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

Transportation

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The automotive industry is on the verge of massive disruption. The decisions companies make today might determine their fate.

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

In an industry as established as the automotive industry, it’s rare to see the industry leaders diverge as fundamentally as they are today. By vehicles sold, Toyota and the VW Group are the two largest automakers in the world. When it comes to the future of electric cars, the two companies have taken firmly opposed stances.

On one side, we have Volkswagen (VW) Group, which also owns Audi and Porsche. In the aftermath of their Diesel emissions scandal, VW Group has re-invented itself with the help of new Chairman Herbert Diess. Diess has taken an aggressive stance towards electric vehicles…


Volkswagen’s looks, Tesla’s quality problems, Elon Musk on SNL

Photo: Spencer Grant/Getty

Each Wednesday, The Mobilist highlights reader articles on Medium, comments, and updates.

A mandate for style: Last week, I wrote about a week’s test drive of Volkswagen’s electric crossover SUV ID.4. The car is mechanically outstanding. Physically, it is meh. Why are this vehicle’s looks so important given the industry’s overall penchant for frumpiness? Because of the very specific interregnum in which it finds itself. …


EV charging, the Return of LFP, and the Lancia Fulvia

Envelopes of different sizes
Envelopes of different sizes
Photo: Joanna Kosinska/Unsplash

Each Wednesday, The Mobilist highlights reader articles on Medium, comments, and updates.

The future of charging prices: Last week, I wrote that charging your electric vehicle is cheap now, but that in a few years’ time, it won’t be. Once EVs achieve cost parity with gasoline-propelled vehicles, likely about mid-decade, I argued, the clock will start ticking for cheap electricity. Eventually, you’ll be paying the equivalent of a gasoline fill-up. I invoked the rule of hamburgers to explain why. If you want to know what that is, read the piece.

I got massive pushback. Among those disputing the thesis was…


It’s standard economics — a product’s price usually rises to the level of its closest rival

Electric car charging station sign
Electric car charging station sign
Photo: Karol Serewis/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

In his confirmation hearing yesterday, Pete Buttigieg, the nominee to be transportation secretary, reiterated a promise that President Joe Biden made again and again on the campaign trail: The administration will seek funding to build a half-million electric vehicle (EV) chargers by 2030.

But if forecasts for EV demand are borne out, the U.S. will need a lot more charging points. In a report earlier this month, McKinsey puts the required number at five to nine million by 2025 and double or triple those figures by 2030. …


Step aside, Tesla and QuantumScape

The NIO ET7, the flagship sedan for the Chinese electric car manufacturer, during its launch ceremony in Chengdu, in China’s southwest Sichuan province. Photo: STR/AFP/China OUT/Getty Images

For a good part of last year, lithium-ion batteries attracted perhaps more fanatical attention than at any time since their invention four decades ago. From Wall Street to Omaha, people parsed the latest battery advances by Tesla, a Silicon Valley startup called QuantumScape, and legacy players like GM. Some of the hottest IPOs were startup electric vehicle companies, which sold billions of dollars in equity.

Widely overlooked, though, is that these companies — while first-rate competitors in the high-stakes electrification race — are not in fact the cutting edge in commercial advanced batteries. For two years or so, mostly under…


He is selling his $2 trillion plan as a middle-class jobs program, but it’s also a weapon for economic war

Pete Buttigieg listens as U.S. president-elect Joe Biden announces his nomination as transportation secretary on Dec. 16 2020
Pete Buttigieg listens as U.S. president-elect Joe Biden announces his nomination as transportation secretary on Dec. 16 2020
Pete Buttigieg listens as U.S. president-elect Joe Biden announces his nomination as transportation secretary on December 16, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Pool/Getty Images

On a coast-to-coast, New York-to-San Francisco trip in 1919, Dwight Eisenhower discovered that you could barely cross the country by car, the roads were so run down. After he became president 40 years later, he decided to fix this by building a first-rate, nationwide highway system. We still drive on the result: some 40,000 miles of highways built for the equivalent of more than $200 billion in today’s dollars.

President-elect Joe Biden’s $2 trillion transportation agenda is the most ambitious since Eisenhower, putting the electric car, the train, and renovated roads and bridges at the center of American economic and…


Tesla, GM, and QuantumScape have begun divulging more and more data, but one battery maker just made perhaps the biggest reveal of all

Solid Power’s 22-layer, 20Ah all solid-state lithium metal cell compared to the company’s first-generation 10-layer, 2Ah cell
Solid Power’s 22-layer, 20Ah all solid-state lithium metal cell compared to the company’s first-generation 10-layer, 2Ah cell
Solid Power’s 22-layer, 20Ah all solid-state lithium metal cell compared to the company’s first-generation 10-layer, 2Ah cell. Photo: © Solid Power

For the whole of the 140-year history of automotive batteries, researchers and their bosses have tended to secrecy. Even when forced to say something as a requirement of government or private funding, the default has been half-truths, and sometimes less. The main reason for all the hiding has been sincere: Batteries are hard and victories over the physics rare; usually you have nothing great to tell, and when you do, you want to hold it close.

Which explains the surprise in recent weeks as some of the most important actors in advanced batteries have unleashed a torrent of transparency. Not…


QuantumScape has released its first data, and battery scientists are impressed

A lithium ion battery for the VW ID.3
A lithium ion battery for the VW ID.3
Photo: Jan Woitas/picture alliance/Getty Images

A half century ago, Exxon pioneered, then abandoned a blockbuster new battery based on pure metallic lithium, a light element that packed the most energy punch of anything on the market, but also ignited dangerous explosions. Over the subsequent decades, numerous companies and labs tried to resurrect Exxon’s effort but foundered on the same shoal — the propensity of metallic lithium batteries to short-circuit and catch fire.

That long history of failure lies behind the release of data this week by two high-profile companies claiming metallic lithium breakthroughs that could lead to electric vehicles priced well below gasoline-fueled cars. The…


If the U.S. wants to win the electric car war, it needs to aggressively build out a charging network

A woman’s car being filled up at a petrol station in 1929.
A woman’s car being filled up at a petrol station in 1929.
Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

If you’re the average American, there is one thing you are generally unworried about: finding gasoline. You live within a mile or two of one or more of the country’s 115,000 gas stations. You sleep soundly knowing that as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, even if your car is empty, you can whip into your neighborhood 24-hour gas station, pump your 15 or so gallons in three or four minutes, and be good for the next 400 to 450 miles.

So it has been since the 1880s if you happen to be from Germany, and in…

The Mobilist

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

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