"In 1904, with lead-acid batteries, a relatively unsophisticated motor, and a chain-driven transmission, the Columbia Automobile Company had an electric car on the market that had a 40-mile range before needing to be charged.
100+ years later, with advances in battery technologies, electric motors, drivetrains, and automotive design, there are new electric cars coming out on the market... that have a 40-mile range before needing to be charged.
Why does this strike me as immensely funny (and not in a good way)?"
Well, it's not as if I like defending the auto industry, but that really isn't a fair comparison. Those early vehicles were made of very light, relatively flimsy materials (essentially, as they were called, motorized carriages) and had both poor acceleration and low top speed. These modern vehicles, while possessing similar range, are substantially heavier, faster, safer, and more reliable. Hauling around 10 times as much weight (note: "10 times" selected to be illustrative, not literal or accurate) at a much higher rate of speed and still achieving the same approximate range is certainly indicative of substantial progress.
To those who expressed concern over the use of lithium-ion batteries, I couldn't agree more, and I'm surprised that no commentor has, as yet, raised the issue of fire. If we pump out millions of Li-ion batteries for laptops every year and still can't figure out how to design them not to overheat, can we solve that problem for automotive uses? Also, aren't lithium titanate batteries supposed to have much greater energy density? They might not be readily available yet, but it would seem sane to invest in a technology that could improve range by 10-40% (more numbers being pulled out my ass, can't recall what the article on LiTitanate said) without increasing the size of the envelope.
Regarding what Paul said:
"I don't consider swapping batteries at a charging station to be a sensible idea either. It would fix the shape if cars for good, as you would need a common form factor, and they are not small. UCs could be built to fit the structure of the car."
Think outside the present form! There is no reason why a single large envelope must be used; after all, the "battery" in an electric car is just a bunch of smaller ones packed into a larger package with a few leads. It would make more sense, in my mind, to swap batteries in a manner similar to the old full-service days. Say, for example, that a normal car's engine compartment is your battery compartment. You pull into the station, and pop your hood. An attendant greets you, disconnects and removes your several standard-sized batteries one at a time, replacing them with fresh ones as he places the spent batteries on the station's charger. It would seem logical that each battery unit would have a diagnostic connection, so your vehicle could estimate total charge and give you a readout analogous to a fuel gauge; you have X kwH before empty. Eh, I'm off on a tangent.
The ol' skull 'n' crossbones, because theft of electricity ('leccy piracy?) is going to become a major crime.