The first EV to use an 800v drive system was the Porsche Taycan, a luxury sports saloon. This was launched in 2019. According to Porsche, by using a fast-charger the Taycan's huge 93kwh battery can, in a little more than five minutes, gather enough juice for the car to travel 100km.
Two South Korean producers, Hyundai and its partner Kia, launched their first 800v vehicles this year. Kia says the 77kwh battery in its EV6, which went on sale on August 2nd, can be recharged from 10% to 80% in 18 minutes. (The last 20% of capacity is charged at a slower rate in most EVs, to prevent damage to the battery. Hence a full recharge is typically carried out overnight on a standard charger.) Others have 800v vehicles in the works, too. They include General Motors, Volvo, BYD and Stellantis (a large shareholder in which, for full disclosure, also has a stake in The Economist's parent company).
Turning an EV's battery from a 400v to an 800v system is fairly straightforward. Principally, it involves wiring up more of the battery's cells in series. But the associated electronics need additional re-engineering. The main reason why the current generation of EVS use 400v is that semiconductors able to handle higher voltages have not been readily available.
Now that EV sales are growing strongly, though, specialist chipmakers are investing in semiconductors that can operate at 800v. Instead of using transistors made from pure silicon, those employed by these chips are made from silicon carbide, which is more robust. Safety systems in vehicles, such as automated circuit breakers which isolate the battery in the EVent of a crash, also need to be upgraded.
What all this means is that, as more 800v EVS come onto the market, and batteries continue to improve with increased capacity, more motorists are likely to be persuaded to go electric. Much, however, will depend on the availability of fast-charging infrastructure. If stations are easy to find, and topping up batteries takes only the amount of time required to pick up a coffee, then the malady of range anxiety will at last be laid to rest.