What price performance? A new EV range metric that all drivers can understand
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May 19, 2020
Peter Vella

Where ICE owners talk engines, EV owners talk batteries. In the search for common ground, our correspondent proposes a new ratio — driving-distance-to-retail-price — to size up EVs

Where ICE owners talk engines, EV owners talk batteries. In the search for common ground, our correspondent proposes a new ratio — driving-distance-to-retail-price — to size up EVs

Before the COVID lockdown, on one of the days I attended the Canadian International Autoshow in Toronto, my companion was a petrol head I have known since the mid-1960s. He had a few vehicles to check out and then asked me to tell him all about EVs.

Like so many car buffs, he uses numbers to evaluate certain parts of an automobile’s characteristics. So, I threw out some numbers. I was getting a sad smile in return and I realized a number out of context creates more confusion than enlightenment.

Relating one number to another can help. There are many “ratio comparisons” made in the automotive world — kilometres-per-litre, power-to-weight, and even smiles-per-mile. But my companion was feeling a bit left out in terms of the “something-per-something-else” game when it came to EVs.

Range versus cost

After some brainstorming, here is what we came up with.

Range anxiety seems to be the biggest issue for EV owners whether they really drive across countries or not. ICE car owners talk about their engines, while EV owners talk about their batteries. When people find out I own an electric car, they inevitably ask, “How far can you go on a charge?”

When I give them an impressive figure, they retort, “Yeah, but how much did you have to pay to get that much range?”

So, there you have it: the kilometres-of-range-per-retail-cost ratio.

Where to start? Would you buy a vehicle for $100 that would take you one kilometre? It seems like an odd question, but let’s extrapolate a bit. Let’s say I wanted 200 kilometres of range. On that 1-kilometre-per-$100 ratio scale, that would come out to a vehicle costing $20,000. I’d buy that in a flash.

Higher price point

Unfortunately, the blending of the two factors does not start to even out until higher up the price scale. In Canada, some of your more “affordable” EVs now give as much as 415 kilometres range for a starting price of $45,000.

To reach the 1-kilometre-per-$100 goal with this system, then, a manufacturer would need to achieve an 8 per cent total improvement. Below are some examples of how they could proceed.

EV range by km

Increase efficiency: With an 8 per cent improvement on range alone, the efficiency-per-cost target would be met.

Improving range could come from measures such as improved aerodynamics or reduced friction. These items have been on the workbench for ICE engineers for decades and may be close to their maximum potential. However, EVs do have a weight disadvantage to ICE cars mostly due to the mass of their batteries. Increasing the efficiency and lowering the weight of a battery is a double whammy improvement. Thankfully there are brilliant people all over the world working on battery technology.

If they need to replace lithium-ion technology with something else to get that efficiency, the challenge would then become doing that without also increasing the cost. One battery expert did tell me that potential energy storage breakthroughs (like solid state technologies) are going to cost more than lithium-ion. This makes sense as any new technology comes at a premium price. 

Alternatively, lithium-ion batteries are approaching cost-efficiency levels that will make the initial price of an EV similar to that of an ICE vehicle. 

Lower prices: We could also hop to the other side of the ratio by keeping the same range while lowering the price of the car by 8 per cent.

I think it is fair to say that the cost of EVs themselves will drop as manufacturing output finds that efficiency of scale number.

In the ICE world, the magic profit number for a single factory is a production rate of around 1,500 cars per day. (Now that’s a handy ratio comparison.) Whether it be dedicated EV makers or ICE makers scrambling to secure their future, manufacturers “should” be able to pass their savings on to consumers. 

The monetary side of the equation can also be altered by factors such as subsidies and the relative value of the Canadian dollar. Our American EV counterparts are already soaking in the 1-kilometre-per-$100 hot tub.

Gauging our progress

Regardless of how we might get there, we now have the kilometre-per-$100 ratio by which to gauge our advancement. Could we get to 1.5-kilometres-per-$100; even 1.75-kilometres-per-$100? Oh my, I am getting giddy!

For now, at my next social gathering I am going to tell people I have an EV rated at .9-kilometres-per-$100, but that could vary according to outside temperature, my planned route, and the colour I chose to have the car painted. That should spark some discussion.

Peter Vella photo

Peter Vella calls himself a car nut with a conscience, and has found his enthusiasm for things mobile revitalized by the electric vehicle movement.

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