BEVs not quite ready for prime time

  • 14-Apr-2010 02:09 EDT
"The electrified vehicle is dominant in the plans of every auto manufacturer and regulator," Don Hillebrand said in his keynote address Wednesday at the SAE 2010 World Congress.

Battery electric vehicles' shortfall in range will hinder widespread commercialization for years to come. That was the bottom-line message Wednesday during a keynote address at the SAE 2010 World Congress.

Don Hillebrand, Director of the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, said plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) are ready for prime time, but battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) are not.

The idea for the PHEV grew directly out of the EV's failure to overcome the latter's range shortcoming, Hillebrand said in an exclusive AEI interview after his speech. PHEVs are not range-handicapped.

"EVs failed in the mid-1990s for a number of reasons, but the primary reason was range anxiety," he said. "That fundamentally has not changed, and none of the technologies we have right now solves that problem."

The fact that BEVs have not fully evolved is problematic in terms of appealing to the masses. "Plug-ins have jumped the barrier from research to commercialization, and I think BEVs may have just 'jumped the shark,'" Hillebrand said using an idiom that can describe something not in its prime.

Fast charging and battery swapping are among the range-extending possibilities for BEVs, but Hillebrand said issues remained to be solved in those areas. "The cost model for fast charging isn't there yet, and the infrastructure hasn't been built out. But I think it will work when you get to that point."

A successful battery-swap model hasn't gained footing, Hillebrand continued. "It has a lot of push. But I did an analysis on the economics, and I don't see [the battery-swap model] being there yet."

Hillebrand isn't immune to the allure of BEVs, though. After dynamometer testing of a Tesla EV at the Argonne lab, he drove the car and very much liked the experience.

"EVs may have a place in the market based on excitement and performance, but not for the purpose of everyday utility," said Hillebrand, who expects it may take another 10-20 years "to really make commercialization of BEVs go widespread, and that's going to depend on battery technology and the growth of our electrical infrastructure."

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