Last week in this column I suggested that 2016 is going to be an exciting year for energy storage technology. My prediction was vindicated more quickly than I expected.
Earlier this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, General Motors unveiled the production version of the Chevrolet Bolt, a 200-mile-range all-electric car with a $30,000 price tag after federal incentives. Designed as an electric vehicle from the wheels up, the Bolt offers the same amount of passenger space as the Tesla Model S. Gone is the age of cramped, awkward-looking EV’s.
The Bolt includes a 10-inch color touchscreen, the ability to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless phone charging, cameras displaying surround-vision on the center screen to assist with parking, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also includes the ability to recognize any smartphone as a key fob that can control the locks and turn on the car. This last feature anticipates the growing importance of car sharing services, such as Lyft (in which General Motors recently made a $500 million investment).
The launch of the Bolt, and the EV 2.0 it represents, is important for two reasons. First, and arguably less important, is that the Bolt illustrates the steady progress of advanced battery technology. Seven years ago, with the price of advanced automotive lithium battery cells hovering around $1,000 per kWh, a five passenger, 200-mile range all-electric vehicle with a sticker price of around $30,000 would have been considered quite a stretch, at least by those who truly understood the technology. Yet today, without any major breakthroughs in battery technology—no discovery of a Moore’s Law for batteries—it is a reality.
The Bolt is the product, not of any breakthrough, but of steady progress on tens if not hundreds of fronts in battery and electric vehicle technology. The Bolt will provide its driver with the range of about a half a tank of gasoline and a cost of ownership that is starting to approach similarly equipped gasoline-powered cars. EV 2.0 does not indicate that the age of ubiquitous electric vehicles has arrived. But viewed in the context of the last seven years, it does indicate that it is coming.
The second reason the Bolt is important is because it illustrates, as did the Tesla Model S before it, the inseparable relationship between vehicle electrification and a whole range of other new technologies that consumers increasingly demand. The majority of 75 year olds I talk to still do not understand why anyone needs or would want (and want to pay for) an iPhone. The 75 year olds are, of course, not wrong. It is difficult to identify any individual feature of a smart phone that would justify its increasingly staggering price.
But what Apple proved in consumer electronics, and what General Motors and Tesla Motors may be in the process of proving in automotive, is that consumers are willing to pay handsomely for a suite of technologies that, working together, make life easier, cleaner, faster and more fun to operate. Electric drive is part of that suite of new technologies that are likely to define the modern automobile in the minds of consumers in the years ahead. The kWh price per advanced automotive battery will always be an important metric. But EV 2.0 may prove that it is not the most important metric in the minds of many consumers. The mere possibility that that might be the case will likely launch at least a dozen new EV programs this year at OEM’s around the world.
As I said, 2016 is going to be an interesting year.