Sunday, December 5, 2010

More Bang For The Buck.

Range.  It's often the big complaint against EV's, along with cost, and they are both directly related.  More range equals more battery which equals more money.  Or does it?  Is there some secret way to get more range without more battery?  Why yes there is.  Better aerodynamics and lighter weight, in that order.  For better efficiency at steady state long distance driving aero is more important than weight, though both play a part.  So does that mean an aerodynamic vehicle has to look like some futuristic bug similar to the Aptera?

Please, no.  Good aero can look like this, the EV1:

But I prefer this, the Solectria Sunrise:

Similar to the EV1 but cleaner in my opinion and with room for 4.  Also lightweight composite construction that helped it set a record of 375 miles on a single charge, in 1996, with NiMH batteries.  The pack was around 26kwh, about the same size as the Nissan LEAF pack, which gets about 100 miles.  So what's going on here?  Certainly some hypermiling techniques while driving for the record, but a low drag coefficient of .17 and low vehicle weight allowed for 200+ miles of range in regular driving. 
So why are automakers not doing something similar today and getting much more range out of their expensive battery packs?  I can think of only one reason, money.  A car such as the Sunrise would require a large investment and a lot of retooling.  It's a huge risk to take for a brand new vehicle with unknown sales potential.  It would make sense to try something similar in conventional sheet metal construction, or composite on frame similar to the Corvette and Fiero.  Aluminum framing and composite body panels could make for a fairly lightweight vehicle, and coupled with good aero would get amazing range from today's lithium batteries, which are lighter than the old NiMH cells. 
Another styling candidate, and I think one of the best looking cars ever, is the Dodge Intrepid ESX3 concept car:

This was a hybrid that got close to 70 mpg I believe, using that same secret formula of slippery aerodynamics and reduced vehicle weight.  This would make a beautiful and very capable EV.
Hopefully some auto executive will figure this out soon and give us a vehicle that can take full advantage of the energy stored in lithium batteries instead of needlessly wasting it in the wind.

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