The "gotta have it" just isn't there for electric vehicles.
bf sv nation ev stuck in neutral
SAN FRANCISCO--A year from now, we'll be writing that same headline,
I guarantee you. Electric vehicles will still have lackluster sales,
some more car and battery companies will have gone out of business,
and perhaps there will be some scandalous news coming out of
Department of Energy technology grants.
That may seem a bold prediction given that there's still a huge
amount of hype flooding us week in and week out. Recently, for
A research company called Mintel made some noise this week, releasing
a report that indicated EV sales were up 73 percent
EVs could be tapped as backup power, under a pilot
program backed by the Department of Defense.
But reality is this: It's been two years since the Chevy Volt
rolled off the assembly line. GM's still selling Volts, but
slowly. Tesla is building a lot of Model S sedans, but buying an
expensive car is different than making one. Fisker's Karma is
struggling. Battery vendors are falling by the
roadside. That Mintel report seems sexy, but that 73-percent
increase is off a tiny base, and EV purchases are still just 3.3
percent of total vehicle sales. That's like celebrating RIM
Blackberry market share in the smart phone business today.
Stronger headwinds will buffet EVs in 2013. Why? Because of this
"We've gone from the innovators to the early adopters
who are not going to put up with a bunch of headaches. Now we're
in a market where people say, 'This has to work.'"
That's from Stan Sittser, transportation electrification project
manager for Portland General Electric. He was staffing the Portland
International Auto show recently, where he gave
an interview to a local newspaper. ,
The instructive part of his take is we're at a place in the story
where people expect the technology to work. Right now, it
doesn't, in the eyes of the average consumer. It doesn't work
technically, and it doesn't work economically.
The average consumer is reading blog posts and watching TV stories
about lithium ion batteries on fire in Boeing 787s and Chevy Volts.
They're watching YouTube clips of Fisker Karma
campfires in parking lots. Perhaps worse, they're
reading stories about Mitsubishi
recalling nearly 15,000 EVs because of brake problems
unique to electric motor-powered cars. But even the most forgiving
tech-savvy consumer has to stare at the price tag of one of these
vehicles and think there's a year or more of the kids'
private-college tuition in that list price.
I think an electric only (not EV plugin hybrid) vehicle could be very successful if done right. As Brian says, first it needs to be cheaper. The way to make it cheaper is to make it simpler and lighter. It needs to be a clean sheet design for electric - not a gas model that is adapted to electric as an after thought. I have three vehicles at home for family use. At least one of those vehicles could easily be electric. My son drives less than 15 miles a day round trip to school and back. I drive less than 15 miles round trip to work and back. I live in an an area with moderate climate. If an electric car was cheaper to buy and operate than the gas powered equivalent, I would buy one. And I think many others would too. And I think that the technology to make that vehicle exisists today. I don't need 100 mile range. I don't even need a 50 mile range, so I have very little "range anxiety". If some major manufacturer would make a relatively small, light, inexpensive, but durable, safe, and reliable electric vehicle, it would sell - almost irregardless of it's range.
" The way to make it cheaper is to make it simpler and lighter. "
No--it is expensive (and heavy) because of the batteries. The way to make it cheaper is to have less expensive batteries.
Economics pretty much solves the issue. When gas prices quadruple or battery prices plummet, an electric car becomes economical and more people will buy them. Solar power also becomes a lot more attractive. If gas prices don't quadruple, then that means there's enough oil to keep driving gasoline cars.
For now, the innovators with enough money to buy these expensive and limited range cars are helping develop the technology. If there's ever some catastrophic event like another oil embargo, they'll be laughing at us while they drive past when we're stuck in long lines at the gas station.
In the defense of carmakers - they are saddled with the obnoxious burdens imposed by the NHTSC to sell a new car for on-road use. This burden is also why all models of vehicles are running $thousands more than they should.
I'm not an EV fan, but with the scope of regulation on new car OEMs, we are converging on vehicle designs that none of us will be happy with. A business model like Local motors that skirts the federal regs or an outright kit is the only soution left.
For something as large as the new vehicle market, I think 3.3% is actually pretty impressive - especially given that electric vehicles ARE more expensive.
I am not sure if I buy your argument. It took probably 30 years for fuel injection to go from extreme novelty to ubiquitous. This is a change larger than that, so to declare the electric vehicle dead after the Nissan Leaf has been on the market maybe 2 years seems a bit premature.
I agree with you, Brian. It is very difficult for people to embrace a product to replace something they already have, when the new one is way more compromised than the old. The new one has to be better. Range anxiety is a big deal, when you didn't have any concerns on this before.
Electric powertrains are a super idea. Now, if only people could stop thinking that the battery is the only possible energy source. It becomes almost an indication of lack of imagination. Get beyond this battery myopia and electric cars might actually succeed.
I am sorry, driving an electric vehicle that plugs into a mainly coal fired electric grid is not helping the environment. Especially when you have to pay up for the privelige of polluting more while you feel virtuous driving without gasoline.
Just my opinion.
In 2011 only 20% of energy consumed in the US came from coal (http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm). Beyond that, it is easy enough to redistribute how electricity is generated, so in 10 years electricity may be 20% or more from renewable sources. Electric cars can't tell/don't care how it was generated.
However ICEs can only use a handful of different fuels and none of them are all that great for the environment.
Irrespective of anti-polluting virtue or lack thereof, the fundamental problems with battery electrics continue to be lack of range and ridiculous refueling times. It's like you're hit with the worst of both worlds. And battery improvements are never more than incremental, so far.
I know someone with a hyrdrogen powered fuel cell car, and that (sort of) solves the refueling issues ---- except that currently, there are all of like 4 refueling stations in the US. So range anxiety is actually a lot worse with that car. Presumably, that could be solved, but at the moment, a battery powered car can be recharged nearly anywhere provided you have 5 hours to kill.
Sorry I had not seen where you addressed that, reportingsjr.
Bert, refueling times won't really matter when range is a few hundred miles. If you drive more than that in a day, pure EVs might never be for you.
Except it's not mainly coal-fired. It was ~50% coal a few years ago and it's less now, closer to 40% thanks to the EPA, the wind boom, and fracking for nat gas (that you probably love). Even if powered by pure coal, an EV would emit about the same CO2 as an ICE that gets over 30MPG, or better than the average ICE sold. And things only get better as the grid gets cleaner.
According to what I've heard, the amount of solar panel space you need to keep a typical electric car fueled is about the size of a carport. Pretty silly to burn coal when the sun delivers power to your driveway for free.
I have 2kW of PV that generates not all, but over half the power my LEAF uses, or about 6500 miles/yr solar. That's the one of the two key takeaways from EVs! One is more efficient propulsion; the other is flexible fuel sources from a variety of cleaner and cheaper fuels. ICE's are limited to fossil fuel or biofuels, which may be just as bad and are actually a very weak and inefficient form of solar energy.
Don't forget the battery. It has to be replaced at about 100K miles. Today's gasoline cars get much more than 100K miles before they need anything major. What does it cost to replace the battery in an electric car? Probably more than an engine overhaul. As soon as the cost per mile is less than a gasoline car, they will take over. Until then, it is only for the early adopters and rich geeks.
That's a great point I hadn't considered: The replacement for the Chevy Volt battery is around $10,000 at the moment. A lot of ICE cars today offer virtually free or low cost service for 100,000 miles and the battery-replacement throws a big wrench in that selling point as consumers have become used to those types of incentives.
People talked about the original Prius batteries costing $10k to replace (oddly enough the same figure) back when they came out. Now, years later, the very first Prius' are beginning to need new batteries, and they can be replaced for between $1500 to $2500. Sounds like it's worth doing in most cases.
As far as "free or low cost service for 100,000 miles" , yeah... right... let me tally up what the service costs were for my Audi A6 Turbo for miles 60,000 to 100,000 (the first 60,000 were under warranty - needed to dump or extend the warranty before 60,000...) Those 40,000 miles were a lot more than $10,000...
Where did you hear that? Toyota BHEV NMH batteries are going much longer than 100K and owners have reported no noticeable degradation. You can also lease a LEAF now for $219/mo. and then let it go. Fuel cost per mile: less than half that of the best BHEV (Prius), and even less when gasoline prices spike. I haven't needed to open the hood of my LEAF for ANY maintenance in almost 2 yrs. So where is the EV takeover? ;)
The thing about the hybrids is that the battery is merely supplementary. The NiMH battery will inherently accept more charges than Li-ion. However, the real advantage is that they keep the battery out of the range where there's significant degradation. Because the battery is only supplemental, it doesn't need to go to the extremes of charge, where most battery degradation occurs. The systems are designed to operate between 40-75% of charge, and by doing so they can last exponentially longer. Hybrid car owners call it the "Sweet Spot". I helped my folks set up their new laptop, and it did come with a setting to keep the battery in the middle of the charge range to maximize battery life. They didn't want it because they wanted to be able to draw down the battery and get maximum use on battery power.
The issue with an all-electric or plug-in hybrid is that one really wants to get as much range as possible. A regular hybrid only has a battery and electric motor to supplement the ICE (slow speeds and to boost acceleration) as well as recapture energy via regenerative braking.
I have heard stories of hybrid car drivers finding that they ran out of fuel. These cars have a "limp" mode where they will run on battery power only enough to get to a place to refuel. I've heard of cases where the driver decided to drive it home this way, the battery was fully depleted, and the battery life went south quickly. It was not covered under warranty because the electronics captured this "abuse".
That being said, the batteries are covered under emissions warranties, although that's only 7 years and 100K miles in California.
How about a source rather than an anecdotal, unsubstantiated "what-if"? You actually KNOW someone who "abused" the battery thusly, it died completely in these two years, and they refused to replace the battery due to the "abuse" because they could pull the record from the car.
Sounds highly unlikely for many reasons to me.
It did occur to me that it could have been an urban legend.
I did a little bit more research, and there are reports that the console warning lights go crazy and inform that one really needs to add fuel before running out. Then it makes sure that the driver knows that there is no fuel. Once someone shuts it down without fuel and attempts to start it, it will give three chances to start with enough fuel before it shuts down and requires an engine code reset. There are reports that people might have been able to get up to two miles on the battery alone, although it progressively lowers speed (maxes at about 18 MPH).
So perhaps my original understanding was off. Turns out more detailed reports are that they are designed to keep the battery from depleting. However, running out of fuel is a bad idea. I don't know if Toyota will consider it abuse for warranty claims.
"typically halving the range" - a bit of an exaggeration - I'd say more like "at the extreme tail, it MIGHT halve your range..." it's more like 2/3rds your range. Case in point, on a single charge, my Volt will break 50 miles all electric. In close to freezing, it might go down to 33-35 miles... I admit that I've never driven it in sub-freezing levels, but people were never meant to live in such places, much less drive! ;-)
I don't have a lot of problems with your post, Brian, but you could make similar conclusions about a lot of things that the world's crystal ball is foggy on (ie, almost everything). Many 20-somethings don't even care about owning any cars or houses anymore, for reasons outside this scope, and that demographic is the one on which the "gotta have it" business model is dependent. If you look at a lot of technologies that did hockey-stick, many if not most were unforeseen.
As soon as there are noticeable improvements in battery range and commensurate cost cuts, EV and PHEV sales will grow even if the price of gasoline doesn't stop externalizing its real costs onto society and future generations. If I'm wrong I'd rather err on the side of optimism than grossly underestimate the potential of EVs and plug-in hybrids, which will be required if we are to meet the 54.5MPG mandate.
Lastly, much of the bad news I read about EVs has nothing or little to do with EV technology. Some examples: Fisker problems go in every direction except pointing to real problems with the battery itself; battery company bankruptcies are no different than consolidations the car companies went through 100 yrs ago or the computer companies have gone through for the last 30 yrs; and a recent prominent article bashing EVs focused on things like the LEAF's styling!
(to be continued)
Finally, many of the negative stories in the media that scare people away have appeared in UBM's own pubs. How many times has UBM emailed out headlines that essentially say "CHEVY VOLT FIRES!!!!" when there was really only one I know of, and when the circumstances are learned (who bothers with this?), that incident had virtually nothing to do with battery safety? You can't keep screaming "fire!" in crowded theaters (or "EV car fires!" in car showrooms) and then wonder why people are staying away. I wonder how Chevy feels now about its UBM involvement to promote UBM's and Avnet's products with your cross country drive event. I don't recall a lot of EV bashing during that.
I see Nissan Leafs all the time. Such a quiet, welcome change from all those noisy, smelly gas hogs destroying the planet.
The Volt is not an electric car. It's a hybrid car. It's not fair to besmirch the electric car market just because the market has decided that a Prius (mid-size or compact) is a better hybrid value.
But then, as Ed Begley Jr said in "Who Killed the Electric Car": "Electric cars aren't for everybody. They can only satisfy the driving needs of 90% of Americans."
Price may not be as much of an issue. Our GMC/Buick dealership recently accepted delivery of a real rarity: a completely base, six-cylinder, regular cab, pickup truck, priced under $20,000. Most of our pickup truck inventory is $40k plus, with quite a few in the $50k to $60k plus range. Yes, we do sell them. Many of them.
Comparing that with my experience developing and promoting EVs for a small mfg. What we have are two markets, where those who are most interested and stand to benefit most from EVs are lower income folks. The upper income folks can easily afford today's production EVs if they want to.
GM, using their resources, could build and sell ours for $15k, at which price they would fly off the lot. If we had one-tenth of one percent of the recent EV stimulus money, so could we...
I've had a Leaf for almost 2 years. I really enjoy its smooth and strong acceleration and quiet ride. One of the things that takes a while to get used to is the complete silence at a traffic light. What are those other cars doing?!?
When I'm in an ICE with someone else I like to ask what that gawd-awful noise coming from the front of the car is. And that wonderful "free" ICE heat in the winter? It's very expensive and being generated just as much during the vast majority of time when you don't need it.
I agree with Brian - "It is very difficult for people to embrace a product to replace something they already have" Yet, ultimately, EV makers have to consider the habit of consumer and realize consumers are sensitive to price. Realistically speaking, are you willing to wait for 30 minutes or an hour to get your car charged up? Are you willing to pay a premium to buy a car that can move you in a limited range?
There isn't much doubt that EV will become one of the major transportation in the near future. It might already become today's in some cities that have the convenience of park and charge. I'm sure there will be a lot more work to do in infrastructure to support the proliferation of EV.
Why would you have to wait to charge? The current EVs are perfect for commuters, which is what many cars are purchased for, so an overnight charge will suit a day's driving.
As for price, a prominent industry marketing study determined the crossover price where people would buy an EV to be ~$22k. The new 2013 LEAF price starts at $28,800 less $7500 tax credit = $21,300. Many states have more credits to lower it still. And fuel costs will save you ~$500/yr over those for a Prius.
Either people will be flocking to the car now, or it will prove how fickle and afraid people are to change, even if it's for the better.
Try one; you might like it.
EV ideal for commuters? I doubt it, bus or train is better...in general I just don't see a value proposition for electric cars: they use energy generated from sources that pollute (green energy is still very small fraction of the overall energy) so the environmental impact is small, charging takes forever, the batteries are expensive and last 10 years at best...EVs are stuck in crossing the chasm...yes, some people, some industries, some services will use them but mainstream consumers, I doubt it...personally I prefer to walk, bike and use public transportation whenever I can (we still own two cars thought, hope to get rid of one eventually)...Kris
I absolutely agree, Kris! I'm only arguing EVs relative to ICEs. Moving a person or two at significant speed in a 1-1/2 ton box is energy intensive any way you cut it! Unfortunately, areas like mine have a lot of hills, are hostile to non-motor traffic, and have very weak public transport.
I am not willing to pay a premium for an electric car. If an electric car has a range of 100 miles (I commute 90 miles per day) between charges in the dead of winter at 15 degrees F and costs no more than a ICE car, I will buy it. If not, forget it.