Chu Sets Electric Vehicle Target Price at $23,000 in 10 Years

By · June 26, 2012

Energy Secretary Chu

Chu says the ultimate goal should be to sell unsubsidized electric vehicles within 10 years that are cost competitive with conventional automobiles.

President Obama’s goal of putting 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015 is not likely to happen. That seems evident based on 2012 EV sales so far, and the roadmap for new electric car introductions in the coming three years. Falling short of the goal—which after all was aspirational and not based on any hard number forecast—is perhaps why U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is on the road promoting plug-in cars.

Chu was in Dearborn, Michigan last Thursday attending one of a series of D.O.E. workshops designed to recruit scientists, engineers and businesses so that US firms can sell plug-in vehicles that are cost competitive with conventional automobiles—without subsidies. Chu said that today's plug-in vehicles are too expensive for the average American family. “Realistically, we think a plug-in hybrid at 340-350 miles [of range], or a car at double the Nissan LEAF range can satisfy a lot of needs,” he said. “And there, we think, the price point of $25,000 is a very real price that we can maybe achieve in a decade.”

Chu said the Nissan LEAF is roughly $10,000 too expensive to be considered affordable. The fact that Chu specifically called out plug-in hybrids suggests that he believes that plug-in cars with relatively smaller batteries, and a back-up gas engine on board to extend range, might be a more feasible way to bring down costs.

Reducing the cost of batteries is the key to reducing the price of EVs. Chu said the U.S. will have the capacity to make 500,000 batteries a year by 2015—and that prototypes using breakthrough battery technology will be ready for testing by 2020. The Department of Energy is also working on supporting advances in power electronics, motors, lightweight materials and fast-charging infrastructure technology.

These long-term goals will require long-term support from the government. Last week, Chu said that plug-in incentives would most likely be phased out prior to his 2022 target date for making EVs affordable.

The future political climate for supporting EVs is not certain. In a March 19 speech at the University of Chicago, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney called both Tesla and Fisker examples of “crony capitalism.” In response, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, speaking at the delivery of the first Model S production models, said, “Romney is not really against electric vehicles. He might not be as for them as President Obama is, but I don’t think he’s necessarily against them either.” Musk added that, “Romney would have a minor impact, but I think President Obama would have a more positive impact.


· · 5 years ago

It's time to nail Romney down, specifically, on what he'd do in terms of plug-ins, government incentives, etc., don't you think? Time for someone to ask him directly, "Gov. Romney, what SPECIFIC federal tax incentives for plug-ins will you support, push and promote if elected president?"

Only, here's money on no one actually asking him, at least no one with a high enough media/political profile, to force him, and his campaign to answer.

· · 5 years ago

I think it's pretty obvious, Christof, that the G.O.P is going to pander to their neanderlithic "drill, baby, drill" base again. No surprises there.

In regards to a $23,000 EV (no tax incentive factored into the price) in 10 years that can get double the range of today's contenders? Sure, if the manufacturers put their minds to it and if the government supports them to that end.

· Spec (not verified) · 5 years ago

The Mitsubishi-i is $29K right now, so it is possible if we can get some battery advances and reach mass market manufacturing scale for EV components.

· Roberto DePaschoal (not verified) · 5 years ago

We could have $10k five passenger crossovers with interchangeable advanced lead-acid batteries included and drive non-stop from coast to coast should project becomes a reality.

· · 5 years ago

I also have my eye on the Mitsubishi i, Spec. While I'm not so fond of the current styling, there are a few technical innovations worth noting. It's coming with lithium titanate batteries (Toshiba units, also found in the Honda Fit EV) right off the bat . . .

This AC motor, with a parallel-mounted built-in inverter that promises to lighten weight and save space, is due to be installed in Mitsubishi EVs in the next few years . . .

I just took a quick look at your ev-motion link, Roberto, and it's an intriguing idea. I do question a reliance on "advanced" lead acid batteries, though, as lithium is going to give far lighter weight and greater range. I'd also be a bit concerned about real world vehicle handling with such a high profile on those microscopic tires.

Perhaps I'm more inclined to follow a more conventional form in the chassis/body department. My current favorite in the "it can be done on the cheap" EV department was featured in a story posted here last month . . .

· · 5 years ago

It is really important to select good ev charging plugs and I am technical engineer of EV plugs and maybe I can help you if you have such problems

· · 5 years ago

Welcome aboard, power cord. We talk about the various competing plug interface standards here all the time. While we're on that subject and throwing out ideas in regards to an ideal "it can be done on the cheap" real world future EV, how about reductive charging or a variation thereof ? . . .

So many interesting ideas. Now we just need to put them all into a single reasonably priced car.

· · 5 years ago

What is needed is a base car that has daily trip range and extended range capability. That comes out to a standard size car with 75 miles EV battery and 15 KW range extender. Something cheap with no fancy electronics stuff but just what’s needed to operate the car. Everything else must be optional not standard. It must be cheap with no leather, no tropical wood, no iPodism, no expensive making extras. Just a car for everybody that can drive on electricity 90 % of the time and rely on a small Wankel generator for the extra 10 %.

· · 5 years ago

Note that the Leaf range of 100 miles is already 25 miles overshoot that translates in an economy on the battery. It just need a proper boot and a Wankel generator. Forget about fast charge, iPod, automatic GPS and the likes.

· · 5 years ago

Yes to all of the above, Priusmaniac. I don't need to witness livestock being slaughtered just to line the seats and steering wheel when a nicely crafted textile will do the job. Likewise, there are plenty of beautiful woods that are grow sustainably that I don't need to have the Rain Forest depleted of yet another old growth tree to line my dashboard. I'm all for having less plastic in my car interiors but I know it's never going to completely disappear. But there are some marvelous man-made materials that can be crafted from plant-based technology that doesn't require petroleum.

There will certainly be a temptation for the auto makers to "electronify" their EVs to keep the purchase price high and the servicing complex. If we want to hit that price point, though, OEMs will have to get out of the habit of attempting to make every entry level econobox into a rolling luxury liner.

Here's another to add to the hit list of the unessential: rear view television cameras taking place of a well designed set of rear view mirrors. All it takes is a direct hit of sunlight on the rear view camera lens to blank out the video display and render it temporarily useless. I witnessed this happening in a Leaf while riding in one not too long ago. Give me a couple of well placed mirrors (and no tiny mirror aiming motors, thank you) and a decent set of sunglasses any day of the week. High tech problem solved.

Electric window cranks. Some will argue that the price is about the same as hank crank ones. But personal experience dictates otherwise . . . at least when it comes time to repair them. When the mechanical gearing failed inside one of the doors of my Saturn, $75 got it fixed. The same sort of failure with the electrical mechanism on my wife's Mazda van cost $400 to repair. Put the electric cranks on the upscale models, since some people love playing with these gadgets. But on the base ticket cars? Please leave them off, OEMs.

Getting back to the stuff that matters, I welcome the news from folks like A123 that their new batteries will work - and last a long time - at temperature extremes that would challenge today's cells. Saying goodbye to complex battery heating/cooling systems - especially ones requiring liquids - can only simplify and bring the cost down.

While those batteries are now able to work in packs without the liquid heater/coolers, they're also getting more energy density. I'd keep the quick charge port but, if the real world range on batteries alone now translates to EVs that can exceed 120 miles per charge, the Level 3 port would probably get used far less. Then, in the case of most who would be using a cost conscious EV for their city and medium range regional travel, you wouldn't need the expense, complexity and long term maintenance headaches of an ICE range extender, Wankel or otherwise.

Pure EVs are always going to be cheaper to buy and maintain than ones with range extenders. With a potentially cleaner grid, those pure EVs will also be potentially cleaner to operate.

· Luap Leiht (not verified) · 5 years ago

What kind of EV cars are available for my situation?

Distance from work: 46 miles - 92 round trip
Ability to plug in at work: No
Location: Texas, so A/C at full blast is not optional
Height: 6'3" so it needs to be roomy
Family man, so I need room for wife + kids and be able to haul gear
Willing to pay a premium price: No, unless the payback period is less than 3 years.

· · 5 years ago

@Luap Leiht,
Nothing probably fits your needs completely today unless there is a fast charger near your work. Check and to see. You'd probably have to top off every day for about 10 minutes unless you want to drive at ~55 mph.
The only EV that will work without work charging is the Tesla Model S, depending on what you consider to be a premium price. Payback is immediate if you compare with a BMW 755li :-)
Otherwise, you'd need charging at work for a Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV, or BMW Active-E to work or you'll be burning some gasoline with the Volt or Plug-In Prius.
Probably your cheapest option would be to offer to pay for a charger at work and get a Leaf. Otherwise, you can't get free from oil with a commute that long.

· Luap Leiht (not verified) · 5 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver,

Ouch. The Tesla S is a pretty cool looking car, but is too small for my needs (family guy). Right now, I drive a Toyota Camry (23 mpg combined) and a Honda VTX1300 motorcycle when the weather allows (I get about 45 mpg on it). I only wish I had enough money to purchase a BMW :)

I've got more of a practical than idealistic view on it, though, so I'm guessing an EV car doesn't fit my needs very well now, or in the near future.

The bad part is that I am pretty representative of most Americans. My commute might be a bit longer, but with the economy the way it is, we've got to take what we can get. I certainly know many people with longer commutes.

Until EV cars can address people like me, I fear they will be a niche market. Who knows, though. 20 years ago cell phones were the size and weight of a brick and were the playthings of the rich. Now everyone's got them. Unfortunately, cell phones had Moore's Law as a tailwind while EVs have Newton's laws as a headwind.

Thanks for the response.

· · 5 years ago

@Luap Leiht,

Just FYI, the Model S is not a small car. I'm quite certain it has more interior room than a Toyota Camry, and did you know that it has seating for seven? That's right, seven. It has two rear facing seats aft of the back seats (although I have no idea how ingress / egress works or what size the individuals would be that will fit back there.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Luap Leiht,
Check out the Coda. It isn't available in Texas yet, but should be soon. It has a claimed 120 mile range. I test drove one today, and thought it was actually quite nice. The rep claimed that if you run the AC and drive like it hard, you should still get 105 mile range. It has great pickup, and the battery is underneath the car, so it should have great handling. I am 6'2' and fit fine in the car.

· · 5 years ago

@Luap Leiht,
brg2290i right that the Model S is at least as roomy on the inside as a Camry. By designing around the electric drivetrain, they have a lot of interior room.
I rode in the middle back seat and my head didn't hit the roof while the driver was putting it through its paces last Saturday and I'm 6'4" tall.
The price, especially for the range you need isn't cheap though.
As Anonymous suggested, the Coda might work for you as well although I'd be careful. You might want to plug in to a 120v outlet if you plan to run your A/C on your way home from work. The Coda is about Corolla size so it might be a bit tight but I haven't been in one yet.

· Spec (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Luap Leiht

The Tesla Model S is much larger than your Camry. But I don't think it fits your needs . . . it is more of a luxury vehicle and it sounds like you need something utilitarian. The Volt might be able to fit your needs if you have a family of 4 but it may be a little small for you. Hopefully GM will build some bigger Voltec cars like a mini-van or pick-up.

It is still very early in the new EV era.

· Luap Leiht (not verified) · 5 years ago

Ah, I must have gotten the Model S confused with the Roadster.

You're right, though that it is a bit fancy for me and that I'm looking for something more utilitarian. It's too bad that they seem to make EVs in two sizes: boat and sardine can.

· · 5 years ago

@ Paul(?) - Before we got the Mitsubishi i, we were kind of waiting (and we might still get it if the price isn't too high) get a new Ford C-Max Energi. It is planned to be a plug-in hybrid, like the Volt, with roughly the same all electric range, but with an efficient gas engine when the battery is depleted. It has the advantage of being roomier and therefore nicer for a family with kids and hauling stuff. My wife routinely carries larger stuff around and we have to keep our old gas car for that, but, if the Energi can do it and also have a good all electric range, it will be the way to go.

But, you're right: you and most typcial Americans can't change their family/commute situations to be able to use an all electric vehicle. It's just too cost prohibitive and the infrastructure isn't in place yet. But, a plug-in hybrid could be a great transition vehicle for a lot of people. I think GM will do well with the Volt and Ford will do will with the C-Max, especially if gas prices spike.

· · 5 years ago

It should still get 105 mile range. It has great pickup, and the battery is underneath the car, so it should have great handling. I am 6'2' and fit fine in the car.Japan power cord if you are loving in China with EV plugs

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.