SAN JOSE, Calif. – The average American family probably not replace its car with an electric vehicle, but some kinds of hybrid EVs will help some users save money and see significant adoption. That's the view of Ian Wright, an engineer, serial entrepreneur and self-described EV skeptic.
The high cost of batteries will keep pure electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt out of the mainstream consumer market, he said. Ironically, Wright co-founded Tesla Motors which has popularized EVs, and is chief executive of Wrightspeed which is building power train subsystems for medium duty fleet trucks.
"You will get early adopters with the Leaf, but you will not get to the mass market," said Wright in a keynote to the Custom Integrated Circuits Conference here.
EV batteries currently cost about $1,000 per kilowatt hour, and costs are projected to come down as much as half in the next several years. Today's Chevy Volt is well designed, but will cost about twice as much as a similar gas vehicle.
Gas prices will have to soar above $10/gallon to make such consumer EVs economical even at the lower battery costs, Wright said.
The good news is trucks, not passenger cars are the biggest consumers of gas. Wright believes medium duty trucks built with his hybrid power train design could pay back its owners investment in three years.
Using that market as a beachhead, hybrid EVs will then take off in taxis, police cars and pickup trucks—but never the consumer family car.
Lithium ion batteries will remain the preferred storage for EVs, not flywheels, fuel cells or ultra capacitors, Wright predicted.
"I don’t see anything outside lithium chemistry now," he said. "Anytime I've done the calculations you are better off just using more batteries than ultra caps," he added.
He also predicted efforts to create an infrastructure of battery charging and swapping stations proposed by Better Place and others will fail.
"We can't even afford to fix potholes in the road, so where are we going to get trillions for battery charge stations," he asked. "The economics don’t work without massive subsidies," he said.
Wright told CICC attendees EVs will shift the mechanical design complexity in today's cars into the world of silicon and software—especially in power electronics. He noted his hybrid design uses a maximum 600kW battery.
"There are probably people here counting milliwatts to get their processor to work," he said. But "there's a totally different black art" is driving EVs, especially in the complexity of power management subsystems that "have to monitor and balance every lithium ion cell," he said.