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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: EV != Electric
By Gurthang on 4/12/2011 1:43:51 PM , Rating: 1
There are more factors than how the power is generated. The batteries are not exactly clean to produce. Requiring large amounts of shipping (using lots of fuel), lots of toxic chemicals, etc.

Neither is the drilling and transportation for oil nor is the production, transport, and storage of gasoline. Your point? At least EV tech tends to centralize the polution where in theory it is easier to manage and control.

Because no one ever drives more than 100-120 miles in a day right?

While I agree the state of battery tech is not there yet for long distance driving. This does not mean they solutions do not exist. Flow cells can be "recharged" by changing out the "battery fluid". If the industry standardized on battery modules and their connection/interconnection your fill-up would be just an exchange of modules with you paying for energy used and wear. It also creates a means to manage cell recycling.

Of course the real answer to long haul electrics is in road power on the highways heck that might be a better answer now for moving freight that those high-speed rail boondogles that keep popping up every few years.

RE: EV != Electric
By FITCamaro on 4/12/2011 3:14:07 PM , Rating: 3
And where will the trillions come from to completely replace roads?

RE: EV != Electric
By AssBall on 4/12/2011 3:50:29 PM , Rating: 4
When you are a liberal nut job neither the costs nor the outcomes are important. They are something that someone else can just "deal with later" after your brilliant amazing show stopping miracle plan goes into effect.

Kyoto Protocol: Lets spend trillions on a few years of sketchy lobbyist driven scientific evidence to reduce emissions of a compound that's been on the earth sustaining life for 4 billion years.

Welfare: Lets spend trillions on people who have a negative net impact on the prosperity of a society to assure that their descendants can follow in their footsteps.

RE: EV != Electric
By Spuke on 4/12/2011 5:02:36 PM , Rating: 2
When you are a liberal nut job neither the costs nor the outcomes are important.
I find that people that support all these trendy talking points really don't seem to be interested in implementation or costs. Or even pros and cons for that matter. It's like the other thread where you just simply plug in your EV and go. Hell it's taken the better part of two years just to get people here to acknowledge that you have to install/upgrade something to charge their EV in a reasonable timeframe. They still won't accept how much it costs or that some things simply won't happen. I don't know how many people I've personally talked to wanting to install solar or wind that are turned off by it when they hear what's involved or how much it costs. All people hear are the good things (and not even all of the good things at that).

RE: EV != Electric
By FITCamaro on 4/12/2011 5:10:28 PM , Rating: 2
I think welfare should be called the James Clyburn Principle.

If you've ever driven through his districts, you'd know why I say that. Nothing but welfare generation after welfare generation. And he's perfectly content keeping it that way.

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton

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