December 21, 1998 Design News Letters to the Editor

EVs close to fruition

Charles Murray's October 5, 1998 article "Out of Juice" seems like an advocacy article for the industries opposed to the development of alternative-fuel transportation.

While it is important to realize that EV battery manufacturing costs are obviously high at low-unit production volumes (economies of scale have not yet been realized), unquestionably NiMH technology has made great strides. Let's review the facts:

* Current low-production-volume Generation I GM Ovonic NiMH batteries have already achieved a manufacturing cost of about $1,000 per kilowatt hour (a far cry from the $10,000 to $20,000 cited in the article).

* Using the most conservative industry estimates, the cost drops to below $200 per kilowatt hour at annual production volumes of about 20,000 battery packs. In automotive terms, 20,000 is not considered high volume.

* The technology needed to achieve the USABC target of $150 per kilowatt hour has already been demonstrated in the advanced manufacturing laboratories of Ovonic using the company's proprietary nickel metal hydride battery chemistry.

* Using a 30 kWh Ovonic NiMH battery pack similar to what is being used in the GM EV1, a 4-passenger, mid-sized EV has achieved a driving range of 373 miles under steady speed conditions and, in October, 1997, completed the 216-mile trip from Boston to New York under normal traffic conditions.

* Fifteen-minute (from 0 to 60%) and 35-minute (from 0 to 80%) recharges have also been achieved, with a cycle life of 800 at full charge.

We take issue with the inferences that electronic transportation propulsion is still an idea for the future. The technology is here today. We've been making the case for an appropriate, alternative energy source that is better for our environment and economically sound. And while the EV may not be for everybody, it can meet the daily needs of many motorists at a fraction of the operating costs of a conventional gasoline- powered vehicle. By building on EV technology improvements, automakers are also developing hybrid electric vehicles that may make the transition to electric drive easier for some customers, while providing significant increases in fuel economy with much lower emissions. The NiMH battery, with its demonstrated design flexibility, has been engineered to meet the HEV requirements. Using a much smaller battery pack (fewer kWh) also helps to cut the battery cost, helping to reduce total vehicle cost.

EVs and HEVs are much closer to fruition than Mr. Murray realizes.

R. C. Stempel
Energy Conversion Devices, Inc.
Troy, MI