July 22, 2013 – Vol.18 No.19
WHY ELECTRIC CARS WON'T BE UNPLUGGED.
But why aren't they selling better?
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
Sales of new electric cars aren't great. Much less than expected in fact. But fear that electric cars will be abandoned, killed once again? Have no fear. They're here to stay.
For one thing, California regulators won't cave this time and let car manufacturers walk away from electrics. California is one of the world's largest car markets. If car makers have to build EVs for that market, they might as well sell them in others. (Then why are some car makers selling EVs only in California and perhaps another state or two, not all states? Because selling cars is not just having cars on the lot. It's making sure parts are available at dealerships (an expensive undertaking in itself) and that technicians are trained to work on them (another expensive undertaking) Another reason why might be a lack of cars to sell.)
Like California, the European Union and China are trying to build their zero emission, electric car fleet. With cars, in general, becoming more and more global products, cars developed there can be sold here and everywhere. With zero emission cars there's no worry about meeting emission control regulations since there are, well, no tailpipe emissions.
Car manufacturers may tell you otherwise, but pure, battery-only, electric cars are easy and quick to develop compared with conventional cars. (Easy and quick translates into lower development costs.) Not only are there fewer parts, but if the manufacturer chooses he can buy many of the parts, such as motors and battery cells or modules, as off the shelf, ready-made parts.
There's also the new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards looming. Car manufacturers are having a tough time squeezing 40 miles per gallon out of cars, let alone nearly 55 mpg planned for the new regs. (True, the next person who occupies the White House could reverse the standard, but the public outcry would be great.) The miles per gallon equivalent (mpg-e) for electrics is roughly 100 , so car manufacturers get many credits towards conventional cars for each EV sold.
Finally, and an important factor that car makers would be foolish to ignore: There's a growing segment of the population that not only want to give oil the heave-ho but Washington's connection with it. They've seen the country go to war for oil. They've seen the power oil has over politics. And they're watching the climate deteriorate right in front of them. In a word, they're angry. They'll take action with their checking accounts and buy cars completely removed from oil in a show of defiance and spite.
Then why aren't electric cars selling better?
A major factor is the price of gasoline. Though historically high, it's been that way some time now, thus $3.50 a gallon is the new norm. Drivers have adapted: No more mad rush to buy alternative fuels like electricity.
It's a big leap to go from virtually unlimited range to less than a hundred miles with and electric car. It's a change of driving-life-style that people are having difficulty working out. (Range may eventually be dealt with by employing battery swapping combined with leased or rented batteries.)
The current crop of cars are expensive compared with their conventional counterparts. (Nissan Leaf sales leaped when they dropped the price nearer to the Sentra, for example.)
Yet, there's another factor that may be keeping buyers away here in the American market: It's the current crop of cars themselves. Maybe they're not what people are looking for in a vehicle. The Leaf, Ford Focus Electric and Chevy Spark are just little hatchbacks. (Not exactly the most popular body style for cars.) Fiat's 500e, Scion's iQ EV and smart's ED show some promise as perky city runabouts. Yet these cars are too small for some. The smart ED way too small for many. Tesla's Model S is fantastic, so they say, but it's for the one percent, not the rest of us riff-raff. The Volt, though sold as an extended range electric vehicle, is really a nice hybrid, but still, as a car, it's just another hatch-backed sedan. Toyota's very limited run second generation RAV4 EVshows real potential (more on this below), but Toyota shows no indication that they'll make it a 50 state car and build lots of them.
Automakers should have have looked at back at themselves before they developed this round of electric cars. For what it was in a limited market, and sold for only really brief period, the killed and crushed GM EV-1 was loved by its drivers although only 1100 units were built. However, Toyota sold or leased nearly 1500 first generation RAV4 EVs in California between 1997 and 2003. As of 2012 nearly 500 of these early electrified crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) are still on the road.
Crossovers are among the most popular market segments, if not THE most popular with some brands. Practical to carry stuff from the store, good visibility from a high seating position, and with improved fuel economy and decent handling, it's not surprising they are so well liked. What is surprising the automakers didn't chose this platform in their EV efforts. (Though Mazda has no interest in electric vehicles its, light and agile CX-5 would make a great EV. The pug-like and getting great reviews Buick Encore would also make a good EV and be much like the well liked first generation RAV4. The soon to be sold in America BMW i3 might come close to an electric version of a CUV and be very popular.
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