If you’re curious about the future of electric cars in this country, then a new publication from Indiana University is must-reading for you. “Plug-In Electric Vehicles: A Practical Plan for Progress,” which is freely available on the web, is the product of an expert panel that includes members from Ford Motor Co., Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Texas, North Carolina State University, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Center for Automotive Research, and Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, among others.
The gist of the 82-page document is pretty simple: The panel believes that the plug-in electric vehicle (which includes plug-in hybrids and pure battery-powered cars) is an idea whose time has come. For a publication that clearly sees EVs as a vital part of our future, however, “Plug-In Electric Vehicles” is remarkably devoid of hype. On one hand, it calls for a “redoubled investment in time, energy and money from both government and the auto industry.” On the other hand, it looks at battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in a way that departs dramatically from the viewpoints of the noisy cheerleaders and green enthusiasts who have dominated much of the early EV discussion.
A few of the findings and opinions of the study:
· On the realities of mainstream buyers: “One key reason that mass commercialization of PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles) may proceed slowly over the next decade is that mainstream retail purchasers of new vehicles differ from the relatively small number of enthusiastic ‘early adopters’”…”There are a variety of uncertainties about exactly how much money will be saved by PEVs, how reliable and safe the batteries will be, how convenient and costly it will be to recharge a PEV, how easy it will be to have the vehicle serviced, and how difficult it will be to resell the vehicle.”
· On BEVs: “BEVs may not achieve mass commercialization until there are breakthroughs in battery technology, though they may succeed in niche markets such as commuter vehicles for affluent multi-vehicle households or urban pick-up and delivery vehicles.”
· On lithium-ion batteries: “While refinement of lithium-ion battery technology may prove sufficient for mass commercialization of PHEVs (plug-in hybrids), a new type of energy storage will likely be required so that BEVs can satisfy the cost and range preferences of mainstream consumers.”
· On the difficulties of recharging BEVs: “Not everyone has a garage or parking place with ready access to an outlet suitable for recharging. In fact, many consumers that might otherwise find the (Nissan) Leaf appealing – urban dwellers with short commutes – are likely to lack recharging access at their home.”
· On the goal of putting a million electric cars on the road by 2015: “Automakers could ramp up PEV production if consumer demand proves to be larger than expected. However, consumer demand for PEVs is quite uncertain and, barring another global spike in oil prices, may be limited to a minor percentage of new vehicle purchasers (e.g., early technology adopters and relatively affluent urban consumers interested in ‘green’ commuter cars.)”
· On the ever-present hype surrounding EVs: “If customer expectations are inflated (by automakers, dealers, power companies, environmental groups and/or government officials) relative to what is actually experienced, the reputational damage to the technology could be significant and possibly irreparable.”