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The numbers of EV options will more than double with the release of the 2013 Ford Focus Electric (pictured), the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-In, and the 2013 Tesla Model S.  (Source: Treehugger)

Charging stations, like ECOtality's BLINK charger, are being deployed across America as well.  (Source: Tech Fever)

History cautions us that the EV movement may not be out of the woods yet -- the most iconic EV of the 1990s, GM's EV1 quickly ended up crushed in the scrap heap (pictured). This time around things may work out differently, though.  (Source: Treehugger)
EV movement has stalled several times, historically, industry hopes to avoid another letdown

Researchers and market advocates in a recent Detroit News interview argue that the electric vehicle movement is reaching the point where it will become an unstoppable force on the market before.  Describes, Genevieve Cullen, the vice president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, an advocacy group for electric cars, "We think that increasing electric is inevitable. The speed is variable."

I. The EV Movement has Faded Before -- Will History Repeat Itself?

The question of whether the electrification movement will stick this time around is a compelling one. 

In the early 1900s electric vehicles were extremely popular, outselling gas vehicles in some areas until the advent of mass production.  With the arrival of modern engine designs, electric vehicles quickly faded from the mind of the auto industry and the public.

In the 1960s interest in electric cars once again rose, with concepts like the 1967 Comuta from Ford Motor Company (F).  These efforts failed to gain traction, though.  In the 1990s there was yet another electric revivalist movement with General Motors Company's (GM) EV1.  And yet again EVs were met with apathy and a hasty demise.

Today EVs are once more on the market, with the 2012 Chevy Volt from GM (a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle; PHEV) and 2012 Nissan (NSANF) LEAF EV (a battery-electric vehicle; BEV).  However, the sales aren't looking great, largely due to the manufacturers' inability to put out significant volume to the public.

But many are convinced that this time EVs may hang in there.  Oil is off highs of $147 USD/barrel reached in July 2008.  But it's still relatively high, hovering at around $100 USD/barrel.

II.  Increasing Infrastructure

They key to the survival of the EV movement arguably lays in the significant uptake in EV infrastructure.  Thanks in part to a $2.4B USD government investment program in the battery industry, six major battery plants are open or are near opening.  And Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), Ford, and Toyota Motor Company (TM) will look to jump into the mass market next year with new electric vehicles.  Ford is planning to release the 2013 Focus Electric and Toyota plans to release a 2013 Prius Plug-In.  Tesla meanwhile is planning to launch its first mass-market EV, the 2013 Model S.

The real key to increasing promise for the mass market is dropping batter prices and increased battery production.  Analysts estimate that in 2011 50,000 EV batteries will be produced and in only three years -- by 2014 -- that number will rise to 500,000 batteries a year.

Meanwhile costs are dropping.  Eric Isaacs, the director of the Argonne National Laboratory -- a government research institution located outside of Chicago, Illinois -- states, "The question is: Can these guys make a battery that is five times cheaper? I think yes. I think we can do it."

One major obstacle to the fledgling movement is the availability of charging stations.  EVs, like gas vehicles need to be "fueled up".  Standard chargers can take hours to completely charge a vehicle.  A dedicated high-voltage charging station can mostly charge a vehicle within a half or so.

The need for chargers is more critical when you consider that the "tank" on EVs (battery) only holds one or two days worth of "fuel" (charge) for the average commuter.

Here, again, the government is looking to help spur the market by investing $400M USD to deploy chargers to public locations.  

Two of the leading firms include SemaConnect and ECOtality Inc. (ECTY).  SemaConnect was installing chargers in Maryland this week.  Meanwhile ECOtality in recent weeks has installed its BLINK charging stations in California, Washington state, Oregon and Arizona.

III.  The EV Outlook

There are telltale signs that the new EV trend may be a bit different.  Anecdotal examples can be found in the retail and fleet markets.  

Fleet giant Hertz is offering rentable EVs in New York City and will soon be offering them in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, Calif.

States Company spokeswoman Paula Rivera, "Currently, we have a few dozen vehicles. By the end of the year we anticipate having hundreds of them available. We do view this as the future of transportation, and see adoption coming not only from having the cars available, but the ecosystem to charge them. ... As the ecosystem builds out, our fleet will increase."

Similarly, electronics retail giant Best Buy says it is considering selling recharging stations and is training its "Geek Squad" service team members to ready them for the possibility.  Chad Bell, the senior director of Best Buy's New Business Solutions Group states, "We dedicated a significant amount of resources to help this technology come to market. We think these (home charging-stations) will be purchased and sold in the future similar to how electronics are sold today."

Some analysts are more pessimistic about the movement.  Still it's hard to argue that the industry isn't showing an awful lot of interest in it, this time around.

To borrow a chemistry analogy, it appears that EVs are currently are entering a transition state.  They aren't over the energy barrier (sales hump) yet, but they may soon get there.  If they can keep up their momentum, perhaps the EV movement can finally survive and thrive.



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RE: Battery is the key
By anony on 4/12/2011 12:33:50 PM , Rating: 2
I think instead of creating charging stations, all manufacturers should decide on a standard modular battery form factor (and battery bay access), and have battery stations instead of charging stations. This way, some kind of heavy lift machine can swap out batteries for charged ones quickly.

Thoughts why this may not be a good idea?


RE: Battery is the key
By Ushio01 on 4/12/2011 1:00:18 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Battery is the key
By anony on 4/12/2011 1:06:26 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly, but discussions are usually centered around charging stations. Of course, it will take a lot of co-operation from different car manufacturers to get this to work. And the swap station itself can be powered by a small local power plant, maybe a fuel cell based one. This will be an alternative to making fuel cell vehicles.


RE: Battery is the key
By FITCamaro on 4/12/2011 1:01:32 PM , Rating: 1
Yeah lets build 1.5x the number of batteries we need. That's going to happen. Who's going to pay for all those extra batteries? The materials for said batteries are already in high demand and short supply. And you want to build even more?

Why its not a good idea? They don't end.


RE: Battery is the key
By anony on 4/12/2011 1:26:12 PM , Rating: 2
Well, someone built all the complex cellphone stations for us to use and we are paying for them, so it is not completely unfeasible, but point taken.

The battery tech/material problem has to be tackled regardless. But unlike oil, it is not really consumed, it can be recycled.


RE: Battery is the key
By Gurthang on 4/12/2011 2:21:38 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Yeah lets build 1.5x the number of batteries we need. That's going to happen. Who's going to pay for all those extra batteries? The materials for said batteries are already in high demand and short supply. And you want to build even more?


It is called investing.. there are these groups of people with money who look for ways to make more money on new ventures. If the auto industry gave even a hint they would standardize on swappable packs there will be tons of investors ready to jump on the concept and manufacturers to build the cells. Who pays for the strategic oil reserves we maintain here in the US or all that gasoline sitting in tanks waiting to be sold..

And no there is plenty of lithium, carbon, silicon, etc. for making those newer lithium batteries like A123 cells. The cells used in laptops tend to use colbalt and be a tad to touchy for vehicles.

In the end the market will decide if allowed, I expect there will be many failures and suprises along the way hopefully leading to something more practical than most of the silly concept cars I see out of "Detroit".


RE: Battery is the key
By FITCamaro on 4/13/2011 9:10:20 AM , Rating: 2
It's called reality. When people buy a car, it comes with a battery. People wouldn't like the idea of giving that battery away to someone else in exchange for a battery that they know nothing about. They bought a car with a new battery, after their first "fill-up", they don't know what they have.

Furthermore, the battery packs weigh over a hundred pounds. Where are you going to put it so its easy to get in and out of every car quickly and safely? Also what about size? A bigger vehicle will have a bigger battery. Now you're talking about having tons (both literally and figuratively) of batteries on hand to be available to replace in cars and different sizes depending on the class of vehicle. Fill up stations would turn into warehouses.

It isn't feasible no matter who would interested in investing. The costs are in the trillions. Tell me where that capital exists. It doesn't. Not even in the make believe money land of the common liberal.


RE: Battery is the key
By JediJeb on 4/12/2011 6:21:27 PM , Rating: 2
One problem would be that most cars would need to be very similar in shape and size, though that could be overcome I guess. Another is what happens if you get your nice new battery swapped out and the one you get turns out to be a dud that leaves you stranded on the side of the road? Also unless they can increase the range on these cars then these swap stations need to be placed fairly close together to cover everyone, unless you want EVs to be restricted to certain locations.

We haven't been able to get cell phone companies to standardize batteries, it will probably be even harder to get car companies to do so.


RE: Battery is the key
By semo on 4/13/2011 8:23:04 AM , Rating: 2
How close to one another are gas stations? Also, I think that if the industry went this way, then the battery packs would be much smaller and different vehicles would carry different quantities.

I still think that this sort of concept is best suited for things like city buses. I see commuting to a filling station as one of the many negatives of ICE cars but in the short term it could be the only viable solution for EVs.


RE: Battery is the key
By semo on 4/13/2011 8:14:10 AM , Rating: 2
This is a great idea for a bus service I think. Just change the battery at the depot.

For commuter cars, I think it has its advantages but it takes away the convenience of not having to go a particular spot just to recharge. If implemented though, long distance journeys would be feasible.

With a good infrastructure, a lot of the current EV's deficiencies could be improved until the technology matures and takes care of itself.


"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook














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