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Why is the range of electric cars still low?

The autonomy of electric cars has improved, but is still insufficient for some. Here’s why they’re reaching their limits and what new technologies are coming.

From around 200 km in 2010, the range of electric cars has improved considerably since then. It is no longer rare to see models exceeding 500 or even 600 km per charge. Now this is still far from the autonomy of thermal models, especially in practice and at high speed. How to explain it?

Batteries limited in chemistry and size

Lithium-ion batteries have been researched very quickly, as have more efficient engines. However, the limits of physics intervene. Although exceeding an energy density of 250 Wh / kg (Tesla Model 3, Renault Mégane E-Tech electric), these batteries reach a plateau. They will change very little over the next few years, at 300 Wh / kg at best.

The other constraint of batteries is dimensional. To have more autonomy, you need more cells and therefore more space. Gold cars are not infinitely expandable. The brands install the packs in the floor, but no question of eating on the trunk to add a few kWh. A concrete example is that of the Renault ZOE at 395 kilometers, whose replacement R5 electric will have a similar range in 2024.

What changes for autonomy?

Brands have found a way to deliver more capacity using cells as a structural element, reducing empty space. Two Americans are following this solution: the Tesla Model S Plaid and the Lucid Air with more than 830 kilometers.

Another development is that of graphene batteries. The new Chinese SUV GAC Aion LX Plus can thus carry 144.4 kWh in 4.80 meters, and exceed 1,000 kilometers. Autonomy in the Chinese cycle, however, more optimistic than our European WLTP.

The expected technological breakthrough are the “Solid state batteries” (solid state in English). Still from China, the Nio ET7 would be one of the first cars with batteries of its kind from 2022. This sedan will have a 150 kWh pack, again to cover 1,000 km.

Elsewhere, the democratization of these solid batteries is slow. Volkswagen and Toyota predict 2025, Stellantis in 2026, or even 2030 for BMW and Renault.

The best solution: eco-driving

In order to gain immediate autonomy in an electric car, all you have to do is apply eco-driving. It’s not rocket science, avoid sharp acceleration and play energy recovery maximum in deceleration or descent.

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