Thursday, 30 December 2010

The biggest challenge for EVs in 2011?

Shh, if you promise to keep it between us I will tell you what manufacturers of electric cars should focus on in 2011: 'bums on seats' as it is so quaintly put in the trade, test drives to you and I.
I have been involved in the sales and marketing of electric vehicles since 2004, with the UK launch of the G-Wiz electric vehicle. Guess what the test drive: sales conversion rate averaged? Significantly better than 1 in 2, a figure that includes the many EV 'tourists' (the merely curious who have no intention of purchasing).

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, the majority of prospects have done their research before they take a test drive. They have probably already decided what they can afford and what they like the look of. Most of all though, they really would like to buy an EV.

Secondly, driving an EV is easy and it's fun - and it feels better than driving a conventional car. This is not something that is widely known, and cannot by its very nature be appreciated in advance. Sure, there will be some post purchase rationalising done based on the low cost of operations and the amount of CO2 saved. But it's just so damn cool to drive an EV!

This is as true for Mitsubishi and Nissan as it is for Tesla and Lightning. Yes the marketing is important, the financial case needs to be made, the product needs to be presented well, but in the end it's the EV driving experience that will convert prospects into customers in the personal transport segment. Even if supply is limited initially it will be important to spread the feeling as well as the word. And that's why EVs are so much more than a plug in hybrid, which is not really an EV at all.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Q4 2011: the next global crisis?

Suck it up.
Have you noticed the price of oil climbing steadily upwards again? Even though we are barely out of the last global recession, we are at a 26 month price peak and prices have risen by about 15% in the past 8 weeks alone.
High oil prices were one of the major factors behind the last global crisis, the difference this time is that the price is not being driven by speculators so much as by the fact that producer nations are signalling that there are no plans to increase output. Maybe they are simply profiteering, maybe as we edge ever closer to peak oil they are unable to increase output, who knows, but one thing is for sure: we are approaching the point when oil will become too expensive for current driving behaviour. The oil price cycles are coming thick and fast and after each one the price 'stabilises' at a point higher than for the previous cycle.

According to the former president of Shell USA, 2012 will see US$5 per gallon of gasoline. According to JBC Energy 'the largest effect of an oil price shock on the economy occurs around three to four quarters after the price spike'. Watch out this time next year then and remember to order your electric car sometime soon.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

EV Owners: we know who you are

I am often asked the question 'who buys an electric car?' The debate usually evolves around those who want to save the planet and those who want to save some cash. The truth is a little more complex (but not much) and is to do with ego.

Recent research commissioned by GE in the US suggests there are 3 distinct buyer segments:

  1. The Environmentally Conscious: No surprise here, respondents see EVs as symbolising their commitment to the planet, sustainability and fossil fuel independence. They are very concerned about the environmental impact of cars, dependence on foreign oil and believe that climate change is areal threat.
  2. Tech Driven Car Lovers: are those that like cutting edge and cool new technology, love their cars more than most and are early adopters of new stuff and gadgets. They are also concerned citizens but fr them an EV is very much an outward statement and status symbol.
  3. Frugal Travellers: want to reduce their transport costs whilst doing their bit for the environment. However, they are sceptical about new tech until it has been proven.
For those considering the purchase of an EV the top 3 considerations according to Deloite's are:
  1. Purchase price (hence the subsidies)
  2. Reliability (hence the wariness around new market entrants)
  3. Cost to charge (hence the need to clearly make the financial case of operating costs)

Conventional or electric car? The debate is over

 ICE is better than EV.
File this under The Big Oil Conspiracy. There are still a few proponents of conventional cars who argue that EVs emit more CO2 than conventional cars when you take into consideration the emissions generated at the power station to produce the electricity. What they fail to mention however is that oil refineries are one of the word's largest users of electricity. 

Petroleum refining is the number one consumer of energy in California's manufacturing sector, responsible for 15% of total consumption (and 28% of total natural gas). Here in the UK petroleum refining accounts for 11% of electricity consumption - a huge proportion. That's right, the liquid fuel in your car requires so much electricity to produce it (that is, before it even gets into your car and starts polluting) that an electric car can travel just as far on the electricity that the refineries use to produce one gallon of liquid fuel. 

US Energy Information Association

A 2010 Environmental Science And Technology article by Greg Karras entitled 'Combustion Emissions from Refining Lower Quality Oil: What is the Global Warming Potential?' stated that preliminary estimates from fuel cycle analyses suggest that a switch to heavy oil and tar sands could increase the greenhouse gas emission intensity of petroleum energy by as much as 17% to 40%, with oil extraction and processing rather than tailpipe emissions accounting for the increment

Here's another thought:  early in the 20th Century, 100 barrels of oil could be extracted at the energy cost of about one barrel of oil. Today, one barrel of oil invested gets us only about three barrels of oil. 

Game over.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

2011 Electric Vehicle trends

Here in London (in a previous role) I had 1000 EV owner-customers to talk to, a great source of insights. What's in the media is not necessarily what I think the focus will be in the coming months and years, so here are my ten 2011 (and beyond) trend predictions  for the electric vehicle market.

1. Range anxiety comes and goes: the obsession with range anxiety will be overcome first as motorists realise that a range of 100 miles (and 50 miles under extreme conditions) is more than sufficient for everyday use; secondly, as range increases thanks to efficiency improvements and new battery chemistries are announced for future models; and thirdly as recharging infrastructure appears as an extended journey facilitator                                                          

2. The second car becomes the first car: for many motorists the EV will become the car of choice for the daily commute, effectively promoting it from second to first position in terms of frequency of use.

3. Range available maps become super-popular: my favourite thing about the Nissan Leaf is its range available map in the centre console. At a glance drivers can see the one way and return distances available to the driver visually mapped, based on the current state of charge. The most useful of tools an EV can offer.

4. Apps for EVs: electric vehicles are made for telematics applications - and vice versa. As motorists interact with their electric car through their mobile devices we will see a step change in the number and type of applications developed for electric vehicles, from service and safety apps to information and entertainment  apps. Now if Apple would only launch an EV...

5. Seamless connectivity: not sure of we will see this in 2011 or later but the concept that your connectivity to the world is seamless  as you move from home to EV to work place is next up. With 42 million media tablets such as the i-Pad already sold, in-car docking stations for media tablets in EVs should be the next big thing. Always-on never felt so good (or bad).

6. Charge at work: much of the current charging debate is with on-street charging stations but since 80% to 90% of all charging of electric cars will be done at home, the next big need is for charging at the work place. In addition to effectively doubling the daily range available for employees with EVs, charging at work facilities will enable those people who are unable to charge at home (because they live in a flat without dedicated parking) to enter the EV market.

7. Usership instead of ownership: we will see the beginning of the end of the desire to own or lease our cars as the possibility of using them only when we need them (and so not paying for them when we don't) trends beyond car clubs as they exist currently, led by the Paris AutoLib project. 3,000 electric cars stationed at 1,000 self-service hire points across the city and its suburbs.

8. Electric car prototypes will look different, not the same as conventional cars: for the next few years,  those who buy an EV are making a big personal social statement - I am a Leader of Change. To make it easily and powerfully they want to stand out from the crowd, not disappear into it.

9. V2G: we will see the first electric vehicles emerge that are Vehicle To Grid enabled, meaning they are capable of returning stored energy to the electric grid. For some this could mean that EVs are effectively free of charge from an operational perspective as they take advantage of generous feed-in tariffs - if you live in the right place.

10. Mergers, acquisitions, closures: as so many EV start-ups have discovered to their cost, it is difficult and expensive to get into automotive manufacturing, particularly if it is with electric vehicles. In an already crowded market place there is room for maybe 2 or 3 new entrants, the rest will either sell, merge, or fade away.

Monday, 20 December 2010

To (charge your) EV or not to (charge your) EV: this is the answer

The great Mike Boxwell has designed  a Charging Calculator for UK EVs that tells you whether now is a good time to charge your electric car. Using information published by the UK National Grid it updates every 5 minutes and tells you for each electric car what its current carbon emissions are in g CO2 / km. Mike has owned and driven many electric cars and knows what he is talking about. He also founded the UK's largest owner's club for EV owners. 'Owning an electric car' is his latest publication and it is packed with other useful information - take a look then buy the book.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Electric Vehicle market creates new business models

Questions, questions.
The challenge of introducing expensive new technologies in the EV market is leading to some innovative new business models.

The cost of an EV will remain higher than a conventional car for the next five years or so because the low volumes lack economies of scale, and because the cost of the electric propulsion system - the batteries (mainly), motor, charger and energy management system - is more expensive than the cost of a conventional car's powertrain.

As a result some companies are de-coupling the batteries from the vehicle and leasing or renting the batteries as a monthly fixed or variable cost. This strategy removes the ownership risk from customers concerned about battery life and reliability, particularly with less expensive battery options. This brings the price of the EV down to around the price of the equivalent conventional vehicle, whilst the battery lease is positioned as a mobility or fuel package, equivalent to, or less than, the equivalent average monthly liquid fuel expenditure. In other words, in simple terms, the value proposition is no additional cost and zero emission mobility. At one extreme is Better Place, which adopts the mobile phone model, whereby you pay for miles instead of minutes with a variety of plans and in theory it could be possible to acquire an EV for free in exchange for an extended subscription. (Don't hold your breath).

Next up are the charging station models. Most people will charge at home most of the time, typically around 80% to 90% of charges. Here, EV dealers, charging station companies, utilities and new entrants may sell outright the home charging point (some, such as Duke Energy in the US are giving them away currently), or, give the charging station away as part of an extended subscription service in order to capture and lock-in the customer, in a cable TV model. Or, electricity may be bundled with other services from battery rental to vehicle lease, servicing, to add-on telematics subscription services such as OnStar or in-car entertainment.
Outside of the home we have yet to see any major initiatives for Charge@Work, which I believe to be the next big venture battleground. This would enable people who live in apartment blocks and who don't have access to dedicated parking spaces to charge during the day instead of at night, facilitated by solar canopies and other renewable electricity solutions, many of which will be off-grid. Car park, EV Charge stations (like conventional fuel service stations) and on-street charging are also in the frame, where pay and use premium rate fast charging may become the norm.

We are certainly seeing new alliances and joint ventures as manufacturers, utilities, municipalities, dealers, electricians, finance houses, car park operators, advertising and media companies and aggregators enter the fray. As this fluid situation evolves, the concept of buy vs lease vs pay and use (mobility as a service) will become clearer. The growth of car clubs and vehicle clubs (have a look at Peugeot's Mu operation) may lead the way in this regard. We will see how consumers react and to what extent environmental, financial or convenience considerations drive this market.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Revving up the Electric Vehicle market

You should see the presents...
Yesterday the first customer worldwide to receive a Nissan Leaf was proudly waiving to the world's media in San Mateo, California. Meanwhile, here in the UK the first nine electric cars to receive the '£5,000 / up to 25%' subsidy are shown below. The government grant is sufficient for 8,600 EVs, or 0.5% of new car sales. The UK's best selling EV, the £9,995 G-Wiz, is ineligible for the subsidy because it is a quadricycle (and presumably because the government was worried that many people would buy the G-Wiz at £4,995 and that the grant would run out too quickly).

Make and model   1st UK deliveries  Price before discount        Price with discount

Mitsubishi i-MiEV      January 2011          £28,990                               £23,990
smart fortwo               January 2012          £16,000 (estimate)               £12,000 (estimate)
Peugeot iOn               January 2011          £519.16 a month lease-only  £415 a month
Nissan Leaf                March 2011           £28,990                                £23,900
Tata Vista                   March 2011          £28,600 (estimate)                 £23,600 (estimate)
Citroen C-Zero          Early 2011             £519.16 a month lease-only    £415 a month
Vauxhall Ampera       Early 2012              £33,995                                £28,995
Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid 2012             £31,000 (estimate)                £26,000 (estimate)
Chevrolet Volt            Early 2012             £30,000 (estimate)                £25,000 (estimate)

Info compiled by Ray Massey, D Mail.
PS The Tesla Roadster is absent from the government's list due to an 'administrative error', code for we don't want headlines saying government subsidises expensive sports cars perhaps.
PPS Will all those people complaining that electric cars are expensive please stop now. The investments are huge and all new tech is expensive... then it gets cheaper.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Cancun: behind the hype

Where's Bob when you need him?
From an environmental perspective, electric vehicles only work well enough if we have a global accord with legally binding emissions targets. The agreement reached in Cancun yesterday was symbolic - one step forward now that more of the big powers have at last acknowledged the scale of the problem and the measures required to combat it and a) made pledges to stay below a rise in global temperatures of 2 degrees Centigrade and b) agreed a green climate fund to give $100 billion per year to poorer countries by 2020.

To put this in perspective, we may unfortunately already be on course for a temperature rise of 5 degrees (not good news). Crucially and conspicuous by their continued absence are:
  • emissions targets for individual countries
  • an agreed method for monitoring emissions cuts
  • plans for what happens next after the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012
Here in the UK our recent and current governments are committing us to near unilateral emissions reductions, which shows leadership but creates unintended consequences for businesses trying to ride the recession and stay competitive. We need joined up thinking and actions more than ever and we need it very soon.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Oh come all ye EV faithful

I want one.
As Christmas approaches and electric cars are appearing in the stockings of the green, rich and famous, the latest consumer research from Glass's shows an increasing number of motorists who believe that EVs are the future.
60% of motorists believe that EVs have the potential to take over from their current vehicle. 23% believe that EVs could replace their current car altogether while 37% believe they would take over as the second car in the household. 9% said they would buy an EV as their next car. This looks too conservative for many of us in the industry however.

Better Place's CFO Chris Stonehill talked up the market at this week's Envirotech & Clean Energy Investor Summit stating that EVs will reach 100% of new car sales by 2020 and rubbished forecasts that EV penetration will be just 10% by the end of the decade.

To anyone that will listen I have been touting my own '2020 Vision' for 5 years, which is that 50% of the market will be electric by 2020 and virtually 100% by 2025. The declining cost of batteries, rising cost of liquid fuels, environmental and energy security fears and the joy of driving electric are the reasons why.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


EV Aware
Here is the new TV commercial from Plug-In America. Great to see the debate has been going mainstream for a while in the US, this time with a simple message: gasoline isn't right for cellphones (and neither is it right for cars). US humour is different to British humour but we get it and are on the same side. It's the latest in a series of on-message ads, congrats for forwarding the debate.

Update: And at last, here is the trailer for the movie follow-up to Who Killed The Electric Car - Revenge of the Electric Car, in cinemas in 2011.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tax dirty energy, don't tax clean energy: simples!

Branson: brilliant
Here's a framework that will nudge every business and consumer into doing what has to be done: governments around the world must tax clean energy and not tax tax dirty energy. Then get out of the way and let businesses and the free market do what it does quickly and efficiently, which is change behaviours.
Not my idea (unfortunately) but Virgin boss Richard Branson's. He reckons that assuming the taxation levels were appropriate, we could remove 17 billion tonnes of CO2 and stabilise the atmosphere by 2020. It would also fast forward the adoption rate for electric vehicles of course as they became ever cleaner. More at the Carbon War Room.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

L.OV.E. ElectriCities

What do you think?
It's time we started putting pressure on city chiefs to set a date for EV Only access to our largest cities. I am thinking of calling it the L.O.V.E. ElectriCities campaign - as in Let Only Vehicles Electric in.  (I know, I know, but it's catchy).

If the UK is going to meet its targets for carbon emissions reduction, then 100% of vehicles on UK roads need to be electric by 2030. As I live in the UK it would be great to see Mayor Boris Johnson setting a date of 2016 for L.O.V.E London. I propose a phased plan whereby you are allowed to drive your conventional or hybrid vehicle for a further  two years until 2018, but you would have to pay a premium to do so. After 2018, it is pure electric vehicles only. By then we will have the product available and the price of batteries should have fallen sufficiently to make no real difference in cost between conventional and electric vehicles. Think how amazing our cities would be without the air and noise pollution. This trajectory would enable us to make it 100% electric everywhere in the UK by 2030.

We need our most visionary and bold municipal leaders to start thinking big because it is apparent - if the continued squabbling at Cancun is anything to go by - that our political heads of state are incapable of delivering the frameworks and nudges required to head off disastrous climate change.

If you like the idea and would like to help me get it off the ground, please get in touch.

Electric vehicles could last 10 years on one set of batteries

There is much talk these days about how long EV batteries will last and the high cost of replacement. Smith Electric Vehicles are claiming 80% capacity after 3,000 cycles, or up to 10 years. This theory is supported by Australian EV developer Energetique which uses Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries for the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi electric Light Commercial Vehicle, developed in collaboration with global engineering company RLE International. Over at electric supercar manufacturer Lightning, my friend and chairman Iain Sanderson reckons their Lithium Titanate batteries are so good they will last not ten but fifteen years / 15,000 cycles - and so they should if you are paying £180,000 for your car !

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Clever people drive EVs

smart thinking
The EV has the potential to be one of the most transformative technologies ever. Its impacts are creating waves of opportunity through economies around the world together with its co-creator of environmental survival the Smart Grid. Here in the words of the super-smart Christine Hertzog are three examples why:
  • EVs will spur more distributed generation, microgrids, and energy storage as utilities look to avoid investment in additional remote generation or transmission assets. Generation facilities sited at homes or at work campuses leverage clean, domestic, renewable forms of energy and energy storage that can be used to charge EVs. 
  • EV charge/discharge functionality will require new transformers and other upgrades in the distribution network.  Today’s installed transformers are not designed to manage bi-directional electricity needed for vehicle to grid (V2G) charging and Feed-in-Tariff (FiTs) situations, and thus need to be replaced.  Even if V2G charging is not in place, ageing transformers will get more hours of heavy-duty use since many EVs will charge at night, reducing their former “down time” and accelerating their replacement timeframes.  
  • EV fleets, aggregated with predictable patterns of charging or discharging, can become mobile distributed generation and energy storage assets and improve the reliability of the electrical grid.
The good news is that the EV and the smart grid spell the end for the fossil fuel lobbyists who are no longer able to make the financial case for oil in cars, in spite of their attempts to outspend the cleantech lobbyists by 59:1. (or to justify the craziness of giving money to unfriendly oil producing nations, or going to war with them if they won't play ball).

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

MPGe or kWh / km?

It's an orange, stupid.
Great, a heated debate. This one is how many miles can an electric car do to the gallon?
Silly question of course, but in the US the EPA have decided that electric vehicles will show range in MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). The Nissan Leaf's official figure is 99 MPGe and the Chevy Volt's is 60 MPGe (37 MPG gas only, 93 MPGe electricity only, 60 MPGe combined).

The debate rages around what is being measured and included in the comparison. It depends on how clean the electricity used to charge the vehicle is of course. A bit like the fact that official emissions and fuel consumption figures for conventional cars bear little resemblance to real world figures (the real world figures tend to be much worse). As with all cars, it completely excludes the carbon generated in the production of the vehicles, which vary enormously according to size, weight, components, the supply chain, the manufacturing plant, and disposal. This 'dust-to-dirt' figure is the holy grail for EVangelists like me.

The answer is simple, but not it appears easy: forget trying to compare EVs with conventional cars because they are different. Instead, let's introduce a new metric for EVs, that of kWh / electricity consumption instead of petrol/diesel consumption. It will feel a little weird for about a week and then we would all get used to it. Let's hope European governments adopt this latter approach.

Footnote: As a rule of thumb, it has been estimated that the average conventional car emits a total of 400g CO2 / km 'pit-to-wheel' compared to 100g CO2 / km (worst case) 'well-to-wheel' for electric cars - so the important point to remember is that when all is said and done, the only solution to the environmental problem is to drive a pure electric car. This message unfortunately gets lost amongst all the greenwash.