Elon Musk hopes to conquer electric car range limits by 2020

Range anxiety may keep you from driving an electric car right now, but Tesla chief Elon Musk doesn't expect that to be a problem for very long. When grilled about driving distances in a Danish interview, Musk revealed that he expects the battery technology to improve at a rate of 5 to 10 percent per year, which could lead to some massive range gains in a relatively short space of time. The CEO notes that people have already driven the Model S up to 500 miles on a charge at slow speeds, and that this could extend to over 600 miles as soon as 2016, and a whopping 746 miles by 2020. While it's doubtful that you'd get these figures blazing down the highway, Treehugger's back-of-the-napkin math suggests that this should still lead to a realistic range of 382 to 483 miles. That's enough for many city-to-city trips, and it doesn't account for lighter materials or other efficiency refinements.

Musk is also unsurprisingly bullish on the notion of self-driving cars. He believes that there will be fully autonomous vehicles (that is, capable of driving anywhere) around 2018. That's a surprisingly short span of time, especially when prototype designs still have plenty of flaws. However, the executive doesn't see robotic vehicles flooding the roads right away. He believes that cautious regulators won't permit self-driving cars on their roads for another 1 to 3 years after that, and some regions will be more welcoming of autonomy than others. You may well get a hands-free ride around town in the next few years -- just don't mark a date on your calendar.

[Image credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]