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The Mobilist
The future of batteries, electric cars, and driverless vehicles. A new blog from Medium.

Good morning! Welcome back to The Mobilist.

Today: Volkswagen lent me its electric ID.4 for a week. I emerged with a basic message for all the automakers attempting to create a mass market for EVs. See below.

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Here we go.

The message for the industry is that people won’t buy EVs just because they exist

Photo: Jens Schlueter/Getty

Since Dieselgate in 2015, it’s been plain that Volkswagen would pivot sharply away from combustion and rebrand itself as the world’s premier electric car company. For the last year, it’s made that more or less official, claiming that it will overtake industry titan Tesla in 2025, and continue its ascent from there. Based on such talk, Wall Street has driven up VW’s shares by 54% this year.

On the ground, meanwhile, VW has begun to put its first EVs on the market. In the U.S., its initial product is the ID.4 crossover SUV, which I drove for a half hour

Business of charging, the new $100, scholarly lingo

Photo: Derek Berwin/Fox/Getty

The business of charging: While most of the electrification industry has had its eyes fixed on electric vehicle makers and battery companies, some other, low-profile actors backed by big money have been looking for other angles to earn a fortune. Among them are EV charging network companies and recyclers. San Francisco-based TeraWatt Infrastructure falls generally into the former category: With $100 million in investment capital, TeraWatt is setting out to finance and build gigantic charging centers for the cargo industry — serving everything from Amazon delivery vans to semi-trucks.

In a video conversation yesterday, CEO Neha Palmer told me TeraWatt…

They will battle VW, GM and Toyota to conquer the lithium metal anode

BMW’s iNext concept electric car. Photo: Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty

For seven months, lithium-metal darling QuantumScape has enjoyed an often-fanatical following as the front-runner in the attempt to commercialize next-generation electric vehicle batteries. Now, though, its arch enemy, Denver-based Solid Power, has unexpectedly emerged with a big, $130 million investment led by Ford and BMW on the promise of an industrial-size scaleup of its technology next year.

Which is to say: It’s a race.

Only a little over four months ago, Solid Power announced that it had produced a 22-layer pure lithium-metal test cell at a size of 20 amp-hours, an attempt to capture the much higher energy density possible…

Questions are raised about price, including whether it’s important

What if the Tesla Model 3 cost $25,000? Photo: Courtesy Tesla.

For a little over half a year, the battery and electric vehicle communities have been in ferment: Companies that no one thought twice about have gone Spac and are worth hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars. New gigafactories have been announced by the week. Legacy automakers have torn up and remade their five-year plans, only to do so again within weeks or months. In total, they have announced hundreds of new EV models.

But no episode amid the general mayhem has generated more whiplash than the discovery this week of the industry’s sudden, wholly unannounced recalculation of the…

$60/kWh batteries, Elon on SNL, Gaming and batteries

Photo: Mansell/LIFE/Getty

The astonishing $60/kWh battery: I exchanged tweets with Eyvind Aven about yesterday’s piece on the U.S. Energy Department’s startling update of its target for lithium-ion battery costs. Until now, the industry — and Energy Department — Holy Grail has been to reach $100 per kWh, thought to be the inflection point for sticker-price parity with internal combustion. But the goal posts have moved: Tesla, Volkswagen and now the standard-creating Energy Department are all looking to $60/kWh as the new parity point.

For the automakers, $60/kWh is not a mere number, but a metaphorical bomb: Tesla and VW appear determined to…

Until Elon Musk’s Battery Day, the stretch goal was $100/kWh

Tesla Roadster, 2009. Almost the only commercial EV for sale at the time. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

Just last summer, the much-watched lithium-ion industry finally reached sight of a long-sought super-stretch goal — a battery pack costing $100 per kWh, allowing the price of electric vehicles to drop to that of conventional combustion. But in September, Tesla CEO Elon Musk held “Battery Day,” at which he declared that, to penetrate the mass market, EVs needed a crash diet, and proposed a roadmap to bring down battery prices another 40%, to about $56 per kWh. In March, Volkswagen, too, seemed to promise a battery costing around $60/kWh.

Now, the Energy Department — which tends to define standards across…

If you’re driving a Formula E race car, these niobium tungsten oxide anodes are for you

Target market — Formula-E in Rome. Photo: Andrea Diodato/NurPhoto/Getty

If electric vehicles are going to crack the mass market in a big way, an article of faith is that ordinary motorists — at least in the industry’s early mainstream years — must be confident they can charge up when they want, and do so fast. That means a speed somewhere at the high-end of their accustomed gas station experience — say 15 to 20 minutes for 80% charge. No one is yet offering such rates, but that’s the goal.

Which is what interested me in Nyobolt, a startup co-founded by Clare Grey, a long-time leading battery researcher at the…

A 24th Tesla investigation, 1884 EV design, dry batteries

Photo: Terry Eiler/Library of Congress/Creative Commons

The Tesla safety and quality problem: Last weekend, two Houston men took the family Tesla S out for a spin, failed to turn in a cul-de-sac, sped into some woods, and crashed into a tree. No one was at the wheel at the time, police said, and both men were killed. Confusing the situation, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Autopilot wasn’t engaged at the time.

It’s the latest of 24 Tesla crashes under investigation by the NHTSA, the U.S. auto safety agency, many involving Autopilot. At the cusp of a new era for electric vehicles, in which EVs seem…

Consumers could leave gasoline models unsold, and wait for electrics

The Rivian R1T, one of the most-discussed coming electric pickups. Photo: Courtesy Rivian.

In an announcement yesterday, BMW said it will introduce an electric vehicle with a solid-state battery by 2030. The same day, Toyota announced that it’s creating a new EV called the “bz4x,” to be offered for sale the middle of next year, not to mention an electric pickup not long after.

For a year, GM has crowed that it will put 30 EV models on the road by 2025. VW has been just as loud, boasting that it is installing 3,500 EV charging points in the U.S., deploying 30 EV models under its Audi brand alone by 2025, and aiming…

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