Electric transportation feels like the Wild, Wild West – there is no one battery technology that rules them all. Imagine if we were creating combustion engines for the first time and people hadn't decided where the valves went, or whether to use valves at all. There are a hundred different possibilities for electric, a lot of new ideas, a lot of unclear winners, and a lot of chances to innovate and come up with something new. What's the best battery? What's the best motor? The only right answer is: it depends on the application. The “best” battery is still to be made.
If you look at the trajectory of improvement year over year, electric power has a lot of space for new ideas. Battery development is very multi-disciplinary. We generally think of the battery as an electrical system, but on an electrical level the battery is pretty straightforward.
What aren’t so straightforward are the mechanical and chemical issues. Chemical issues create non-linear characteristics, like degradation, hysteresis and temperature dependence. Mechanically, you have a lot of high voltage and insulation concerns, and a complicated web of tolerances and competing design priorities. Then, on top of all of that, you have these kind of corner case safety issues where if something goes wrong, you really have to understand how it's going to go wrong, how to contain it, how to keep it safe at the system level. It's just wickedly complicated.
A battery isn’t so much a bitchy princess as it's the golden child that throws a tantrum if something goes bad. I usually tell people my job is to try to keep batteries happy, because they are naturally sensitive and finicky. No two operating points are the same and a thousand different things are going on. The better the job we can do at managing those instances while adding minimal cost, weight, and size, the better off we'll be. If you keep a battery in its happy place, everything is wonderful. My job is to bracket the battery and make sure that, no matter what, it stays in its happy place.
Size and weight are critical because the best battery cells in the world that are readily available in high volume (which are the ones that we're using) are about one 30th the energy density of gasoline – that's the battle. Gasoline is awesome, 30 times more energy dense than a battery. Fortunately, gas-poweredengines suck, and are only approximately 25% efficient. That means you can divide the battery’s loss to gas by a factor of four, which puts batteries at eight times less energy dense. Therefore, in application, the best cells in the world are about 1/8th as “good” as gasoline.
I tend to think of everything else in the battery as overhead. The battery cells are commodity, then we factor how much weight and volume we’re adding to make the complete pack. The battery is the heaviest and most expensive part of the vehicle. Getting the most out of that battery with as little overhead as possible is hugely valuable, and I think the battery we've got right now is significantly more energy dense than anything else out there.
We know batteries aren’t likely to win in any application that requires a lot of energy. That’s just not a good fight to fight. However, even though the battery cell density is 1/8th compared to gasoline, that's just the cell. Anything we do to build the pack is overhead and damages the ratio even further. Instead of 1/8th, maybe by the time the pack's done, it's down to only 1/10th. The battery pack’s weight is a knob I can turn to help get the Redshift on par with gas. Rather than controlling a gas engine intake’s 200 moving parts upstream of the actual place where the tire touches the road, the electric motor is very closely coupled with where the tire touches the road – two gears and a chain separate the motor from the road. You're flipping a switch to get linear power and digitally control it at really high speeds with absolutely smooth delivery.
There's something about a really well-designed bike or car that it's hard to describe, but there's just this kind of feel that it has the right weight, the right fasteners, the right surfaces, and everything just screams legitimacy. Even with the very first concept, the Redshift already had that. When I came across Alta, they were one of the few companies I'd seen that actually was building something high-end, high-performance, getting the right kind of brand identity, getting the right type of people involved, and the right kind of customers who were excited about the product, but still saw potential for a larger market effect. Alta had a very clear vision how to start at the top end and boil it down to a technology that made sense through the whole spectrum.
Considering what we've developed, the performance potential, the sales potential, and the appeal to the customer, I think we've totally nailed it. I’m really proud of the bike and really excited about it. We've done a lot and it’s easy to forget day-to-day that we've built something substantial. We’ve had riders on the prototype faster by a long shot than the best gas bikes in this class, but now the Redshift is 20 pounds lighter, and it revs faster.
As this phase of testing progresses, we have more refined designs, more accurate results, and those results are all trending in a positive direction. We're getting better and better and better. If we're looking at the evolution curve, we're not on the end, flatlining on the curve’s asymptote; we're just now at the beginning and every year can be another 10% better. We're making significant leaps and bounds as we iterate because all this stuff is so new. We have so much more to learn, and I really like that part.