Why Smaller EV Batteries Could Be the Next Big Thing

Peter Rawlinson, CEO of Lucid Group, with the company’s Air sedan, an EV that can travel more than 500 miles on a single charge.
Peter Rawlinson, CEO of Lucid Group, with the company’s Air sedan, an EV that can travel more than 500 miles on a single charge.

Summary

Lucid Group CEO Peter Rawlinson sees an alternative to bigger batteries and longer range

Electric vehicles are expensive. And there’s that “range anxiety"—the worry of would-be buyers that they couldn’t travel far enough or find a working charger.

Sales growth has slowed this year for electric vehicles, which currently have batteries capable of carrying passengers only about 200 to 400 miles on average.

What if one answer to getting more people to buy EVs was actually less range?

Thus far carmakers have sought to address range anxiety by creating bigger batteries with longer range. Yet they take a long time to recharge, and are heavy and expensive to make.

Lucid Group Chief Executive Peter Rawlinson sells a vehicle that can go more than 500 miles on a single charge: the Air sedan which starts at around $75,000 and has the longest range of any EV available in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But the company is also working on designing more efficient motors that can squeeze additional miles out of each kilowatt-hour of juice. That would enable electric vehicles to use smaller batteries, helping to make the vehicles more affordable.

Compact, faster-charging batteries and better charging infrastructure would then enable a future where Rawlinson believes EVs may need only around 150 miles of range.

He spoke with The Wall Street Journal about the importance of efficient, low-range EVs.

Today in the U.S. electric cars are right around 9% of the market. What needs to change about the cars for us to get to 30% in the next few years?

We need to address the fundamental cost of attainment of EVs, because right now they’re more expensive than their gasoline counterparts. And in order to do that, we need to address what is the biggest-ticket item of your cost of making an EV, which is the cost of the battery pack.

The battery pack can cost easily in excess of $20,000, and that’s for the automaker, not the price to the customer.

You’ve often said that not all EVs are created equal. What do you mean by that?

I believe there is a public perception that all gasoline cars are not very good for the environment and EVs are pretty good.

There are electron-guzzling EVs as well. I don’t think all EVs are equally good just because they have zero emissions. I exactly point to efficiency: how far that EV can travel for a given amount of energy, which is efficiency per kilowatt-hour.

One of the biggest reasons that people cite in surveys for not purchasing an electric car is range anxiety. What would the future look like if everyone is focused on the efficiency of their EVs?

In a world with really mature, robust, reliable infrastructure there is less need to carry the range on the car in batteries.

I see a future five, six years from now where EVs don’t need more than 150 miles range. You leave home with a full 150 because you’ve got overnight charging. You go to the office—you can plug in there.

That leads to the car of the future. If it [vehicles] can do 6 miles per kilowatt-hour, do the math, 150 divided by 6. It would only require a 25 kilowatt-hour battery pack. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Because that’s a quarter of the size of some of the battery packs today.

If you look at our packs in the Lucid Air today, they are about 660 kilos. If we can get to a quarter of that, that is a profound reduction in weight. We’re talking about a little thing that could be about 150 kilograms, 350 pounds, that would fit underneath the front seats.

That in itself would mean the vehicle’s more efficient. That will lead to a truly affordable electric car.

What needs to happen to realize your vision of smaller battery sizes?

I see this as an engineering technology competition. We need that to go further with less battery. I think that’s the role of commerce and business.

But I also think that for infrastructure, we need a little help from government and policy.

I believe there should be a significant push from policy makers, and I would love if this were to happen: Taxpayers’ money directed towards those people who can’t afford their own house with a garage.

How many people live in condos, in apartment blocks with parking outside? I think that overnight charging for those folks is critical.

Write to Sean McLain at sean.mclain@wsj.com

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