Electric cars back into the shadows at Geneva car show

Mar 10, 2013 by Laure Fillon
A man walks past a wall showing the electric car system at the French carmaker Renault's booth on March 2, 2011. After being the starring act for several years, the electric car backed into the shadows at this year's International Geneva Motor Show as carmakers grow weary of waiting for sales to take off.

After being the starring act for several years, the electric car backed into the shadows at this year's International Geneva Motor Show as carmakers grow weary of waiting for sales to take off.

were not completely absent from the showrooms as the 83rd edition of the Geneva show kicked off, but no new models were unveiled and car on site for the media days on Tuesday and Wednesday barely mentioned them.

" (in electric) has really fallen since its peak at the Paris show in 2010, when we only talked electric," BIPE analyst Clement Dupont-Roc told AFP.

Back then, French carmaker Renault, which leads the electric market, opened the order books for its first electric models and chief executive Carlos Ghosn said he expected the cars to represent 10 percent of the market by 2020.

Renault's compatriot PSA also plunged into the space, as did Japan's Nissan with its Leaf.

But as things stand today, sales have fallen far short of expectations.

A Renault Zoe electric car is displayed at the French carmaker's booth ahead of the Geneva Motor Show on March 7, 2012. After being the starring act for several years, the electric car backed into the shadows at this year's International Geneva Motor Show as carmakers grow weary of waiting for sales to take off.

In France, which claims to be the in Europe for electric, less than 6,000 new such vehicles were registered last year.

The low volumes are part of the explanation for the weak offering on display in Geneva, but there are other issues as well.

"There are three tasks we have to overcome when it comes to electric vehicles. One is pricing, second is the milage they can cover and the third is infrastructure," Osamu Masuko, the president of Japanese Mitsubishi, told AFP at the show.

Mitsubishi has been providing PSA with , but last August the French carmaker halted the influx since it was unable to unload the ones it already had.

"We had weak forecasts for electric, and now, we're selling even less than those weak forecasts," acknowledged Maxime Picat, in charge of PSA's Peugeot brand.

Nissan has also been unable to meet its objective of selling 9,000 Leafs in Europe. As a result, it was showing a new version in Geneva offering better range and especially a lower price, according to industry media.

Chevrolet, which already has the Volt electric car and is preparing to launch a new, smaller one called Spark, is also not betting on a European boom in the segment any time soon.

"I don't see (electric) growing in a down market," Susan Docherty, who head's the company's European operations, said at the Geneva show.

Analyst Dupont-Roc agreed that growth in the segment will likely be a few years off.

"A turn-around could come in 2016, 2017, when the electric vehicles that are today mainly bought for fleets arrive on the second-hand market," he said.

Former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger walks past a Belumbery electric car at the Geneva International Motor Show on March 8, 2012. After being the starring act for several years, the electric car backed into the shadows at this year's International Geneva Motor Show as carmakers grow weary of waiting for sales to take off.

In the meantime, carmakers are biding their time, offering environment-conscious customers low-emission-small-engine cars, and are highlighting other greenish technologies like hybrids.

The leader in the sector, Japanese Toyota, for instance unveiled a new electric/gasoline hybrid at the Geneva show.

And PSA was pushing its Hybrid Air technology, which uses petrol and compressed air.

"We want to show that electric hybrids are not the only possible solution," explained Karim Mokaddem, who is working on the project and promises coming cars will use just three litres of gasoline to drive 100 kilometres.

German Volkswagen meanwhile unveiled its lightweight plug-in hybrid XL1 at the show, which it says consumes less than one litre of petrol per 100 kilometres and weighs less than 800 kilos.

But Volkswagen is only planning on making 250 units, and is unlikely to immediately take the market by storm.

Nissan, German Daimler and US carmaker Ford are meanwhile aiming to hit the accelerator in their development of affordable fuel-cell vehicles—a technology that is taking a while to get rolling but that they hope to get on the roads by 2017.

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User comments : 5

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muggins
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2013
I think hybrids are the way to go at the moment. The electric charging infrastructure isn't great and recharging electric at a station takes considerably longer than filling up.
Jimee
5 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2013
Price and uncertainty are the main problems. There are plenty of people whose commutes are well within range for working or shopping at home. But they may not want to have another car longer ranges, such as special trips or vacations. I would buy one in an instant if I could afford one.
dpaschoal
not rated yet Mar 11, 2013
I have developed a concept sub compact EV to compete with EV-1 before the Li-Ion batteries came out on the market. Now I am sure that my 1980s. concept could remove the two major roadblocks preventing EV sales success: high price and range anxiety. As it was conceived around advanced lead-acid batteries, 8 ft. long 5 passenger ConceptTwo of Project www.ev-motion could retail for around $10k with VRLA batteries or around $15k with a smaller pack of Li-ion batteries included, after government incentives. The reason of that option, is the novel battery swapping capability in a few seconds in a ConceptThree car-wash type ARIES (Automated Recharging Instant-switching Electric Stations), in which could hold 816 25kWh battery packs. This means >20 MWh. of storage capacity, in 2700 sq. ft. of space. Imagine the potential of a network of those stations to absorb typically wasted energy and then store it for emerging peak demands locally and instantly. 1st. US Pat. 8256553 issued Sept. 2012.
yoatmon
not rated yet Mar 11, 2013
What a load of Bull! No manufacturer worldwide has ever offered an EV for an acceptable price. Most of those known vehicles are just prototypes for testing purposes; they're only leased and not sold. Perhaps with the exception of Renault, no manufacturer is willing to produce and sell EVs. The ZOE will arrive on the market by the middle of April. The sales philosophy behind this emerging vehicle is not to everyone taste. Nevertheless we'll see shortly how good it sells.
Car sales in Europe have gone down some 18%. The younger generation is still interested in obtaining drivers licenses but they're not interested in buying cars. The gas guzzlers today are the junk of next year. Industry is not producing and selling what the market demands. They expect the market to buy the junk they're producing.
wiyosaya
not rated yet Mar 11, 2013
Yet another statement of "the sky is falling," er, uh, "its too expensive" from the auto industry?

So goes the automaker's ruse of an attempt at green cars. Give the public a 600 mile EV range using a battery that costs 5% of the vehicle instead of 50%, and electrics would sell, IMHO. Better yet, get a recharging infrastructure built up before putting these things on the market.

Personally, I think the companies that have entered the EV market are only interested in the current electric car fad and how much they can make from it.

As I see it, the technology is not there yet to make EVs hot sellers. Unfortunately, this will probably again delay the entry of affordable EVs to the market as CEOs are likely to be short-sighted and abandon research into better battery technology.