The latest electric cars come with giant batteries, often up to 100-kwh, or enough to run a hair dryer on hot for almost 3 straight days.
That can be a great thing for range, giving cars like the Tesla Model 3 and Model X more than 300 miles between charges. But the picture isn’t all rosy.
Those same 100-kWh modern cars are so heavy that they compromise one of the main reasons for electric cars’ existence, their efficiency.
Where the average new gas car got just 24.7 mpg in 2017, the average electric model gets 117 miles per gallon equivalent. That is, it uses the same amount of total btus of energy as a car that got 117 mpg.
Some of the latest luxury models with big batteries aiming for such long ranges, however, miss their targets at least in part because the sheer weight of their batteries makes them inefficient.
So far, the problem mainly shows up in new luxury products from the Volkswagen Group, a company that has expressed such commitment to electric cars that it says it is already developing its last line of internal combustion engines, expected to reach the market in 2025 or 2026.
With its 95 kwh battery the 2019 Audi e-Tron gets just 74 MPGe, and a resulting 204 miles of estimated range. That’s a tough sell against the 2020 Tesla Model X Long Range which gets an estimated 328 miles from its 100-kWh battery. Clearly, Tesla knows a thing or two about battery efficiency.
Porsche’s new Taycan “Turbo,” with a 93-kWh battery pack, mounted under a sleeker, low-slung body, does even worse: 69 MPGe. That’s closer to the 54 mpg of the Toyota Prius Prime with a gas engine than to the 108 mpg of the Nissan Leaf.
By comparison, the 76 MPGe estimate of Jaguar I-Pace, which debuted in 2018 with what already seemed a pretty paltry range of 234 miles for a brand new $90,000 EV, seems positively efficient.
Some observers have argued that the EPA estimates aren’t all that accurate for electric cars, but they do offer a meaningful comparison among models. Teslas have to pass the same tests that the Jaguars, Porsches, and Audis do.
One big factor is battery weight. Audi lists the weight of the e-Tron’s 95 kwh battery pack at 1,543 pounds. The slightly bigger 100-kwh pack in a Tesla Model S or Model X is estimated to weigh 487 pounds less.
This weight advantage does a long way to improving the efficiency of Tesla’s cars, which can help them go more miles from the same battery capacity.
If traditional automakers hope to catch Tesla with their electric cars, they need to press their battery suppliers to develop lighter batteries that can go farther in a car, with less weight.
Eric Evarts has been bringing topical insight to readers on energy, the environment, technology, transportation, business, and consumer affairs for 25 years. He has spent most of that time in bustling newsrooms at The Christian Science Monitor and Consumer Reports, but his articles have appeared widely at outlets such as the journal Nature Outlook, Cars.com, US News & World Report, AAA, and TheWirecutter.com and Alternet. He can tell readers how to get the best deal and avoid buying a lemon, whether it’s a used car or a bad mortgage. Along the way, he has driven more than 1,500 new cars of all types, but the most interesting ones are those that promise to reduce national dependence on oil, and those that improve the environment. At least compared to some old jalopy they might replace. Please, follow Evarts on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.