Tesla has revealed a new battery for its cars that will generate truly stunning performance. But this is more than just a story about a new whizzy technology or a powerful car, it illustrates how technology is changing the world.
Do you remember the days when driving from zero to sixty miles per hour in 2.5 seconds was considered to be quite quick? Back then, of course, electric cars were for rich kids and mass market acceptance was seen as a pipe-dream.
Maybe those days finally came to an end in August 2016 when Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, revealed a new battery.
As a general rule of thumb, new batteries are not usually associated with a big car announcement, especially when it is linked to a car that can travel at speeds that would not look totally out of sorts in a Formula 1 race, but then this is a Tesla battery, and Tesla batteries are not like your average AA battery that you can buy down the road. Incidentally, Formula 1 cars can do nought to sixty in around 1.6 seconds, so maybe the Tesla isn’t quite there, yet.
The battery is designed to work with the high-end versions of the Tesla Model S sedan. But this is not just a battery for giving oomph. The Tesla P100D 100-kilowatt hour battery can also take the car and driver for 300 miles or more between re-charges.
Petrol-heads are typically unenthusiastic about electric cars. And the reasons they like to cite as to why electric cars will only ever be a niche technology are long. But top of the list is the short mileage between charges.
This new battery changes that.
There are two important things here.
First of all, the advances in battery technology show what happens when you have convergence. Lithium ion batteries used to be used for phones the size of a small house – or at least the size of a small Wendy House. Then they were used for laptops, then smart phones, and the technology got better, and better, until – the trajectory of advancement unnoticed by technology cynics – they were powerful enough to see a car hit 60 in 2.5 seconds. Technology for phones converged with technology for computers, with technology for cars. And technology cynics, such as Robert J Gordon, the economist who says the rate of technological advancement has peaked, don’t seem to understand convergence.
Secondly, this demonstrates what happens when products start to appeal to a mass market. The economies of scale, and investment in R&D, and the specialisation that can result, mean that the rate of technological progress accelerated.
Right now, the Tesla Model S costs a fair packet, but both cars carrying Tesla batteries and the batteries themselves, will fall in cost, just as computers once fell in cost from £3,000 plus to less than £400 in less than two decades.
Electric cars are heading for the mass market, and they will change, it, although autonomous and convergence with the Uber economy will change the car industry by more.
If nothing else, it illustrates how technology is changing the world faster than a Tesla on a race track.