Is a 200-Mile EV the Next Automotive Benchmark?

Today electric cars priced around the $30,000-something level offer range of under 100 miles, but in less than two years will ranges double for essentially the same price?

More than a rhetorical question, the handwriting is on the wall that this is the case. The benchmark that at least three automakers are aiming for is “200” or more miles by around 2017 and the quoted price estimate is the “mid 30s.”

These automakers are Nissan, Chevrolet, Tesla, and as they bring their next-generation products to market, will it become a case of catch up or die for everyone else?

Tesla

We've seen lots of the Model S but the Model 3 is the Tesla many more are looking for.

We’ve seen lots of the Model S but the Model 3 is the Tesla many more are looking for.

The Model 3 is expected to cost from the mid-30s and travel 200 miles on a charge. It’s been written about so much you’d think it existed in more than virtual reality, but to date no one in the public has set eyes on a pre-production prototype. But the faith is more than the blind variety, and proof that it’s coming includes Tesla’s ongoing construction of its Gigafactory to provide batteries for the promised “volume” car.

Tesla eschews gasoline vehicles, even plug-in hybrids, and to make its vision come true to change the way people travel, the Model 3 is needed as a – forgive the cliché – game changer. Actually, the game is changing at any rate.

The Gigafactory construction project in Nevada is apparently ahead of schedule.

The Gigafactory construction project in Nevada is apparently ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, Tesla has served as a goad to General Motors – first in 2006 to build the Volt and now the Bolt. In 2013 former GM CEO Dan Akerson said GM would not be left behind as he tasked a watch team to track the upstart. Tesla has been also called a “disruptive” company and in this case, by building better solutions now, and promising more soon, it is coaxing others to follow.

Whatever the reality turns out to be for Model 3’s “200” miles for mid-30s will remain to be seen. It may be that Tesla hits this for a base, but different trim levels may entice people up-market. If so, this would not be without precedent as the Model S was originally billed as starting at $57,400 and factoring a $7,500 credit it would have been just under $50,000 to start.

But that was nixed when Tesla said only 4 percent of pre-orders were for that 40-kwh base Model S, and so much for the once-touted “$50,000” Tesla Model S. Instead it’s $21,000 over that and can rise to 2.8 times this, or around $140,000.

But Model 3 – which could be a smaller sedan positioned against an internal-combustion BMW 3 or 4 series – is being held out with hope. If Tesla can keep true to its word, and meet its goal of offering a mass-appeal EV, it can continue to grow its lead and cascade benefits all around.

General Motors

The Bolt, designed in Australia with in-floor battery looks a lot like BMW’s i3 – itself rated 81 miles range and today priced around $43,000 and up.

The Bolt, designed in Australia with in-floor battery looks a lot like BMW’s i3 – itself rated 81 miles range and today priced around $43,000 and up.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV is confirmed for production if not date specified and this vehicle matches Tesla’s primary specs if little else. More akin to a BMW i3, the Bolt also promises range of 200 miles – actually “over” that, says CEO Mary Barra, and with a price in the mid 30s before subsidies netting to around the $30,000 point.

Some reports these days are saying GM is now beating Tesla to the punch and it may be. All that’s officially known is the reported October 2016 production startup at GM’s Orion Michigan plant is a rumor not confirmed by GM. Assuming it is true, GM is shooting for the 2017 model year like Tesla has been believed to be when its Gigafactory is expected to be spooling up capacity.

Assuming things go to plan, the Bolt and Model 3 will mean at least two EVs selling for the same level as a nicely equipped 84-mle range Nissan Leaf does today – which of course Nissan can’t very well sit by and let happen now, can it?

Nissan

Nissan has said it will soon take the issue of range away, and be competitive with gasoline cars – for those to whom it makes a difference. Early adopters are fine with the 84-mile EPA rating, and have shown it does work for them. Others are asking for more.

Nissan has said it will soon take the issue of range away, and be competitive with gasoline cars – for those to whom it makes a difference. Some early adopters are fine with the 84-mile EPA rating, and have shown it does work for them. Others are asking for more.

Several reports have it that Nissan has a new battery chemistry to give the Leaf 200 miles range, more or less.

SEE ALSO: CEO Ghosn: Nissan Has Affordable 250-Mile Range EV Battery

During a December Japanese Nikkei TV broadcast, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn told a reporter the next Leaf’s range could exceed 250 but bear in mind miles appear to be shorter in Japan, or so one would surmise given the Japanese test cycle rates a Leaf at 142 miles range.

In the U.S. in Detroit last month however, the company head again said 200-plus is in the offing, and he said this in response to the Chevy Bolt on display that same day.

In 2013 Nissan opened its 475,000 square-foot facility is adjacent to its newly online Leaf-assembly operation in Tennessee. Nissan estimated it would have around $1.7 billion spent on this. It has significant room for more production.

In 2013 Nissan opened its 475,000 square-foot battery production facility adjacent to its Leaf-assembly operation in Tennessee. Nissan estimated total expenditures on this plant would eventually total $1.7 billion. It can be scaled up to 200,000 complete Leaf battery pack assemblies annually.

“We want to be competitive,” Ghosn said at a news conference of a “high output” version of the Leaf. “It may have even more range.”

Worldwide, Nissan has sold over 160,000 Leafs to date. The automaker does have one massive battery plant in Smyrna, Tenn. that was working at just 5-percent capacity when opened in 2013.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance has invested many billions in electrification and Ghosn’s ego and place in the history books are on the line to press the agenda he’s started with the company’s push toward plugging in.

Nissan will be there in 2017 too, so now that’s three at the new 200/35 benchmark.

Everyone Else

BMW is also at work on plug-in hybrids, but its carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic-intensive i3, which has met with solid buyer response since launch last year will need to be revised to maintain the pace.

BMW i3.

BMW i3.

The proud German automaker is not always one to spill the beans, and we’ve seen nothing definitive on a second-generation i3 or other BMW EVs pending in the 200-mile range at a closer to mainstream price level.

And on that note, the i3 is already priced a bit over the $35,000 benchmark, but not overly much and incentives can get it to within a stone’s throw.

As for other electric cars, several of which are mere “compliance cars” now, the specifics of their next move is more up in the air, but automakers can also read the handwriting on the wall of the pending approximate 200/35 benchmark.

EVs

Automakers now committed to the EV space include Fiat with its 87-mile 500E, priced around $33,000, the 83-mile Volkswagen e-Golf at around $36,000, the $27,000, 82-mile Chevy Spark EV, the 76-mile Ford Focus Electric just under $30,000, 87-mile Mercedes-Benz B-Clas Electric around $41,450, and 92-mile Kia Soul EV at around $34,000.

If you want an example of what happens to an EV’s sales when it’s perceived uncompetitive, look at the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. It’s the pioneer of today’s basic EVs having been converted from a gasoline-powered Japanese Kei car in 2009.

Despite being sold in 50 states, otherwise ailing Mitsubishi delivered just three units in January 2015, and for all of 2014 it sold 196 – about what Tesla sells every four days of its Model S.

The i-MiEV probably deserves better treatment, but this is what you have even though it starts at just $22,995 before subsidies and nets to $15,495 after a $7,500 credit.

Will today’s first-gen cars soon be facing a Mitsubishi moment if they don’t grow quickly and keep up?

The i-MiEV is not a bad car. It was the pioneer ahead of them all. California buyers taking advantage of federal and state subsidies may get it for net $12,995.

The i-MiEV is not a bad car. It was the pioneer ahead of them all. Refreshed and price-slashed to $22,995 for 2014, California buyers taking advantage of federal and state subsidies may get it for net $12,995.

Another wildcard is the potential but unconfirmed entry of Apple into the arena in years following to further shake things up.

All this next-gen progress was supposed to happen, and it appears to be doing just that. The next few years could be interesting times as fence sitters decide to jump in – and as sooner or later a next price-for-performance leap forward could be introduced.

GM CEO Mary Barra invoked the term “game changer” for the Bolt, and it appears not without justification.

There’s only so much one can do to predict the details of the “game,” but with the promise of the next step upwards by three automakers and counting, the EV market is due to change soon, and who knows how quickly it might accelerate from here?