Responding to a satisfied customer on Twitter last week, Elon Musk said, “I think we will probably stop at 100 kWh on battery size.” Like all Musk pronouncements, that set off a flurry of speculation among Tesla fans and followers. Does Musk’s statement mean the 304 mile range for the new Model S P100D is as good as its going to get? Probably not.
Range is about more than battery size and power. For an electric car, weight and aerodynamics play an important part in how far a car can go on a full charge. Take the new Chevy Bolt, for example. It has a 60 kWh battery, the same size as the Tesla Model S 60. Chevrolet revealed this week the car has an EPA certified range of 238 miles. By camparison the Model S 60 — a larger, heavier car — is rated at 204 miles.
Late last year, Elon Musk spoke to a group of enthusiastic Tesla fans at the company’s showroom in Paris. During the question and answer session afterward, several people said they would like a car with 500 miles of range or even more. Musk pointed out to them that a battery large enough to move a car that far would be extremely heavy and prohibitively expensive. There are trade-offs in every calculation. He said that something around 300 miles of range seemed to be the sweet spot between cost, range, and convenience.
Musk indicated that Tesla sees its Supercharger network as the preferred means of meeting the needs of Tesla owners who need to drive long distances. Most people still do not fully appreciate that an electric car begins every day with a full battery charge after being plugged in and recharged overnight. People who are used to cars with internal combustion engines don’t fully grasp this important difference between conventional and electric cars. The number of people who drive 300 miles or more every day is tiny compared to the total number of drivers on the road.
The assmption is that range improvements will come via reductions in weight. The cooling system Tesla devised for its new 100 kWh battery not only takes up less space than the prior system, it weighs less, too. Also, as the 100 kWh battery becomes available in less performance oriented models, those range numbers will likely go up. At the moment, it is only avaialable in the top of the line performance version with Ludicrous mode. Many think that an “ordinary” Model S 100D may be be capable of driving 34o miles on one battery charge when that car goes on sale sometime next year.
The question for many people thinking about buying a new Tesla is “Should I buy now or wait for the next new thing?” As Elon always says, the Tesla you buy today is the best Tesla ever built. Why wait?