53 Comments

Summary:

A new generation of plug-in vehicles designed for mainstream U.S. consumers is slated to roll out over the next five years — giving car buyers more electric options than ever before. But while automakers are racing to develop models that could eventually see mass market adoption, […]

A new generation of plug-in vehicles designed for mainstream U.S. consumers is slated to roll out over the next five years — giving car buyers more electric options than ever before. But while automakers are racing to develop models that could eventually see mass market adoption, car companies’ inaugural electric efforts are widely expected to make up only a small portion of the auto market. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett recently predicted that all cars will be electric by 2030, but most forecasters anticipate a slower rate of adoption for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Electric vehicles on the world’s roadways could number in the hundreds of thousands by 2015, as Pike Research put it last week, but “the full effects of this automotive revolution will take years to be realized in the mainstream market.” What are some of the factors that could keep prospective car buyers from going electric in the coming years? Here are 10 signs you probably won’t be first in line for a gen-1 EV.

  1. Your budget’s already tight. A $7,500 tax rebate will be available to help bring within reach some of the earliest electric vehicles targeted for mainstream consumers. (The government will reduce the max credit offered for a given manufacturer’s vehicles after the company has sold at least 200,000 vehicles.) But with prices falling mostly into the $40,000-and-up range, first-gen plug-in models will be too expensive for many.
  2. You live in an apartment. While homeowners with a personal garage can have a charge point installed and see the electricity costs added to their regular utility bill, apartment complexes will require a smart charging system with secure login and billing features so that residents are charged accurately. That means renters will be at the mercy of building owners’ enthusiasm (or lack thereof) when it comes to having access to a charging station at home.
  3. You’re waiting for a gas tax hike. General Motors’ Bob Lutz and Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford have suggested that gas taxes may need to be hiked up for U.S. consumers to cough up the extra dough for an electric car. But at least two factors counter the idea that a jump in gas taxes will push a typical consumer in the next few years to invest in a plug-in vehicle. First, it’s unlikely that in this time frame we’ll see a gas tax hike — most politicians would rather keep a safe distance away from taxing Americans’ fuel. Second, fuel makes up a relatively small portion of the total cost of ownership for personal vehicles. So a gas tax hike probably won’t be the last straw that spurs purchase of first-gen electric vehicles.
  4. You just threw down for a Prius. Consumers who just joined the hybrid bandwagon and invested in a third-generation 2010 Prius this year have a car that should last well beyond the introduction of plug-in models in the 2010-2015 time frame. The new Prius starts at around $22,000, and fully loaded costs a little over $32,000. Most electric models coming out in the next few years will likely start around $40,000, with luxury models running up to more than double that price.
  5. You don’t live in California. Some of the earliest plug-in vehicle models will roll out to customers and fleet operators in California. The Los Angeles area in particular has attracted interest from EV developers for its high population density, notorious air pollution problems, large car market, affluent consumers and history of adopting new technologies early on. California has some public charging infrastructure from its first attempt at spurring EV adoption in the 1990s, and thousands more are slated for installation over the next few years. Plug-in vehicle developers eyeing California as their lead market range from Coda Automotive to BYD Auto to General Motors.
  6. You want a truly zero-emission vehicle. All-electric vehicles may lack an exhaust belching tailpipe, but they’re only as green as the source of their electricity. If you’re waiting for an electric vehicle that can plug into a zero- or low-emission grid (powered mostly with renewable energy sources like wind and solar), keep waiting. Cleaning up the power grid will take many years after the launch of the earliest electric models.
  7. You want an “all-American” model. The earliest electric models to hit the market will be largely international efforts. General Motors is getting the battery cells for its Chevy Volt from South Korea’s LG Chem, for example. And Tesla Motors, the poster child for a new American auto enterprise, gets its lithium-ion cells from Japanese suppliers and has contracted manufacturing out to the UK’s Lotus. If stimulus-funded projects go according to plan, more manufacturing will be done stateside for later models, but factories for models like the Tesla Model S and Fisker Nina aren’t scheduled to begin producing vehicles until 2011. Other companies, like Think and V-Vehicle aim to set up manufacturing in the U.S., but they have yet to secure financing.
  8. You demand triple-digit MPG. If you expect to test drive a Chevy Volt, Nissan LEAF or Tesla Roadster and experience miles per gallon in the triple digits — as advertised — you may be sorely disappointed. Measurements of a car’s efficiency in terms of how far it can go on a gallon of gasoline, when it really runs (at least in part) on electricity, have dubious relevance. More realistic shorthand for how much you will end up spending on electricity for different plug-in vehicles may come in the form of electricity per mile ratings.
  9. You’re not on the list. Some electric vehicle makers are already taking reservations and pre-orders for upcoming models. Not every vehicle slated for production has been spoken for — but some models in small initial rollouts could go quickly. BMW fielded at least 1,800 applications this year for the 450-vehicle field trial of its electric Mini E.
  10. You’re so over ownership. If you (and your city or college campus) are really ahead of the curve, your next set of wheels won’t come in the form of vehicle ownership at all — you’ll buy mobility as a service instead, taking advantage of car- and bike-sharing networks and improved public transit, plus smartphone apps and online tools for managing it all.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user CoreForce

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. What sort of shit stir commentary is this?!

    “You want a truly zero-emission vehicle” what’s the solution there, a push bike? LOL

    “want an “all-American” none Asian battery powered model” Yep… that’s the criteria we all use to buy consumer electronics isn’t it? If that were the case there wouldn’t be a PC, iPhone or plasma TV in the country. LOL

    “You demand triple-digit MPG” look, according to the energy content of gasoline, ALL Battery EVs get 180 mpg.. and that’s before the EPA bias gets involved. AS-IF car marketing is going abandon those EPA-MPG formule for something consumers have no concept of like wh/mi.

    The actual most likely reason your next car wouldn’t be an EV is because your current ICE car will probably pass it’s increasingly short use-by-date before EV volume builds to the point where manufacturers can even come CLOSE to satisfying demand.

    As those that have driven the Nissan Leaf say “The only question is can they build enough of them”

    You have NO IDEA how much demand there is for EVs.

    1. Hey I share your enthusiasm but the currently planned EV’s just are very expensive and not practical. The wealthy can have one for a toy, and the very green will take one for the team, but the rest of us will wait for something useful.

      1. 100 mile range.

        You’re the “average” driver which means that you average 33 miles a day. You’d need to plug in every 2-3 days.

        You’re someone who rarely takes long car trips. For the amount saved not buying gas and paying for oil changes you might decide to rent for that once a year longer vacation/holiday trip. You might even be an older driver who uses a car for around town shopping, etc. but uses public transportation for longer trips.

        You’re part of a multi-car family and at least one of the cars is used for nothing more than reasonable commutes to work/school. You’ve got another car for the occasional long distance trip.

        I think I’ve defined a large group of people who are non-wealthy and might find an EV useful.

    2. Josie Garthwaite Paul Monday, December 21, 2009

      Interest and excitement about EVs doesn’t necessarily translate to someone buying one of these cars as soon as they become available — I think it’s fair to say there’s still a long way to go before plug-in models become the default choice for most consumers. I gather that you disagree and I actually hope you’re right, but I’m not too optimistic on this one.

      1. Nissan has stated that they will have a battery by 2015 which will double the Leaf’s range from 100 to 200 miles and cost will be the the same. A car that can go 200 miles between charges and get fueled back up to 160 miles in 20 minutes at a rapid charge point takes range concern off the table for most drivers.

        Battery makers agree that production levels of approximately 100,000 units per year will bring about a 50% decrease in battery cost. We should easily be at those levels by 2015.

        If new car purchasers go to the showroom and see a 2015 30 MPG ICE Whatever and an EV Whatever sitting side by side for about the same sticker price what decision do you think they’ll make?

        You think they’ll pick the car that requires them to buy 400 gallons of $3 ($1,200) or $5 ($2,000) gas a year vs. one that will require $312 of electricity?

        Think they’ll pick the car that requires them to stand out in blazing sun and freezing rain to fill their tanks rather than doing a quick plug in when they get home?

        (Remember, the average driver accumulates about 12,000 miles a year, 230 miles a week. People who drive at that level will only need to plug in a bit more often than once a week.)

        Think they’ll pick the car that requires a couple of oil/filter changes a year, air cleaners, more frequent repairs, more frequent brake pad replacements?

        Even knowing that they are contributing to CO2 levels and shipping our money overseas to oil producers will drive some people away from buying an ICE vehicle.

        I don’t know what the time line will be, but I expect the changeover to be very similar to what happened with photography. In 2000 we had expensive digital cameras capable of making good small prints. Ten years later we have digital cameras which cost less than what those earlier digitals cost and are outperforming 35mm film. In less than a decade film became a niche product.

        Same with typewriters, ledger books and computers. Between 1980 and 1990 computers moved from hobbyist devices to office domination.

  2. Josie,

    Great article!

    Here is #11…

    1. You are waiting until 2015 to buy an “affordable” hydrogen fuel cell vehicle from Toyota, because you prefer driving range, fueling time, cold weather performance, and trunk/passenger space that is far superior to battery-only cars.

    “7 reasons to love Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehicles”

    http://www.h2carblog.com/?p=16

    Greg Blencoe
    Chief Executive Officer
    Hydrogen Discoveries, Inc.
    “Hydrogen Car Revolution” blog

    1. Greg Blencoe,

      Are you serious…… Have you even been keeping up on the media or tech specs of the Hydrogen cars? Seriously now! Driving range is less then that of a ICE car. I give you the fueling time. True its like pumping gas, but hopefully EV cars will get that newer quick charge times down soon. Cold weather is doing just fine for Tesla. They are driving across the US as I type to prove this. Trunk/Passenger space…. have you not seen a 10,000 PSI compressed Hydrogen tank taking up 80% of the trunk in a new fuel cell car….. oh wait… I’m sorry. Your promoting yourself and your company…. ahhhhh. Trying to get your foot into a possible new market to sell Hydrogen technology so we Americans can keep paying all our hard earned cash at the pump. Im sorry but Electric cars where the first and the infrastructure is everywhere in the US.

      Sorry if this blog seems rude but I cant stand when people will push non accurate information to self promote.

      1. Josie Garthwaite Rob Monday, December 21, 2009

        Yeah, I wouldn’t bank on hydrogen fuel cell cars beating out EVs or ICEs anytime soon.

  3. Rick EV owner for 10 years Monday, December 21, 2009

    A few of these reasons need to be commented on:
    1. Not only is there a Federal $7500 tax credit, many states also offer a tax credit- Oregon’s will be at least $1500. I would guess that from Nissan’s Statements, their top of the line Leaf will be priced close to the top of the line Prius. With the tax credits and a base model Leaf, you are looking at well under $20,000

    1. In Oregon, we already have progressive Condo Owners associations already wanting to know what they need to do to support tenant’s interest in EVs. Some are preparing to install electrical equipment to make it easy for tenants. They see it as a way to attract and retain tenants.

    2. You don’t have to wait for a gas price hike. In most areas It is already much less expensive per mile for the fuel to operate an electric vehicle than an internal combustion engine. With the maintenance savings, that makes it even much more affordable.

    3. I agree, If you just bought a new Prius, then you shouldn’t consider buying a replacement vehicle just because a new model came out.

    4. California isn’t the only market for new Electric Vehicles. Nissan and eTec are launching in 5 different markets (see http://www.theevproject.com )
      Oregon; Seattle,Washington; Arizona; Tennessee; San Diego, Ca

    5. In many studies, even running an EV from a coal plant will still be lower in GHG than the average car on the road today. In many cases though, the fuel mix is not 100% coal, so you still will have significantly lower emmissions with your EV.

    6. If you want a 100% all american made vehicle, you might be out of luck anyway. Are there any US vehicle manufacturers that every part is 100% US made? I don’t know, but I don’t think there are very many available.

    7. Granted all electric vehicles don’t use gallons of gas for fuel, but trying to make a rating system to compare fuel economy of vehicles needs to start somewhere. And if they used BTUs per mile or some other energy unit, people would be equally confused.

    9.Well, this one may be true. But when the Toyota Prius came out, not everyone could get one of those either.

    1. This is correct, if you have other, better, more affordable transportation options, then you don’t really need to buy any vehicle. Unfortunately, the first places the EVs will be coming out will mainly be the environmentally progressive areas where people vote with their environmental concience and support renewable power programs, mass transit, sustainable transportation options, promote safe bicyling with bike lanes, bike parking, etc…. Hmmm.. sounds like Portland, Oregon will be the most likely place to buy an EV.
      Go to http://www.EVroadmap.com to see more about Oregon and EVs
    1. Good point — state incentives will also help to lower the cost of these cars for some folks.

  4. Rick EV owner for 10 years Monday, December 21, 2009

    not sure why my numbering didn’t show up, but I numbered each section to show the reason to which it was responding.

    1. not sure why either, but I followed along ok — thanks!

  5. I agree with Paul. This one is a stinker.

    The Nissan Leaf sinks lots of the points.

    1. Price. Close to $20k after the federal kick in.

    2. Plug in points. Nissan is installing 12,750 plug ins prior to the release of the Leaf. Some apartments are already installing charge points in their parking areas.

    3.You’re waiting for a gas hike. Oil rose above $80 last week. You probably won’t have to wait long. The world’s economy is starting to heat back up

    1. You just bought a Prius. Stupid space filler. I suppose the goal was to have a 10 point list.

    2. You don’t live in California. The Leaf is being introduced in not only CA, but also Washington, Tennessee, and Arizona. Perhaps another state or two. Rapid charge stations are being installed between a couple of cities in Washington and Arizona, perhaps more.

    3. You want truly zero emissions. Really bogus. Set that stupid stance and you could be waiting for decades. We’re likely to have some natural gas in our grid at some level for a long time. If for nothing else, CAES.

    4. All American. Dream friggin’ on. Nothing is All-American any more. And it’s a stupid demand anyway. My Ford pickup is half Mazda.

    5. Triple digit mileage. You have poor math skills. The Nissan Leaf will use 0.25 kWh per mile. At $0.105 per kWh it will cost $0.026 to fuel. You could drive 115 miles for $3 and $3 is what we’re paying for gas around here.

    6. You’re not on the list. What kind of crap is that? There’s some secret list that would keep one from buying an EV in the next few years? Just because the Mini is subscribed for the first 1,800 units do you think releases will be 2,000 or less units? 450 is their real world test fleet.

    7. You’re so over ownership. Another piece of stinky space filler.

    So hope this piece is not a warning of the quality of pieces coming to this site in the future.

    And Glen, you piece of junk post fits right in.

    Someone is going to release a hydrogen car with a storage tank smaller than the battery packs that fit below the seats in EVs like the Leaf?

    And a hydrogen car that is going to be affordable in five years? And anything more than a handful of places where you could fill up?

    OK, you haven’t kept up on battery tech. I’ll fill you in on this one. Cold weather is no longer a performance problem.

    Perhaps you a Josie should have a discussion about not making this site a joke.

    1. Hi Bob. Those 12,750 chargers are being installed in just 5 states — great for prospective LEAF buyers in Arizona, California, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington, but not much help for drivers in other states. I think we’ll see more apartments installing installing charge points in their parking areas in coming years. As you’ve noted, some have already begun to do that, but they’re really the early movers. It will take time before most apartment dwellers can count on their buildings to offer this.

      1. Come on Josie, you made a California only statement.

        Woman up. ;o)

  6. You seem to say that a zero- or low-emission grid is one “powered mostly with renewable energy sources like wind and solar.”

    I just want to point out that you’re missing something vital in that definition.
    Right now, and for the forseeable future, ‘most’ of our low emissions energy in the US comes from nuclear and hydro. Nuclear is 70%. The fact is, wind and solar are nowhere near that, and even in some distant future when we might have a totally low-emissions grid it would be absurd to imagine that nuclear and hydro won’t be a huge part of the low-emissions mix.

    1. Present percentage holds, but won’t over time.

      We haven’t built a new reactor in the US for decades and are very unlikely to build more than one or two in the next decade plus. (And people are getting cold feet about those two most likely plants.)

      We’re installing wind turbines like gangbusters and with solar taking a huge cost drop over the last year or so it is also taking off.

      With solar now close to $1 per watt and installation dropping to $2 yielding a $3 per watt price we could stick about $5,000 worth of solar in a sunny part of the country and outright purchase a lifetime of “fuel” for the average 12,000 mile EV driver. Fifty years, $100 per year, $8 per month.

  7. Good way to drive traffic to a website — but list is, as many others have noted, suspect on many fronts.

    I’ll add a few I haven’t seen:

    1. Peak Oil. We’re at peak right now, with global consumption growing exponentially. Oil prices will skyrocket in the next ten years, possibly five. Oil production grew by just .4% last year, BTW — http://tinyurl.com/yd9xfko

    2. You completely underestimate how many greenies, as one poster puts it above, are “ready to take one for the team.” There are millions of hard-core greenies in the U.S. and around the world, and they tend to be, on the whole comparatively affluent. They also understand that humanity is toast if the capitalist bottom line is the ONLY thing we value, care about.

    3. The renewable energy EV mix. The appeal of powering one’s EV completely through renewables — and there are most likely millions of homeowners around the world who could do this — is HUGE. No more money to Big Oil, no more trips to the gas station — ever. Complete fueling independence and the incredible satisfaction of driving a truly Zero Emissions Vehicle. I got so stoked about this mix when I “discovered” it in July, I put up a web site — http://solarchargeddriving.com, devoted to covering and promoting it — and this is a “hobby” for me, not my FT job.

    In sum, the author of this column completely underestimates — overlooks multiple key factors. Because of this, the predictions will be wrong, wrong, wrong.

    1. Yes, affluent, “hard-core greenies” probably will be among those first in line for electric vehicles. And there’s a lot of them — but they don’t exactly make up the majority of car buyers. I think it’s worth considering how quickly an average consumer will be able and willing to invest in this technology and what might keep them from doing so in the near future — not because I’m anti-EV, but because I don’t think it helps anyone to pretend there aren’t challenges. That’s great if you think I’m wrong: by all means, weigh in on what you think the real hurdles are.

      1. The only real hurdle – the price for decent range.

        We can buy a car right now that gets ~240 miles per charge, but it’s a small two seater and costs over $100k.

        It might be possible to upsize the Tesla to something the size of a Camry and maintain the range but it would likely involve using more expensive light weight materials. At least the materials might be more expensive initially until economies of scale were reached.

        Battery price will come down. The Tesla packs are built on a very small scale. Ramping up to 100k units should greatly drop price. Panasonic has said that they can cut cost in half within four years.

        Tesla is stating that their 4-5 seater Model S will have a 300 mile range and sell for $60k. That indicates that the present range/price situation won’t hold.

  8. Josie,
    First, I think it’s great that you get into the ring with readers. I’m surprised at how many journalists in the Web 2.0 age still refuse to do this.

    Second, I will concede that my own predictions are partially driven by wishful thinking. But it’s not naive thinking.

    I think price is the major hurdle for EV adoption with range anxiety next. Then, comes the general human (often irrational) fear of the “new” — no matter what it is.

    But there are significant counter-vailing forces. The imminent and radical rise in the price of oil is the most significant of these. When demand exceeds supply, and supply is finite, something’s got to give, and we all know it’s going to be price — it’s going to go up, up, up.

    Also, as Bob points out, price points are always high initially. The early adopters eat those costs — on digital cameras, Blu-Ray, DVDs, computers, cell phones, etc. — and, by eating those costs, bring down costs for everyone else.

    Finally, EVs are barely on the radar right now, even for most greenies. I firmly believe that when more greenies — who despise Big Oil and Dirty Coal — realize they can power a car with solar on their home roof, or in some cases, wind-turbines in their backyard, they’re going to be all over it. Not very many people know about this possibility, because, well, EVs aren’t out yet.

    Finally, with solar leasing (http://solarchargeddriving.com/news/general-solar/216-solar-competition-heats-up-in-colorado.html)expanding quickly and completely erasing the whole problem of “upfront” solar costs, I think we’re going to see many, many more folks, especially in the sunny southwest, go solar — and marry solar to EVs when EVs come out.

  9. Steve Simitzis Monday, December 21, 2009

    On point #6, in many states (like in California), coal is a very small part of our grid. Only 6% for PG&E. And even for dirtier states, simply charging at night can take advantage of idle power in the grid.

    But the most important part is that all-electric cars allow us to break the link between vehicle and fuel source. So if the grid isn’t clean enough or if we don’t like the energy source, we can change the power mix without having to upgrade every car on the road. This kind of modularity isn’t possible with gas or diesel engines.

    1. Hi Steve. Definitely room for improvement, even in Cali, don’t you think?

      1. Emily, I don’t see how presenting incorrect information brings expectations back to earth unless you agree with the FUD approach to changing behavior.

        And I get your overall point. Costs am costs. Right now the car industry is trying to figure out the best way to compare ICE, hybrids, and EVs. I don’t think there will be a single number (or small set of numbers) as there now is for ICE to ICE comparison.

        I expect that we’ll see software in dealerships (it’s already on line) for plugging in your personal driving pattern and local fuel/electricity costs to get an annual cost of driving figure.

        Annual cost of driving is only one number that has to be considered. There’s also expected cost of service/repairs, government subsidies, dealer incentives, registration/licensing fees, cost of financing. (One of our local credit unions is currently offering lower rates for people buying more efficient cars.)

        That’s where computers come in very handy. And most people can use simple software or fill out a spreadsheet.

  10. I thought this list is a good quick way of bringing expectations back down to earth. As someone on (1) a tight budget living in (2) an apartment outside of (5) California/Arizona/Oregon/Washington/Tennessee who (10) appreciates the freedom – and cost savings – of not owning a car, I don’t see myself buying an EV anytime soon. And I’m a 30-something urban liberal.

    Regardless, the EV market is going to depend on informed consumers – so Paul, if you expect a buyer to do their homework on the tax credits available, you should also expect them to take a good look at the MPG or (as with EVs) other appropriate cost-per-mile measure…which this journalist has been doing for some time (
    http://earth2tech.com/2009/10/05/from-mpg-to-epm-plan-for-electricity-per-mile-ratings-takes-hold/, http://earth2tech.com/2009/08/12/cheat-sheet-truth-about-sky-high-mpg-claims-for-electric-hybrid-and-mini-cars/). It’s not reasonable to expect consumers to research one aspect of the cost and not the other.

    Of course there are some (many) would-be EV buyers who won’t be stopped by any of these factors, but others will be, and that will limit the market – to an extent that remains to be seen.

Comments have been disabled for this post