An EV With 600 Miles of Range Is Tantalizingly Close

CATL, one of the world’s leading makers of EV batteries, has announced that its next-generation battery has a range of 621 miles and will debut early next year.

The battery will be installed in two models made by Zeekr, a Chinese brand which is not yet available in the United States.

The ability to go 621 miles, or 1,000 kilometers, on a single charge is much more than the models that now lead the U.S. market in battery range: the Lucid Air, with 520 miles, and the Tesla Model S, with 405 miles.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine a near future in which range anxiety is no longer a thing. For me, 621 miles is nearly enough to cover the longest haul I ever drive, which is from my home in Columbus, Ohio, to the town where I grew up in Iowa.

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“If you can get a car with 500, 600 miles of range, boy that leaves a lot of room for comfort” in not having to worry about getting fuel, said Matt Degen, an editor and car reviewer for Kelley Blue Book.

“I personally like the idea of waking up every morning, if you’ve been able to charge overnight, to a full tank,” he said.

He said it’s too early to know how well the new CATL battery will work, but there’s no doubt that the EV ranges are increasing by leaps and bounds. He pointed to the announcement last month that Stellantis, parent company of Jeep and Chrysler, had purchased a plant in Massachusetts for manufacturing solid-state batteries, a technology that could lead to a big increase in range and a decrease in charging time.

As battery technology improves, ranges should increase across the price spectrum. For example, the 2024 Chevrolet Equinox EV, a compact SUV, will go on sale in about a year with a price of about $30,000 and a range of about 300 miles.

Zeekr is not alone in having announced a model with a range of more than 600 miles. Steve Man, a senior auto analyst for BloombergNEF, listed two others, both from Chinese brands:

The GAC Aion LX Plus, a compact SUV which went on sale in January in China, has a range of 625 miles. And carmaker Nio said an upcoming version of its ET7 sedan, sold in China, will have a range of about 620 miles. 

Photo Courtesy: Zeekr

You may be noticing a theme here, about how China can make a strong case that it is now the center of innovation for electric vehicles, and has a head start in leading the automotive market of the near future.

The Zeekr brand was introduced last year by Geely Automobile Holdings of China. Geely owns several well-known automotive brands, like Volvo and Lotus, and some brands sold mainly in China, like Geely Auto.

Zeekr hasn’t disclosed prices for the models that will have the new battery, but its existing Zeekr 001, a compact SUV, sells for about $57,000. The new battery will be sold in an updated version of the 001 and in a new model, the 009 minivan.

CATL and Zeekr jointly announced their plans to use the new battery on Aug. 27.

“We are dedicated to enabling automakers to build global high-end car brands with leading EV battery technologies and solutions, thus promoting global e-mobility transition,” said Robin Zeng, CATL’s founder and chairman, in a statement.

China-based CATL, which stands for Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Ltd., is a key player in the global transition to electric vehicles, along with other battery-making superpowers like LG of South Korea and Panasonic of Japan. CATL was started in 2011 and has rapidly grown along with the Chinese EV market, helped by a close relationship with the Chinese government. Its customers have included BMW, Tesla and Volkswagen.

CATL doesn’t yet have a plant in the United States, but the company has been looking to build one. Reuters reported in May that CATL has been vetting sites in Kentucky and South Carolina for a plant that would make batteries for EVs made by Ford and BMW.

Zeekr’s leaders have indicated they want to be a worldwide brand, but it’s not clear when the vehicles may reach the U.S. market.

“North America is in our plan for the next step,” said An Conghui, Zeekr’s CEO, in an April 2021 interview with Bloomberg. “That will happen after 2022. We’ll announce our plans for North America in the future.”

Now more than a year later, I haven’t seen any update and Geely did not respond to a request for comment.

What I do see is a lot of excitement about the potential for a major new competitor in the EV market.

“Never heard of the Zeekr brand?” asks a headline from a Jan. 3 story by CleanTechnica. “Don’t worry; you soon will.”

Why Toyota Isn’t All-in on Electric Vehicles: About two decades ago, Toyota was the preferred auto brand of eco-conscious consumers with its Prius, a gas-electric hybrid. But as the auto industry moves toward a future of plug-in vehicles, Toyota has fallen out of favor with some of its once-core supporters due to the company’s reluctance to invest in EVs, as Michael Wayland reports for CNBC. Toyota has preferred to hedge its bets and develop a range of electrified vehicles that include hybrids and other alternatives to all-electric vehicles. “The fact is: a hybrid today is not green technology,” Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, wrote in a recent blog post. “The Prius hybrid runs on a pollution-emitting combustion engine found in any gas-powered car.”

Can Solar Panels and Row Crops Coexist on Farmland Across the Skeptical Corn Belt?: Solar panels in a field at Purdue University are propped 20 feet in the air, part of research into ways that solar power can be harvested on the same land as corn and soybeans. The practice is best known as “agrivoltaics” and it may be an important part of finding ways to get the most food and energy out of farmland, according to a team of reporters including Sarah Bowman of the Indianapolis Star. “We want to see if we can devise systems that have minimal losses in terms of crop productivity, while maximizing their electricity output,” said Mitch Tuinstra, a professor of plant breeding and genetics at Purdue University.

‘Timber Cities’ Might Help Decarbonize the World: Buildings that use more wood and less cement and steel would help decarbonize the construction and housing industries in line with global goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions, new research shows. A recent paper explains that building mid-rise wood dwellings to meet the demand from rapidly expanding urban populations could avoid about 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2100, as my colleague Bob Berwyn reports for ICN. But this will take a lot of wood, requiring about 555,000 square miles of additional tree plantations, an area slightly bigger than Alaska, on top of the 505,000 square miles of tree farms that exist globally today.

The United States and Mexico to Cooperate on Electric Vehicles: Mexico and the United States are planning to work together to increase the supply of lithium for electric vehicles, officials from both countries said this week. The officials were speaking in Mexico City about ways to integrate the countries’ supply chains for making computer chips and EV batteries, as María Verza and Christopher Sherman report for the Associated Press. Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said he plans to make the northern border state of Sonora a leader in lithium, EV and solar energy production.

Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to dan.gearino@insideclimatenews.org.

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                <h4 class="profile-subtitle">Clean Energy Reporter, Midwest, National Environment Reporting Network</h4>

                <span>Dan Gearino covers the midwestern United States, part of ICN’s National Environment Reporting Network. His coverage deals with the business side of the clean-energy transition and he writes ICN’s <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/tags/inside-clean-energy/">Inside Clean Energy</a> newsletter. He came to ICN in 2018 after a nine-year tenure at The Columbus Dispatch, where he covered the business of energy. Before that, he covered politics and business in Iowa and in New Hampshire. He grew up in Warren County, Iowa, just south of Des Moines, and lives in Columbus, Ohio.</span>

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