and extensive network of battery replacement stations, just like one that exists for gas stations. In other words, there needs to be stations at Interstate exits and on nearly every street corner in town so I don’t need to worry about running out of juice on the road.
  4. Industry standardization and/or government involvement
    OK, so I’m fundamentally against the government getting involved in anything, but if we are going to take energy independence seriously, this is an area where I can see the government providing leadership. The government could provide the specifications for the standard battery packs, provide the means for recycling, and offer incentives to convert existing gas stations.As an alternative, or in addition to government involvement, the industry could step up and form its own standardization committees to develop a suitable standard. As an analogy to computers, if the computer industry had not settled on Ethernet as the standard communication protocol for computers and connected devices, the internet as we know it today would not exist. Why would I buy a computer that could not connect to the internet?

    The electric car industry needs to move away from short-term thinking and develop a longer range view, which will require cooperation and setting standards that everyone will live by. Granted, these standards may not result in the best battery technologies, but we’re not in need of the best. We’re in need of a standard that will accelerate a shift from gas to electric. So long as there is fragmentation in battery technology, that shift will forever be delayed, no matter how good the technology becomes.

I believe Tesla’s demonstration shows how close the all electric car is to becoming mainstream. It just needs a few more leaders in the industry who can develop a longer term view of the market.

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