An EV With 600 Miles of Range Is Tantalizingly Close

Source: By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News • Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Chinese Zeekr car brand, which will go on sale next year, will be the first to have a new highly efficient battery. But it’s not going to be available in North America right away.

The batteries inside Zeekr's new electric vehicle models have a range of 621 miles. Photo Courtesy of Zeekr
The batteries inside Zeekr’s new electric vehicle models have a range of 621 miles. Photo Courtesy of Zeekr

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 ET7sedan, 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.”