Plenty of promise from EVs, but they haven't delivered -- yet

Jul 30, 2012 By Mark Glover

California is the nation's electric vehicle capital, hands down.

buy them: 4,645 electric car purchases in 2011, representing nearly 57 percent of the national total, according to Edmunds.com.

They build them: 's electric sedan, the Model S, is assembled in Fremont.

They're preparing for them: Electric charging stations are being built up and down the state, as are hydrogen fueling stations for fuel cell vehicles.

Despite that, -- EVs for short -- have not yet created a multibillion-dollar, job-filling juggernaut.

By most estimates, the industry has created a few thousand jobs statewide over the past decade, a drop in the bucket in a state that employs millions. And 4,645 EV sales in California last year represent a tiny percentage of nearly 1.3 million new vehicle sales in California in 2011.

Those immersed in the industry have a simple response: Just wait.

They point to an expected tripling in the number of EV models over the next decade, a built-out infrastructure of assembly plants and charging stations, a gradual reduction in prices for electric vehicles and, yes, a huge process.

Industry proponents compare its current state to that of the mobile-phone industry in the 1980s, when large, clunky phones first came on the market, looking like ultra-exotic devices to many consumers, and priced through the roof.

The proliferation of cellular towers, better phones and changed all that: Worldwide mobile subscriptions went from about 12.5 million in 1990 to nearly 5.6 billion in 2011.

"I would say it's very much like what we went through with portable cellphones ... with the public not quite sure of what to make of things," said dealer John Driebe.

Driebe's Nissan dealership sells the Leaf, the all-electric, four-door, five-passenger vehicle that can go 70 to 80 miles when the lithium-ion battery is fully charged.

"I would say interest has been good. We continue to sell about four to five Leafs a month," he said.

Driebe said many customers don't know what to think about the Leaf on first inspection, but "we've found that once they get in and understand what they're all about, they're very enthusiastic."

Consumers are far more familiar with traditional gas-electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius, where an electric motor assists a gas-fueled engine. Californians bought 56,310 hybrids last year, nearly a quarter of all those sold in the United States, according to Edmunds.com.

But Driebe and others believe the Leaf, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in sedan and other all- will become more popular "as the price of the batteries come down."

Lithium-ion technology continues to evolve, but right now batteries can add about $10,000 to the price of an electric vehicle. A Leaf starts around $35,000 to $37,000.

Mike Tinskey, director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure for Ford Motor Co., also believes lower battery prices will be a game-changer.

"We look at electrification as a marathon, not a sprint," Tinskey said. "A lot will depend on the cost of the battery. There will be more and more customers as we're able to reduce the price ... From generation to generation, we'll see how much expense we can take out."

California is key to Ford's electric car plans.

The Golden State is one of the rollout markets for the 2013 Ford Focus Electric, a five-passenger hatchback that is the automaker's first full-production, all-electric passenger vehicle. It has range of around 75 to 80 miles and starts around $39,000.

Arguably, the most concrete public example of electric car potential opened in March -- in Oregon, just north of the California border.

Oregon, spending nearly $1 million in federal stimulus funds, opened its "electric highway," a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in southern Oregon, with chargers placed 25 miles apart. The quick-chargers can power up an EV in less than 30 minutes.

Oregon's highway is a preview of the future. are being installed for what planners say eventually will be a 1,350-mile EV-ready stretch of I-5 from Baja to British Columbia.

Oregon has marketed being first to have such a highway, but industry watchers say the big test will be in California, as there are only about 1,100 electric vehicles in all of Oregon.

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Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2012
there are more electric bicycles in china than there are electric vehicles in the western world of the u.s. and europe, and china only started making electric bicycles about 8 or so years ago.

electric bicycles are the way to go for the next ten years. electric based cars are doomed until some sort of revolutionary battery technology comes out. that could take 10-20 years of losses in the commercial production of fully electric ev's. but that is ok since government should be picking up the tab. the second the private sector loses money, it will be gone.

look at tesla motors. huge government subsidies are there, so that the stock can take longer to hit zero. then some smart company will buy this govenrment funded corpse for pennies on the dollar.
Jimbaloid
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 30, 2012
Part of the problem is that EVs are all too often modelled on some idealised commuting office worker scenario, not the hectic lives we really have. What of the time I'm asked if I can urgently drive a family member to an airport 100 miles away? Gas engines give that flexibility to just fill up and go when ever you want to. And it is more than just range. With EVs I need to plan. Think "Sorry I'm not at work this morning, I forgot to put my car on charge last night!". I feel that EVs will become very popular, but only once you can pull in at a service station and dump a charge into the battery at a rate approaching that at which you can pump gas.
jerryd
5 / 5 (1) Jul 30, 2012

The problem with EV's is they are not designed as light, inexpensive commuter/errand vehicles. Such medium tech EV's done in stronger than steel composites could get 60-100 mile range and 70 mph for just $10k in real mass production.

I drive my EV's for 25% of a gas engined similar vehicle including battery, electricity, tires, tag, etc.
freethinking
1 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2012
LOL, EV's are currently the most environmentally and economically unsound vehicle around. Each EV costs $35K to buy, and $100K in government handouts. Then comparing cars to cellphones, cellphones were deployed by private companies without massive government handouts.
alfie_null
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 31, 2012
What of the time I'm asked if I can urgently drive a family member to an airport 100 miles away?

That's just you, a single data point. Not that useful. If you are a company exploring the market potential of EVs, you are only interested in determining if there are enough consumers that aren't in this category, to make manufacturing an EV worthwhile.
Lord_jag
2.5 / 5 (2) Jul 31, 2012
Who lives 100 miles from an airport and doesn't have two vehicles at home?

EV's can replace one. Those sudden long trips can still be used by the other, and rentals can take over for the rest.

I've once needed to move to a new house, but I didn't buy a cube van because I might need to move again one day... There are literally hundreds of companies eagerly waiting to rent you a vehicle with little to no notice if your car, for whatever reason, isn't able to meet your once-in-a-year needs.
freethinking
1 / 5 (1) Jul 31, 2012
OK I admit it, EV's are great cars for Global warmist priests like Al Gore. The reason they are great cars for them is, they can drive their hummers from their water front mansion to a small airport, then fly their private jets to another small airport near the Global Warming event, have their pre-shipped EV's (via a semi) waiting at the airport so that they can drive them 10 miles, so that Progressive Useful idiots give them more money to fight global warming.

For everyone else, EV's are the LEAST Green Vehicle around. Do the research if you don't belive it, don't buy the propaganda.
MCPtz
not rated yet Aug 01, 2012
Going to have to replace gas stations with battery stations. When one buys a car, one does not own a battery, but simply leases it from a set of corporations. One can take any battery to any station and they will swap it out, just as fast as filling up the gas tank, and then the battery station will keep a stock of batteries on charge.

Furthermore, the battery stations can attempt to sell the excess energy they store in car batteries back to the government/private energy sector.

Also, a car owner can charge the battery at home, but it may not be necessary anymore.
freethinking
1 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2012
MCPtz. Sounds like a great idea, however for it to work we would need to standardize the battery packs, sounds good, but then we need to standardize to one type of vehicle (no trucks, no larger or smaller vehicles). If each battery packs dimentions were 3 by 3 by 1, and each charging station needs to have enough on hand to charge 100 vehicles/hr by 5 hrs (peak time)you would need store a bank of batteries (3 by 3 by 1) 18 feet square by 16 feet high, and you need to rotate them.

The idea sounds good, but isn't practical once you get in the details

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