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The hard way: the battery limitations of the test in China’s electric car ambitions

BEIJING/DETROIT (Reuters) – It took a 330 km long road from Chongqing to Chengdu, in his Nio ES8, a seven-seater electric SUV, the owner Wang Haichun to be consumed with buyer’s remorse.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors check NIO ES8 displayed during a media preview of the Auto China 2018 motor show in Beijing, China, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Despite the fact that billed can go 335 km on a single full charge, the ES8 is not anywhere near that when driving on highways at speeds above 100 km per hour (60 mph), he said, adding that after 180 km, only 50 km of range left.

“We had to charge the car once and drove with a high degree of fear in, constantly keep an eye on the range of the meter,” the 44-year-old manager of a property company said. At the end of the journey, he turn on the air conditioning and the audio system to the preservation of the power.

“I would not want that kind of trip again.”

So unhappy was Wang, who paid 481,000 yuan ($71,700) for the vehicle, he sold it. He and his wife have since bought a Lexus NX300h petrol-electric SUV.

Asked to comment on the Cheek of the experience, Nio Inc. said in an e-mailed statement from the ES8 more than 200 miles continuously more than 100 miles per hour and that the battery swap stations are available for quick charging. The statement is not Nio-advertising of 335 km on one full charge.

In real conditions, all the electric cars can sometimes fall far short announced reach, auto engineers say. That is particularly when driving in the length on highways or hilly terrain, and in hot or cold weather.

The problem is added to drawbacks that have hindered wider acceptance of EVs is shorter driving ranges than gasoline vehicles, however, are more expensive and take a long time to load.

China, Europe, and the US state of California have ambitious requirements for car manufacturers to dramatically increase EV sales in the next 5-10 years, but those goals are at risk, unless EVs can come close to matching petrol cars in the cost and ease of use.

THE CHINESE AMBITIONS

In China, the country that is most aggressively pursuing the introduction of EVs and the home of the world’s largest car market, some of the industry’s biggest names believe a pure battery-electric cars are as cheap gasoline by 2025.

Those making that prediction are Ouyang Minggao, executive vice president of the EV100 forum, a think tank that is widely seen as the de facto voice of the policy of the government.

“The change is coming. We believe that by 2025, the price of pure electric vehicles will make for a major breakthrough,” he said in a speech in January.

Ouyang called a reduction of the battery costs $100 per kilowatt hour of $150-$200 at this time and a planned tightening of the emission rules in China, which will gasoline vehicles, there are more expensive.

But others in the EV industry are less optimistic.

“Chinese policy-makers think EVs will become more like conventional gasoline cars as early as 2025. But that is naive and all of the automaker engineers will agree with me,” said a veteran EV engineer at Honda Motor Co.

“Certainly, there is an EV tree but hybrids and plug-in hybrids will be needed as bridging technologies,” he said.

The engineer was one of the five interviewed by Reuters for this article who believe, it will still take a decade before the battery EVs to reach cost and performance parity with gasoline cars. Most were not authorized to speak to the media and declined to be identified when describing the shortcomings of the EV technology.

But the pressure to deliver parity will only grow as China reels of grants during the setting of quotas for the sale of new energy vehicles (NEVs). China wants NEVs – which are also hybrids, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen-fuel-cell-vehicles – to account for a fifth of all car sales by 2025, compared with 5 percent now.

THE CUTTING OF COBALT

For most automakers, the cells in the battery will cost around $200/kWh, the engineers said, although the cost for Tesla Inc probably around $150/kWh, partly due to the much larger scale of the production. Tesla declined to comment.

To save costs, are the companies who are working on cutting the use of cobalt, the most expensive component in lithium-ion batteries.

Companies such as China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL), BYD Co Ltd and South Korea’s SK Innovation Co Ltd to develop NMC 811 technology.

It makes use of 80 percent nickel, 10% manganese, 10 percent cobalt, whereas a conventional lithium-ion battery, 60 percent nickel, 20 percent manganese and 20 percent cobalt. NMC 811 also provides more energy density, which means that the batteries will cost and weigh less.

Others are developing similar technologies with slightly different ratios. Batteries produced as a joint effort by Tesla and Panasonic Corp replacement manganese with aluminum and use less cobalt than NMC 811.

Less cobalt and nickel, increases the risk that a battery cell in a fire – a problem that is still being worked on. Even so, the South Korean battery makers say that the next generation of batteries in the three years or so, costs a lot less and offer a much larger driving ranges.

But the engineers who spoke with Reuters note that even if the battery-unit costs down to $100/kWh, this would not necessarily translate into a strong decrease of the vehicle cost.

That is because the investments for the improvement of the quality of the battery must be taken into consideration, while the cars also need sophisticated battery management systems to prevent overheating and overcharging – adding thousands of dollars to their costs.

Toyota Motor Corp, which is not a pure EV on the market at this time, says that it is concerned about the battery durability. Capacity of the battery may drop by half in 5-10 years – the reason for the low EV resale values, said Shigeki Terashi, executive vice-president responsible for Toyota’s EV strategy.

“Falling EV capacity of the battery is not a big problem in China now because the sale only just begun, but in time this problem will probably be more clear,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Load time

A longer-term effort to make the batteries are solid state batteries, where the liquid or gel-form electrolyte in a lithium-ion battery is replaced by a solid substance. That could help double the battery’s energy density.

“That is the holy grail,” says consultant Jon Bereisa, a former GM engineering director who, as many of the automaker the beginning of the lithium-ion battery development.

Many in the industry believe that the technology at least a decade away from mass-market commercial use.

“There are a lot of the limitations of the solid state drive..it will be very difficult to determine that the technology in the automotive applications to be used by the general public,” said YS Yoon, president of SK Innovation’s battery business.

Developments in charge are also the key to making electric vehicles mainstream. A major obstacle is heat, which increases resistance and in turn the flow.

Most EVs can be a partial charge in less than half an hour, although the different models in the following years can fully recharge in 20 minutes.

TE Connectivity is working with car manufacturers to cut charging time to as little as 5 minutes, and Chief Technology Officer Alan Amici says that goal can be achieved in five years.

But others are skeptical. Bereisa think that the battery of the costs can achieve parity with gasoline cars by the late 2020, but his judgment was about to fill up the tank parity is “maybe never”.

“Physics,” he said, adding that the charging of an EV with the same amount of energy in the same amount of time as a gasoline car, you need a charger powerful enough to a small town”.

($1 = 6.7119 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing, Paul Lienert Carey and Nick in Detroit; Additional reporting by Yilei Sun and Beijing newsroom; Joe White, Hyunjoo Jin and Heekyong Yang in Seoul, Naomi Tajitsu, Maki Shiraki and Makiko Yamazaki in Tokyo; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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