Automotive executives foresee a big future for plug-in hybrids over the next five years but are less bullish on the future of pure EVs, a new study says.
Asked to name the "electric vehicle technology that will attract the most consumer demand" in a KMPG International survey, 36 percent of auto execs chose plug-in hybrids, while only 11 percent cited battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). The results reflected a sharp change over the past year, with plug-in hybrids rising by 15 percentage points while BEVs dropped by five during that time.
"There's a consensus developing that the plug-in hybrid is probably the best long-term way to go," David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), told Design News. "Plug-ins offer stop-start and regenerative braking. They also get their power from the grid and don't have the range issues that pure electrics have." Cole noted that CAR's studies have shown trends similar to those cited by KPMG.
KPMG's study, "Global Automotive Executive Survey 2013," showed that automotive managers are more inclined to invest in plug-in hybrid technology than in pure EV batteries. Twenty-four percent of respondents said they were considering big investments in plug-in hybrids, while just 8 percent said they see battery technology as a focus of large investment.
Cole, who is in close contact with auto industry engineers, said the study reflects what automakers have gradually come to understand -- that pure electrics are a smaller niche, while plug-in hybrids present an opportunity for a larger market share. "To people inside the industry, this has been clear for a few years," Cole told us. "We've seen annual sales between 23,000 and 24,000 for the Volt, and they're still rising. On the other side, Nissan Leaf sales are down."
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the study, however, may be the fact that the internal combustion engine remains a strong option in the minds of auto executives. Eighty-five percent of the respondents in the KPMG survey considered downsizing of the IC engine as their best chance for fuel efficiency and emissions gains over the next decade. That's particularly so in such countries as China and Brazil, where much development money still flows toward conventional powertrain technology, the study said. It's also the case in the US, where Ford Motor Co. recently announced availability of a one-liter engine targeted at the worldwide market.
Such trends could be a sign that newer powertrain technologies are taking longer than expected to emerge, according to KPMG: "The results show an increasing realization that the electric vehicle is not quite the savior that many had hoped for."
Cole concurred that the internal combustion engine is still considered the best bet for reaching the CAFE mandate of 54.5 mpg by 2025. "We won't be writing the epitaph for the internal combustion engine for a really long time. It could be around for 50 more years."