Volkswagen’s BIG Plans For Electric Vehicles Could Make It The World’s Largest Automaker

5 03 2010

Think of it as a race to the starting line. Volkswagen, Europe’s largest European automaker, has big plans to dominate the nascent world of electric cars.

As Treehugger reported, Volkswagen plans to sell 300,000 electric vehicles a year by 2018, which would translate to 3% of all sales. VW’s hybrid ambitions could lead it to overtake Toyota as the world’s largest automaker within eight years.

Key details of Volkswagen’s strategy include introducing the company’s first hybrid electric vehicle the Toureg 2010, and in 2013 three EVs, likely to be versions of the Jetta, Golf, and the Up. Here’s Treehugger:

“A notable aspect of VW’s approach is that it’s banking on offering the EV as an option on already available and recognizable models as it has done with TDI diesel options. Instead of developing all new models to channel new tech into, as with, say, the Prius or Volt, VW seems intent on phasing new tech into an already familiar cars…”

But some bigger questions remain, namely in VW’s ambitious growth projections. Even though sales of hybrids have been rising and governments are beginning to offer incentives in their production and purchase, the New York Times reports that billions are needed by automakers to invest in what is still an uncertain future and technology. Ironic but maybe true, the NYT suggests:

“The best thing that could happen to electric-car development might be a recovery in the market for conventional gasoline and diesel autos. That would give the big car makers more money to invest in research.”

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You May Soon Be Able to Charge Your Electric Car for Free, While You Shop

5 03 2010

best buy parking lot

Best Buy parking lots are ideal for EV charging. (Flickr/NCReedplayer)

E-charging stations spread

5 03 2010

Bloom Box to Fuel your house and maybe your electric car…

26 02 2010

SAN JOSE, California (AFP) – Stealth start-up Bloom Energy on Wednesday publicly unveiled an innovative fuel cell that promises to deliver affordable, clean energy to even remote corners of the world.

Compact Bloom Servers built with energy cells made from silicon — a plentiful element found in sand — made their formal debut in an eBay building here partially powered by the energy source.

“Bloom fuel cell technology has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry,” California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said while introducing Bloom founder K.R. Sridhar.

“He is someone shaping the future of energy not just for California but for the world,” Schwarzenegger said.

A high-powered audience gathered for the event included Google co-founder Larry Page, eBay chief executive John Donahoe and former US secretaries of state George Shultz and Colin Powell.

“The core of our technology simply is sand,” Sridhar said pulling a black cloth off a clear glass container of sand and then holding up a greeting-card sized cell made from the material.

“It is available in plenty… and it has the scientific property that enabled us to make a fuel cell,” he said.

Fuel cell technology dates back to the mid 1800s, but Bloom eliminated the need for expensive metals such as platinum.

Bloom servers work with a variety of fuels, meaning users can freely switch to whatever is locally available or most affordable, according to Sridhar.

“Basically, if it has a hydrogen or a carbon in it, or both, the cell is capable of using it as fuel,” Bloom marketing vice president Stu Aaron told AFP.

“We have run it in the lab on vodka, although we don’t recommend that. There are better uses for vodka.”

The fuel cells use electrochemical reactions instead of combustion. Liquid or gas fuels go into the cell and electricity comes out, according to Aaron.

Fuel and air pass over opposite sides of cells, which trigger oxygen ions to combine with the fuel to produce electricity, heat, water and an oxide based on the chemicals in the mix.

In the case of natural gas, propane or bio-gases with hydrogen, the oxide by-product is water. The cells reuse heat and water to sustain the process.

If the cells were operating on oil, gasified coal or other fossil fuels a byproduct would be carbon dioxide, but in amounts two-thirds less than given off by burning, according to Bloom.

“In Africa it could be ethanol from switch grass; in California it could be cow manure,” Aaron said. “The beauty of the technology is that it can be deployed anywhere and use the local resources that are most economical and clean.”

The servers, nicknamed “Bloom boxes,” have been secretly tested by a group of major corporations including eBay, Wal-Mart, and Coca Cola.

Google was Bloom’s first customer, buying four servers that it installed at its campus in Mountain View, California.

“I’m a big supporter of this,” Page said during an on-stage chat with renowned Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, a major backer of Bloom.

“I’d love to see us have a whole data center running on this at some point when they are ready,” Page said.

Bloom servers capable of pumping out 100 kilowatts of electricity each cost 700,000 to 800,000 dollars but the price is expected to plummet as production ramps up and efficiencies of scale are achieved.

Sridhar predicted it will take about a decade for the technology to get to the point where it can be used in homes.

He hefted a brick-sized fuel cell in one hand, saying it could power a standard light bulb but will soon be able to satisfy the electricity needs of a typical US home.

Electricity generated by Bloom servers — refrigerator-sized metal boxes housing stacks of fuel cells — costs about nine cents per kilowatt/hour as opposed to the 14 or 15 cents typically charged here by utilities.

The cost of the servers is recovered in three to five years by energy savings, according to Sridhar. The servers are guaranteed for 10 years. Sridhar would not disclose the lifespans of the fuel cells.

Colin Powell, a Bloom board member and retired general, said the servers could be a boon to the military, which has grown increasingly energy-dependent as technology infuses the tools of war.

“This is a breakthrough,” Powell said. “Sooner or later it is going to be in homes all across America. Think what it will ultimately do for humankind.”

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Up and Coming Electric Cars

25 02 2010

BMW Megacity

BMW City EVBMW is working on a small electric car that could launch in 2012. The Megacity is a low-slung three-door four-seat hatchback coupe. The car is smaller than the Honda Fit, and will have a projected range of 100 miles. The BMW Megacity, which could be sold either as a BMW or Mini, is not much more than a concept at this stage, but pressure on BMW to meet California’s zero emissions vehicle requirements might bring the car to life—albeit in small numbers.


Subaru 1REIf China’s BYD can deliver on its big promises for the E6 all-electric crossover, then it could take the US by storm. (Investment guru Warren Buffet is betting that BYD will come through.) Unlike the small city-oriented electric runabouts on slate from established carmakers, the E6 is a five-passenger wagon capable of carting a typical American family. Moreover, the E6 has a range of 200 to 250 miles and boasts a 0 to 60 mph time of less than 10 seconds. Top speed is 100 mph. The vehicle can be fully charged in about 10 hours by plugging into a standard household outlet. BYD says that it takes only 10 minutes to charge to 50 percent capacity and 15 minutes to the 80 percent level. BYD has been in the battery business only since 1995, and started building cars in 2003. Considering that the company maintains an R&D department with 8,000 engineers, it’s not surprising that the initials BYD stand for “Build Your Dreams.”
BYD showed the E6 at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show along with its F3DM and F6DM plug-in hybrid sedans. It announced plans to sell the F6DM in the US within a few years, although it didn’t set a firm schedule for any of its electric-drive vehicle—probably wise, since the cars have not yet been certified for sale, and face questions on quality, crashworthiness, and equipment.

Coda (Electric Sedan)

Coda Electric SedanSouthern California automaker Coda Automotive announced plans to bring a new electric car to the US from China in 2010. The all-electric sedan is based on an existing gas-powered four-door car, known as the Hafei Saibao 3, built in Harbin, China. Re-engineered with a lithium ion battery, the Coda sedan promises a driving range of 100 miles. The MSRP for the Coda sedan will be around $40,000. The scrappy California company may be the first start-up to offer a practical and affordable electric car to mainstream buyers.

Ford Focus EV

Ford Focus EVThe Ford Focus EV, due out in late 2011, is the first electric car designed for the generic aisle of the dealership. Ford’s plans for the Focus EV are not aimed at buzz and sizzle. Instead, the company is focused on addressing the biggest obstacle between EVs and the mainstream: cost. By choosing an existing platform—the Focus—and using technology developed by auto supplier Magna, Ford will save the expense associated with developing a unique design. The Ford Focus EV is targeted to have a range of 100 miles between charges, courtesy of a 23 kWh battery pack.

Ford Transit Connect Electric

Ford Transit Connect ElectricWith the introduction of the Ford Transit Connect Electric, unveiled at this week’s Chicago Auto Show, Ford may have produced the first green halo truck. When you combine car-like driving dynamics, cargo capacity and accessibility with the the built-in marketing opportunities for small businesses to emblazon the large exterior panels with green slogans such as “Zero-Emissions” and “100 percent electric,” it makes for a compelling package. The vehicle has a 75 mile per hour top speed and can drive up to 80 miles on a charge—perfectly fine for the needs of a local delivery cycle.

Mercedes BlueZero

Mercedes BlueZeroIn late 2008, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its BlueZero concept vehicles—the core idea is to build electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel-cell cars on a single platform. Daimler had previously announced that its next generation FCV fuel cell cars will be built on a subcompact (B-class) chassis in 2010. Migrating to the BlueZero would only be a minor adjustment. Daimler’s future electric cars could also shift to the BlueZero—because the guts of its electric cars already fit in the smaller Smart and A-Class. Sharing platforms and technology architectures could allow Daimler to telescope development and production timelines, and save money on rolling out new electric models. At this stage, it’s still a concept.

Mini E

Mini EThe limited edition Mini E car is based on the Mini Cooper platform. The car’s 380-volt battery is comprised of 5,088 individual cells, and can be recharged using a standard 110-volt electrical outlet. The battery pack has a maximum capacity of 35 kilowatt hours. BMW will offer a specialized high-amp wall-mounted device that will allow a full replenishment of the battery in less than three hours. The Mini E will have a cruising range of 150 miles. Approximately 500 cars are slated for production and lease to select customers in Southern California and the New York area. Pricing, as well as production beyond the first 500 units, is not yet determined.

Mitsubishi iMiEV

Mitsubishi iMiEVMitsubishi is now taking advanced orders for electric cars in Japan, with production planned for Summer 2009. The production vehicle will be a derivative of the iMiEV (Mitsubishi in-wheel Electric Vehicle) Sport Concept. The production will likely use a single 47 kW motor and 16 kWh lithium ion batteries—to yield about 75 miles of range and a top speed of 80 miles per hour. The vehicle will be a four-seater with a real usable back seat.

Nissan Leaf

Nissan LeafNissan is calling its new electric car—the Nissan Leaf—the “world’s first affordable, zero-emission car.” And they could be right. Unveiled on Aug. 2, 2009, the Leaf is a medium-size all-electric hatchback that seats five adults and has a range of 100 miles. Pricing was not announced (although the company previously hinted at a price around $30,000.) The Nissan Leaf’s closest comparable future all-electric car is the Ford Focus EV. The distinguishing characteristic between the two vehicles could be design—pitting the established look of the Ford Focus against the purpose-built Nissan Leaf, which will go on sale in late 2010.

Pininfarina Blue Car

Pininfarina Blue CarLegendary Italian sports car designer Pininfarina will begin production of its small all-electric four-seat five-door Blue Car in 2010. The Blue Car is powered by a 50 kW electric motor getting energy from a lithium polymer battery pack with 150 miles of range. The company began accepting reservations from European customers in spring 2009. The lease will be about $500 per month. The body of the car is designed as an elastic shell resting forcefully on the four wheels, providing more room than the average city car. Techno-goodies include solar panels on the roof, and the ability to use a smart phone to monitor battery state-of-charge, and to start AC or heat from a distance. Pininfarina will start slow, only in Europe, and aim to ramp up production up to 60,000 units per year by 2015.

Renault Fluence

Renault FluencePatrick Pelata, executive vice president, said that the all-electric Renault Fluence will launch in 2011, starting with at least 20,000 units in the first year. (The gas-powered Fluence debuts in 2009.) The company will produce a smaller compact electric car in the following year. No more details at this time, although its sister company Nissan will introduce its yet-to-be-named electric-only model also in 2012. That’s probably not a coincidence.

Smart ED

Smart EVDespite considerable media buzz for Daimler’s Smart ForTwo, microcars have not taken American roads by storm. Perhaps consumers may be more forgiving of the lack of size and power if the Smart is offered with an electric drive. The first models will likely go to Europe in about 2010. Availability in the US is uncertain. The car will provide 70 miles of range and 70 miles per hour on the freeway. Recharge time from 30 to 80 percent capacity is about three and a half hours. The gas version of the Smart ForTwo has earned low marks for handling, especially at higher speeds.

Subaru R1E

Subaru 1REThe Achilles Heel of electric cars has been the limited range they can travel between charges. The Subaru R1e could help change that. The diminutive two-seater, about 20 inches longer than a Smart ForTwo, has a top speed of 65 miles per hour and a range of 50 miles. More importantly, the time to recharge the 346-volt lithium ion battery pack has been reduced to about 15 minutes. Here’s the hitch: To get the faster charging time, you need a special stationary charger. Using the onboard standard charger puts the electricity refueling time back to about eight hours.

Toyota FT-EV

Toyota FT-EVToyota introduced the FT-EV electric concept at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, hinting that it might offer an urban all-electric commuter vehicle in the next few years. The FT-EV concept shares its platform with the company’s Japanese and European minicar, the Toyota iQ. The iQ is larger than the quintessential minicar, the Smart Fortwo, but not by much. Its wheelbase is a little more than five inches longer, and on the whole, the car is only about a foot longer than the Smart—11.4 inches to be exact. The electric version on display at the Detroit Auto Show, the Toyota FT-EV concept, offers driving range of 50 miles, according to Toyota. The company is expected to launch 10 new hybrid gas-electric models globally by 2012, but has not made firm commitments to bring a full battery-electric car to market.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model SWhat makes the Model S so cool? First of all, the visual design is gorgeous. Second, it seats five—or seven if you count the two side-facing rear seats for small children. There are killer features, like the 17-inch touch screen that provides all of the vehicle’s interface components such as climate control and entertainment, but also offers 3G or wireless connectivity. But most importantly, the Model S is way more affordable than the company’s $109,000 Tesla Roadster. The current price target for the Tesla Model S is $57,900 (minus a $7,500 federal tax credit)—still not in range for most mainstream buyers but moving in the right direction. The Model S is planned for release in late 2011.

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Nissan Leaf

23 02 2010

Nissan Leaf Electric Car

Nissan is calling its new electric car—the Nissan Leaf—the “world’s first affordable, zero-emission car.” And they could be right.

Unveiled on Aug. 2, 2009, the Leaf is a medium-size all-electric hatchback that seats five adults and has a range of 100 miles. Pricing was not announced (although the company previously hinted at a price around $30,000.) Nissan’s press release offered a few additional details:

  • The Nissan Leaf will go on sale in late 2010.
  • Nissan Leaf is powered by laminated compact lithium-ion batteries, which generate power output of over 90kW, while its electric motor delivers 80kW/280Nm.
  • Driving range is expected to be 100 miles between full charges. Nissan Leaf can be charged up to 80 percent of its full capacity in just under 30 minutes with a quick charger. Charging at home through a 200V outlet is estimated to take approximately eight hours.
  • Nissan Leaf’s frontal styling is characterized by a sharp, upright V-shaped design featuring long, up-slanting light-emitting diode (LED) headlights that employ a blue internal reflective design. The headlights are designed to cleverly split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, thus reducing wind noise and drag. And, the headlights consume just 10 percent of the electricity of conventional lamps.
  • Nissan Leaf employs an exclusive advanced IT system. Connected to a global data center, the system can provide support, information, and entertainment for drivers 24 hours a day. The dash-mounted monitor displays Nissan Leaf’s remaining power – or “reachable area” – in addition to showing a selection of nearby charging stations. Another state-of-the-art feature is the ability to use mobile phones to turn on air-conditioning and set charging functions – even when Nissan LEAF is powered down. An on-board remote-controlled timer can also be pre-programmed to recharge batteries.


Nissan’s unveiling of the Leaf, while short on details, was enough to give a jolt to green car fans on the web. No longer an amorphous concept, Nissan’s electric car can now be stacked up against other plug-in cars and hybrids for its look and feel, features, and likely cost. The reviews from the blogosphere—usually an irreverent crowd—were mixed.

The Nissan Leaf’s closest comparable future all-electric car is the Ford Focus EV. The two vehicles are remarkably similar in size and capabilities. Both vehicles are expected to offer 100 miles in driving range. The Nissan Leaf’s lithium ion battery pack has a capacity of 24 kilowatt hours, while the Focus EV holds 23 kilowatt hours of energy. Both vehicles will carry five passengers and measure 175 inches in length, while the Nissan Leaf has a longer wheelbase by about three inches.

Although the Nissan Leaf, due in late 2010, is expected to beat the Ford Focus EV to the market by about one year, it’s likely that the Leaf’s first customers will predominantly be fleets. In other words, the two vehicles will become available roughly in the same timeframe. Official pricing has not been released for either vehicle, but both are expected in the $30,000 range.

The distinguishing characteristic could be design—pitting the established look of the Ford Focus against the purpose-built Nissan Leaf. (Ford has not confirmed if the Focus EV will differ from the conventional Focus.) When we spoke last November with Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning, he said, “We want to make sure [the design] is iconic, as something different, unique and futuristic. But not in a Blade Runner, George Jetson kind of way.” That was not the impression many blog commenters had.

Richard S posted this comment on “Pretty ugly. If the Focus EV looks anything close to the current Focus, then Nissan’s gonna have a rough time.” An anonymous visitor wrote: “This thing looks like something that came out of a cleaning lab. Kind of makes me think this thing is going to start selling me cleaning products.”

Comments from other sites offered a number of colorful descriptions, including “the offspring of a Smurf and a the Pillsbury Dough Boy,” and “a Nissan Murano meets a catfish,” and “what would happen if a Mazda3 and a Toyota Matrix had a baby.”

Sean, posting on, explained the Prius-like front slope by writing, “I personally like the design, the front is the aerodynamic shape but the back end is more unique, not the typical teardrop.” Writing on, a fan site dedicated to the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, Don C wrote: “The design seems pleasant enough. I like it subjectively. Plus the design more or less tells you what the car is. It says ‘I’m a little guy with cool tech suitable for driving locally’.” Don C believes would be a mistake to make the car look “like a super car.”


The Nissan Leaf will be arriving almost exactly when the Chevy Volt is introduced in late 2010—although it appears that the Volt will be priced $10,000 or more above the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus EV. Although more expensive, the Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid offering a driving range equal of beyond most gas-powered cars, while the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus EV, and other electric cars will be limited to approximately 100 miles in range. The new plug-in cars will also be competing against conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, which are priced in the low- to mid-$20,000s. Toyota and Honda are both expected to introduce compact or sub-compact hybrids that could be priced even lower.

When all these choices become available, consumers interested in cutting-edge fuel-efficient technologies will have to make sense of the new automotive landscape—balancing considerations for driving range, price, fuel efficiency, drivetrain technologies, and design.

Additional information about the Nissan Leaf is available at

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The GREAT Electric Car Race of 2010!

23 02 2010

By Mark Clayton / Staff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / February 1, 2010

For Jason Hendler and more than 50,000 others who put their names on an Internet “want list” in hopes of one day owning the Chevrolet Volt plug-in car, the wait is almost over.

After more than two years of online debating, wailing, and waiting with each other, Mr. Hendler and his fellow Volt-ophiles could actually have the long-promised hybrid electric-drive vehicle sitting in their driveways this fall – at least in theory.

It may be a long shot to actually get one, he acknowledges, at least this year. Only 7,000 to 10,000 Volts are supposed to be made available this fall. Just a few thousand more competing electric-drive cars will be available for sale this year – such as the Nissan Leaf, BYD e6, and Fisker Karma.

Yet for Hendler and the nation, 2010 is when the rubber hits the road and the electrified next generation of vehicles gets a reality check. Real buyers will be kicking real tires, forking over a slice of their life savings, and gliding off dealer lots in glorious all-electric silence.

“These are not tiny electric ‘punishment’ cars,” Hendler says in an interview. “They’re tangible, real cars that people would really want to buy. Until now electric vehicles have been more like a golf cart. Now they have range and highway speed and performance we’ve never seen before.”

Expert watchers of the plug-in phenomenon concur.

“By the end of this year we will see the first few models on honest-to-goodness American driveways and roadways,” says Bradley Berman, editor of “This is the last year that it’s a lot more talk than actual product in the marketplace.”

By November, and perhaps as soon as September, the Chevy Volt – an electric passenger car that goes 40 miles on a charge before a range-extending gas engine kicks in – will appear in dealer showrooms. It may also cost less than the $40,000 many had expected, General Motors officials hinted at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month. But it will be available only in California and Michigan and maybe a few other locations.

The Nissan Leaf, an electric-drive all-battery-powered vehicle, will go up to 100 miles before needing overnight recharging. About 5,000 to 10,000 Leafs will be available by December, Nissan says.

The Leaf will debut in Washington State, Oregon, California, Arizona, and Tennessee, where it is being manufactured, according to Plug In America, an advocacy group that tracks vehicle development.

Leaf waiting lists have sprouted at a few dealers. Although the price has not been announced, it is expected to be well under $30,000 – perhaps in the $27,000 range, one dealer suggests. A final price is expected this spring.

“We’ve got about 30 names on our list already,” says Jim Bone, sales manager at Nissan of Santa Rosa, Calif., one of the first dealers to offer a wait list. “In June we’ll ask for a deposit, probably about $1,000.”

With several competitors waiting in the wings, plug-ins were the focus of this year’s Detroit Auto Show. Twenty vehicles lined the convention’s “Electric Avenue,” where promoters hyped watts instead of gallons.

The $87,000 Fisker Karma, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), is a 150-mile-per-hour sports car. It already has a backlog of hundreds of orders; production is expected to begin this spring or summer. Forecasts suggest sales of up to 15,000 next year.

German automaker Daimler has said it hopes to sell its Smart ED, an all-electric battery-powered vehicle later in the year. So does BYD Auto, a Chinese entrant that plans to begin selling its four-door passenger e6 all-electric vehicle, reports Plug In America. Coda Automotive intends to join the crowd selling a Chinese-made passenger car initially in California.

“It will really be 2011 before the rest of the country starts seeing these and many other types of electric-drive vehicles,” concedes Paul Scott, vice president of Plug In America in California. “But this is a major first step.”

Conspicuous by its absence in this year’s plug-in race is Toyota, whose Prius hybrid leads the green-driving trend – at least until the Chevy Volt arrives. The giant Japanese carmaker promises to sell an “affordable” plug-in Prius in 2011 that can travel about 14 miles on a charge before a gas motor kicks in. It will sell for less than $33,700, a Toyota official said last month.

Despite Toyota’s absence, Mr. Scott says this year will be the first chance to see what it’s really like: plugging a car in at night and gliding off to work in the morning using little or no gasoline for weeks or months. It’s a reality shift that’s already sending chills up the spines of greenies and neocons alike – the prospect of saving the environment and cutting oil imports, too.

With the US importing 4 million barrels of oil a day – about 1.5 billion a year – from “dangerous or unstable” nations in 2008, the liberal Center for American Progress calls oil dependence “a dangerous habit.”

It’s an expensive one, too. About $150 billion flows annually to 10 nations on the State Department’s “warning list,” including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria, the center says in a recent report.

But even if plug-in and all-electric vehicles can get the equivalent of hundreds of miles per gallon, fans concede that it may be a decade or more before enough new plug-in vehicles are sold to make a significant difference in curbing oil imports or carbon emissions, according to CalCars, a plug-in advocacy group. That’s why the group favors retrofitting existing cars with electric-drive engines.

Battery and fuel costs will determine if plug-ins shoot ahead or stall out. Today these two factors give plug-ins a relatively high “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO) compared with a conventional vehicle. The advanced lithium-ion battery packs are still costly, and until they fall significantly or the cost of gasoline jumps – the TCO for plug-ins will not compare favorably with conventional cars.

A dour National Research Council report recently poured cold water over the notion that plug-in vehicles will make much difference on oil use or the environment before 2030 at the earliest.

Some, however, contend the report was biased against plug-ins by its panel of authors, some former oil industry executives.

Yet others have reached similar conclusions. Even if battery-manufacturing costs fall 60 percent from around $700 per kilowatt hour (kWh) today to around $440 by 2020, plug-ins might only grow to become 3 to 5 percent of the US fleet – about 13 million of the nation’s 250 million cars, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group study. But some say that, too, is overly pessimistic.

“We’ve talked to a number of people close to this issue, and they can’t believe where these report numbers on the costs of batteries are coming from,” says David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “It seems to be people who don’t know talking to people who don’t know.” The target of $250 per kWh will be attained “not in this, but in the next generation of batteries.”

Some cash comfort will no doubt come from the $7,500 federal tax rebate that will apply to the vehicles with the most battery power – like the Volt and the Leaf.

A visual way to compare vehicle gas use, cost, and emissions is a TCO calculator offered by the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Project Get Ready.” It lets you see how a Volt would compare with a Prius, for example. (Check out for the online calculator.)

But the price of plug-ins will not doom the movement, says Mr. Berman of

“People buy cars for all kinds of reasons unrelated to their payback,” he says. “Nobody questions the payback period on screaming-fast sports cars – or on oversize SUVs with towing capacity. For some reason when it comes to efficiency, the bean counters crawl out of the woodwork.”

Nonetheless, if gasoline inches back toward $4 a gallon or higher, pump prices could accelerate electric-car adoption. But few dare to guess where gas prices will wiggle to next.

“If gas hits $4 [a gallon] again, demand will shoot through the roof for these vehicles,” says Scott with Plug In America. “We saw it before and people were leaving their guzzlers in droves. They didn’t have the option then – but now they will – to leave oil alone entirely.”

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