When will elec­tric au­tos go main­stream?

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS -


WHEN WILL elec­tricpow­ered cars be­come a prac­ti­cal choice for or­di­nary peo­ple?

The ques­tion hung in the air at the Paris auto show, where Volk­swa­gen, Mercedes-Benz and Gen­eral Mo­tors are show­ing off electrics they hope are the on-ramp to a prof­itable fu­ture.

The raft of new ve­hi­cles lends buzz to electrics. But ear­lier over-optimistic predictions have also bred scep­ti­cism.

Volk­swa­gen com­pared its ID elec­tric com­pact to its his­toric Bee­tle and main­stay Golf mod­els and said it was the lead­ing edge of 30 new elec­tric mod­els it plans to put out by 2025.

Daim­ler AG CEO Di­eter Zetsche looked more Sil­i­con Val­ley than Stuttgart when he donned faded jeans and sneak­ers to tout the Mercedes-Benz EQ, a bat­tery pow­ered cross­over SUV con­cept. The ve­hi­cle is meant to il­lus­trate the com­pany’s longer term strat­egy that con­nects elec­tric cars with other new tech­nol­ogy such as au­ton­o­mous driv­ing and ve­hi­cle shar­ing.

Zetsche said the com­pany aimed for 10 elec­tric ve­hi­cles by 2025, mak­ing up 15-25 per cent of global sales – a bold pre­dic­tion he im­me­di­ately tem­pered by say­ing that was based on “con­tin­ued de­vel­op­ment of in­fra­struc­ture and cus­tomer pref­er­ences”.

Gen­eral Mo­tors Com­pany’s Euro­pean di­vi­sion Opel is show­ing off the Am­pera-e, a re­badged ver­sion of the Chevro­let Bolt. Opel says the Am­pera-e will achieve a range of more than 500 kilo­me­tres (310 miles) un­der Euro­pean stan­dards, a sig­nif­i­cant leap.

The Bolt goes on sale this year in the United States, but it’s hardly cheap at the man­u­fac­turer’s sug­gested retail price of US$37,495 for a five-seat hatch­back. That’s not count­ing the tax break of up to US$7,500 the fed­eral gov­ern­ment of­fers to en­cour­age the growth of ze­roe­mis­sion ve­hi­cles.

For now, the lim­ited range and higher costs mean bat­tery-pow­ered ve­hi­cles have lit­tle at­trac­tion for reg­u­lar folks try­ing to get the most for their money. They re­main largely a niche mar­ket, of­ten for peo­ple en­thu­si­as­tic about new tech­nol­ogy or the en­vi­ron­ment, and with the ex­tra dis­pos­able in­come to act on that. Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­ni­abased Tesla has won at­ten­tion with ris­ing sales of electrics to well-heeled cus­tomers – but loses money.

In the short run, at least, elec­tric ve­hi­cles help bur­nish com­pa­nies’ im­age as tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly. Volk­swa­gen is strug­gling to re­cover from a scan­dal over diesel cars rigged to cheat on emis­sions tests.

But com­pa­nies are also lay­ing the ground­work for the day when the cost of elec­tric falls to, or be­low, that of in­ter­nal com­bus­tion. It’s a day that some an­a­lysts think is only a few years off. When that hap­pens, sales could hit a tip­ping point – a mo­ment car­mak­ers want to be ready for.

The ar­rival of such an ‘E-day’ could be ac­cel­er­ated by in­creas­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion man­dat­ing lower av­er­age emis­sions and higher mileage. Electrics in the prod­uct line-up would help car­mak­ers meet new, lower Euro­pean Union lim­its on green­house gas emis­sions blamed by sci­en­tists for global warm­ing that go into ef­fect in 2021. In the US, nine states have fol­lowed Cal­i­for­nia in adopt­ing a re­quire­ment that 15 per cent of new ve­hi­cles sales be zero-emis­sion ve­hi­cles by 2025.

Electrics have good ac­cel­er­a­tion, and fewer mov­ing parts to wear out. And imag­ine never stop­ping for gas, ever again.

But there are a host of other fac­tors to con­sider: the price of gas; the price of elec­tric­ity; charg­ing times; bat­tery costs; the ease with which you can find places to charge up.

Plug-in hy­brids start on bat­tery power, then use a small in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine to gen­eral elec­tric­ity and ex­tend the ve­hi­cle’s range.

Pure hy­brids like Toy­ota’s Prius can’t be plugged in and rely on the en­gine alone to charge the bat­tery.

Bloomberg New En­ergy Fi­nance is­sued a re­port in Au­gust that pre­dicted electrics would match in­ter­nal com­bus­tion ve­hi­cles in own­er­ship costs in 2022, as­sum­ing oil prices of US$50-US$70 per bar­rel and bat­tery prices of US$125 per kilo­watt hour. That key cost has fallen from US$1,000 per kilo­watt hour in 2010 to around US$350 per kilo­watt hour to­day — faster than many ex­pected.

Thomas Tur­ren­tine, direc­tor of the Plug-In Hy­brid and Elec­tric Ve­hi­cle Re­search Cen­ter at the In­sti­tute of Trans­porta­tion Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis, says electrics will reach price par­ity “af­ter 2020”, but still might need some in­cen­tives to win over con­sumers.

He said the key will be the usual mo­tive: “Once there’s profit, you will see the car com­pa­nies rush in and make more in­vest­ments” in pro­duc­tion.

Re­nault-Nis­san CEO Car­los Ghosn says con­sumer choices can change, if the tech­nol­ogy does. The com­pany makes the Leaf bat­tery-only elec­tric.

“It’s like with a smart­phone – in the be­gin­ning you had eight hours charg­ing for 30 min­utes of dis­cus­sion,” Ghosn told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “To­day it is the re­verse. You need time for tech­nol­ogy to do its job.” Peo­ple look at the Mit­subishi eX Con­cept elec­tric cross­over at the Paris Auto Show in Paris, France, Fri­day, Sep­tem­ber 30. The Paris Auto Show gates are open to the pub­lic from Oc­to­ber 1 to 16.

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