Three No-Brainer Electric Car Trends in 2013

By · January 18, 2013

Just three weeks into the new year, we're already seeing three blatantly obvious trends emerge.

1EV Are Getting Cheaper

The big persistent complaint against electric cars is high cost. Critics say that plug-in cars cost more than so-called comparable models, but deliver less range or other features. Those arguments usually overlook the fact that EVs provide quicker acceleration, better handling because of a low center of gravity, and a smooth silent drive. (Let’s leave aside the lack of a tailpipe and what comes out of it.)

But lo and behold, only three weeks into 2013, and the price of the entry-level Nissan LEAF has been dropped by $6,000. And on Wednesday, GM North America President Mark Reuss said the company can reduce production costs of the Chevy Volt by “thousands of dollars” signaling a price reduction for the extended-range electric vehicle. If you look closely at the price of the Ford C-Max Energi, it’s actually lower than the C-Max Hybrid, when considering federal and state incentives. Also, the 2013 Smart Electric Drive starts at a compelling $25,000, before incentives.

This is not the end of the trend of fully capable EVs with a net price in the teens.

2Plug-in Hybrid Selection is Expanding

The Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid officially went on sale this week. The Ford Fusion Energi hits the market at the very end of Q1. My local Ford dealer expects to see the first units in April. These two plug-in hybrids—offered as options on ultra-popular—join the Chevy Volt, Ford C-Max Energi, Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, and Fisker Karma, which are already on sale. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is coming later this year.

This all adds up to seven plug-in hybrids from seven different automakers, in a wide variety of sizes, styles and powertrain approaches. Volumes will not be high, but the ability for consumers to choose from among a field of options is unprecedented—and plants the seeds for future growth.

3Struggling EV Companies Are Becoming Less Relevant

Better Place EV Battery Swap Station

Better Place EV Battery Swap Station

Just as the major automotive companies are introducing their plug-in products, well-known start-up companies that have been talking a big game for several years appear to be stuck in neutral.

Better Place, the EV infrastructure that bet hundreds of millions of dollars on robotic battery swapping, is now without a CEO. Four months ago, its charismatic leader Shai Agassi stepped down, and was replaced by Evan Thornley, the company’s top guy in Australia. This week, Better Place issues a press release thanking Thornley for his “transitional” role, as he made his exit from the CEO's office.He has not yet been replaced. This is not a good sign.

Fisker Automotive is also failing to make up ground lost last year, due to a series of quality problems. Today, a number of news agencies are reporting that Fisker hasn’t built a single Karma vehicle for six months, and is pointing to supplier problems as the cause, including the bankruptcy of A123 Systems, its battery supplier. Yet, Inautonews.com reported that Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher, said, “Fisker is in advanced talks with a number of potential strategic partners. We expect some exciting developments in the next few months.”

For all intents and purposes, Coda Automotive has also not produced a vehicle for several months and is in discussions with potential strategic partners—an increasingly common euphemism for a company scrambling to find an investor or buyer (most likely in China).

These three trends paint a picture: a new more realistic EV market with greater choice, better pricing, and represented by major car companies, rather than less established hype-prone newcomers. Not a bad start.

Comments

· · 1 year ago

As choices increases, so will the sales.

But let us be real here. Hybrids only accounted for about 3% of the entire 2012 auto sales in the US. So, I don't expect plugins to exceed that for the next 5 years unless there is a major breakthrough in battery technology (cost, weight and range).

I will be happy if they can increase their total sales by 30-50% per year. At that rate, all automakers will join in and starting to offer choices which will reduce cost and increase total sales.

· · 1 year ago

On the "EV are getting cheaper" front, Toyota has extended the promotion on the RAV4 EV that expired on January 4th. That offer was 60 months 0% financing and $5,000 customer cash. The new offer, valid through February 4th is 60 months 0% financing and $6,000 customer cash. This is a different tactic than Nissan has taken with the Leaf. Toyota seems to be adjusting the customer cash according to demand. This may be cheaper than a real advertising campaign. They have a fixed number of cars they will build, so it seems they need to put some cash on the hood to get the selling rate where it needs to be.

· · 1 year ago

The EV market is kinda stuck in a rut right now because gasoline has dropped down to $3/gallon and at that price, it is hard to make a case for EVs.

But now that we have deep-pocket big auto companies involved, they should have the staying power to last through this lull.

· · 1 year ago

"Those arguments usually overlook the fact that EVs provide quicker acceleration, better handling because of a low center of gravity"

That's a "fact"? Have you seen the handling and acceleration of a Leaf, i-Mev, Smart Electric, etc.?

Pure propaganda.

· · 1 year ago

No-brainer trends indeed -- although I might argue, isn't the 3rd point backwards, "Companies which failed to become relevant are now struggling"? Oops, we've gone circular.

Glad to see prices going down and new offerings from well-established brands. That should help public awareness and acceptance, slowly...

@Michael: comparing apples to apples, or the electric and gas versions of the same vehicle when they exist, the claim that EVs are peppier and have lower center of gravity is usually true.
At least it seems so to me, looking at the i(-MiEV), 3rd gen Smart ED, upcoming Chevy Spark or Fiat 500. Not sure about the Ford Focus though.

Drawing definitive conclusions is a bit triquier for pure EVs, but personally at moderate speeds I find the Leaf way more responsive than a comparable ICE.
Now, I really wish I could comment on the Tesla Roadster or Model S...

· · 1 year ago

I doubt if Michael has even driven an electric car for more than a quick hop around the block (if that,) Mr. O. He simply shows up on this blog from time to time to basically diss the the entire concept.

· · 1 year ago

From zero to 30 the average car cannot touch a Leaf.

· · 1 year ago

Glad to see prices going down and new offerings from well-established brands. That should help public awareness and acceptance, slowly...

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· · 1 year ago

Glad to see prices going down and new offerings from well-established brands. That should help public awareness and acceptance, slowly...

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· · 1 year ago

Electric Cars are Neat and Quiet (hehe except my Roadster). I just wish my volt wouldn't automatically turned into a gas-guzzler (uses more than a Chevy Cruze Eco) when the thermometer drops to 25 degrees. In these woods it looks like we are having an exceptionally cold winter, and I don't think I'm going to be having my cherished "EV experience" for at least another month.

· · 1 year ago

@Bill Howland
It's cold in Buffalo, NY! Meanwhile, I'm I'm the twin cities Minnesota with a high of -5 yesterday and 3 today. I read your critique of the new Leaf heat pump... I don't know the efficiencies and so forth but love the idea of going EV...or at least PHEV. Would you recommend anything currently offered or am I better off waiting until the next generation tech is out. The SoCal posters just don't understand the reality of cold weather but you get it.

· · 1 year ago

@Bill Howland
It's cold in Buffalo, NY! Meanwhile, I'm I'm the twin cities Minnesota with a high of -5 yesterday and 3 today. I read your critique of the new Leaf heat pump... I don't know the efficiencies and so forth but love the idea of going EV...or at least PHEV. Would you recommend anything currently offered or am I better off waiting until the next generation tech is out. The SoCal posters just don't understand the reality of cold weather but you get it.

· · 1 year ago

@Sevie

Hi, yeah the problem with heat pumps is they can only work in moderate weather. At 45 degrees Fahrenheit they usually have a COP (co-efficient of performance, which by the way is EER (energy efficiency ratio / 3.413) (to explain, EER is the dumb consumer term, but mixes units, hence the conversion). of 3, which means every BTU of heat you take from the battery gives you 3 btu of heat in the cabin. Great, right?

Now, drop that down to 25 degrees, and the COP drops to 1 or less. Its hard to move heat from 25 degrees to 100 degrees (anything lower would 'feel' cold).

For St. Paul if you do the majority of your driving in the winter, I wish someone would come out basically with an electric car, but forget the electric cabin or battery heaters.. Have a VERY small (1 cylinder) diminutive genset, and recoop all the otherwise waste heat for the cabin and battery.. So, whenever anyone needs some heat, if the seat heaters aren't enough, start the engine, and add some real world range to the car at the same time.. You could call it a cold weather package. And you could recover both the engine heat and the exhaust heat a la my '64 vw bug. But everyone seems to go nuts with HUGE Engine Sizes. I keep wanting dinkier and dinkier engines.

The Volt I purchased since its the ONLY decent ranged EV vehicle which I can drive in cold weather, plus I can take a trip. My Roadster is fine, and the heater doesnt drain the huge battery down that much (35 %) because the cabin is the smallest in existence. The Volt's range on the other hand, can drop as low as 6 miles in stop/go traffic. I only wish the thing wouldn't automatically start the engine at a very HOT 25 degrees. That totally kills EV operation around here, and obviously the same for St. Paul. The gas mileage is kinda poor, but that may be due to old gas for the timebeing. 10% ethanol apparently doesn't age gracefully.

The volt has GM's typical arrogant design in that you have control over nothing, are told next to nothing, and are not allowed to make intelligent decisions for yourself. The car does what it wants unless you temporarily fool the very buggy computers in it.

· · 1 year ago

Does anyone know the average RATE of energy consumption in various EV's today? I have read the watts per mile, MPGe, etc. but haven't heard what kind of watts continuous output a range extender truly needs to produce, on average, to maintain a typical EV car traveling at highway speeds? All I know is typical consumption of 300-500 watt-hrs/mile is regularly observed...but how many kW/hour, on average, need to be produced at highway speeds? I'm interested in an average, since a battery would serve to buffer the difference.
I figure this tackles the question of how big the range extender engine really needs to be...if this engine can handle the "average" watts needed, how much bigger should the manufacturer engineer?

· · 1 year ago

The way I see it, a car consuming 400 watt-hours per mile at 65 miles per hour is churning through 26 kW/h. That's roughly equal to 34 horsepower...I think the engineered redundancies are a bit higher than this!!
Please help me understand if I'm wrong.

· · 1 year ago

@Sevie

Your calcs sound good to me. I want a 20 hp 1 cyl range extender that can fall behind at 65 mph, but make it up at the rest stop.

· · 1 year ago

@Sevie: "Does anyone know the average RATE of energy consumption in various EV's today"

Tony Williams made a great chart for the Leaf's power consumption. This is somewhat empirical data, but it is measured over several vehicles. Consumption will change with temperature, too, since cold air has more drag.

Anyway, here are some numbers for the Leaf:

35MPH = 5.6kW
45MPH = 6.8kW
55MPH = 12.8kW
65MPH = 18.1kW
75MPH = 25kW

So an intelligently designed 25kW genset should be able to roughly sustain about 75MPH. I know speeds are higher out west, but here in the northeast, this is really all we need.

· · 1 year ago

@Brian Schwerdt -- Thanks for the repost of Tony Williams numbers. Looks like my calculations were conservative for the Leaf, but close enough! My figures were perhaps a prediction of consumption for a larger/less aero vehicle?

@Bill Howland -- The bigger the battery, the smaller the Range Extender needs to be, agreed? For example, if the next generation Volt were to approach the Leaf's all electric range the engineers could install a substantially smaller RE and, ideally, create another setting for "Road Trip" where the Range Extender kicks in when the battery drops below a higher state of charge. Traveling at 75mph would mean a continued drain on the battery but slowing down, rest stops, etc. would be opportunities to recoup loss. Net result? More miles EV only AND no range anxiety.

· · 1 year ago

Would it need to be as large as 20hp? The v-twin on my standby genset is 530cc and generates about 18hp to spin a 10KW alternator (Generac 5871). I find the idea of a small, highly efficient thumper (1-cyl engine) running while in a rest stop or anyplace lacking a receptacle a very attractive idea. Small diesels fitting this description are already widely available. And it's going to be a good long time before any of us are going to be able to expect to plug in, most places.

· · 1 year ago

Very interesting topic. I think one problem is the reliabilty of such small tuned engine. If you take motorbikes, they press nice power out of small engine, but their lifecycle is far less than on cars. BMW is going to that direction with i3, they also produce today far the most reliable such engines used on their motorbikes. Still tough 600 cc sounds quite high, it is much better than any range extender on the market today. To my knowledge for cold climate Volvo plugins have natural gas heaters which are also quite eco friendly. I wonder when someone comes out with EV + small range extender where you can choose the size of battery on the car to suit your driving habits. I need only 20 miles+ extender, would do 90% of driving without drop of gas. Sorry, with 3 kids Volt is a no go, Outlander seems a good option in future.

· · 1 year ago

@ rico567-- I wonder what the efficiencies are on a kWh/gallon basis for range-extending generators in the Volt & others, particularly compared to the purpose-built generators? I suppose I could do a reverse calculation from the EPA mpg...

Second, does the typical range extender run at a fixed speed (like the generators I've experienced) and maybe even a fixed output? With a big enough battery, I envision this exact scenario...fixed output (5kW, 10kW, 20kW, whatever) with the battery acting as a buffer, and the generator kicking in once the battery SOC is low enough that the motor wouldn't be kicking in and out. Add the "smart" component of a Nav system that calculates likely kWh needed once a destination is entered...and have the generator kick in to produce the juice necessary to get to the destination then shut off as appropriate (Driver can override, of course). Add the bonus of generator waste heat for cabin and/or battery conditioning.

· · 1 year ago

Ok guys, agreed that my 1 cyl 20 hp atkinson cycle (that's power stroke longer than compression stroke) is not for everyone but I'm not worried about reliabilty in my case for the following reasons:

1). I rarely use the engine, except on long trips and during the winter time to get economical heat as explained (heating off a battery is definitely an achille's heal).

2). The atkinson cycle engine is very low power really... 20 hp on a 350 cc engine is really miniscule these days. At that power level this thing should last 300,000 miles before an overhaul, and that even assumes its running most of the time.

3). Since the thing's gas pedal is controlled by the computer, it can be gradually turned on and off, allowing the thing to warm up for 60 secs or so in cold weather before being put to work.

I just want the smallest engine available since I want mostly an electric car. I'm sizing the thing to get the most use out of it and to be able to utilize ALL the waste heat in the cabin (and battery heater if necessary) and not waste a bit of it.
A car built with this philosophy should get large EV only range, and there's not much dead weight carried around on days that you dont need the engine.

Besides. I love big batteries and if companies insist on building only compact cars the only other room for battery expansion is the engine compartment. A 1 cylinder dinky engine would leave more room for more battery.

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