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How your current car is about to become obsolete

The new BMW i8 Roadster (right) with the brand's i Vision Dynamics concept car.

WILL batteries ever be a match for an old-fashioned tank of fuel? The average Electric Vehicle (EV) has a range of 250km, according to consultancy EV Volumes. Today's diesel cars can travel four times that distance.

But new cars from BMW show how engineers are narrowing the gap. The BMW i8 Roadster made its global debut last week with an 11.6kWh battery pack - significantly more than the 7kWh unit in the 2014's i8.

The extra juice allows the petrol-electric sports car to travel more than 50km on battery power alone, enough to cover the daily distance travelled by the average driver in Singapore, and roughly 40 per cent further than the original i8.

The new battery is better but not bigger. Engineers increased capacity without increasing size, weight or cost.

Steady improvements like these are creeping into EVs. Earlier this year, the BMW i3 gained an improved battery pack that raised its driving range by 50 per cent to 200km.

But bigger breakthroughs are on the way as carmakers pour resources into developing the technology. BMW said it will invest 200 million euros (S$318m) into a new battery research centre over the next four years.

"We will focus on further improvements in battery performance, lifespan, safety, charging and costs," said Klaus Fröhlich, the car maker's research and development chief.

The BMW i Vision Dynamics previews an EV that it will sell in 2021 with a range of 600km, and it expects further improvements to battery technology to put 700km within reach.

But one driver's experience with an EV suggests that there's little need for such huge capacity - at least within Singapore.

Frank Phuan, chief executive of solar company Sunseap Group, drives an early BMW i3. Like a mobile phone, it's charged daily at home.

"Range anxiety is a big turn-off for people used to the range of a normal car, but even with a full day's driving of 100km and more, I've never run out of charge on the i3," he said.

In two years of owning the car, he has never switched on its petrol-powered emergency range extender.

Tomorrow's batteries may go the distance, but today's do the job just fine.

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