EVS27 Reflects Maturity of Electric Car Industry, But No Consensus on Future

By · November 21, 2013

BMW i3 at EVS27 in Barcelona

BMW i3 at EVS27 in Barcelona

The great thing about international events like EVS27 is that they allow the meeting of different people with very different opinions. Somebody says white, and only a few minutes later, another person says black. On one side, there are the positive people: those saying that the electric car is on the rise, and that its rise will be unstoppable. They are right. EV sales are growing everywhere, but the naysayers have strong arguments too.

The negative camp is made up of car manufacturers who did not officially attend EVS27, with a stand to show their cars. They commonly just send one guy, and I talked to two of them (from two companies). The basic idea is that even if sales are growing, they remain low, much below what profitability requires. They point to companies that had to lower EV prices to move metal. And even Tesla Motors, arguably the most successful EV maker, still failed to make a profit in the last quarter.

With falling gas prices, it's hard to defend the electric car on a strictly financial point of view, but as a positive sign, it was a relief to see that companies that were still highly doubtful of the electric car took the expense to send someone to attend EVS27.

Renault Zoé at EVS27 in Barcelona

Renault Zoé at EVS27 in Barcelona

For the first time in the history of EVS, there were four large car manufacturers attending, each with products to offer. BMW, Nissan, Renault and Volkswagen all had pure battery electric cars available right at the show, and that was a welcome change from the countless prototypes we've seen in past editions.

The big guys have stepped in, and there were less of the smaller companies that used to add spice to EV shows. The electric car is getting mature, and that also showed at the supplier level. All the EV engineering companies were expensive European companies—a majority of them were British—while all the affordable cell manufacturers were Chinese. The cells on display were of large size, and the smaller ones favored by Tesla Motors were nowhere in sight. That doesn't make the job of choosing a cell any easier. They all look exactly the same. Looking at engine blocks is more fun. Put it this way: there's plenty of work for people evaluating batteries.

Circontrol triple charger at EVS27 in Barcelona

Circontrol triple charger at EVS27 in Barcelona

Besides cars, the most important part of the exhibition was about charging stations, and Europe may not get what it should. Because of slow EV sales and difficult economic conditions, the triple charger which should be dominating may not be as successful as hoped. That triple charger is the one featuring a Combo 2 plug (DC), a Chademo plug (DC) and a 43-kW AC plug. It costs between €25,000 and €30,000 (in the high $30,000 range in U.S. dollars), with the local Spanish manufacturers being the cheapest at the show.

But when asked, the companies expect to sell more of the much less expensive dual charger, with a DC Combo 2 plug and a 22-kW AC plug.

EVS is about all kind of EVs, so there were also several electric motorbikes on show, but the most surprising stand was from a company no EV-fan has ever been associated with: Cummins. They're known as a diesel engine builder—large diesels for big trucks—but they're evolving into a power generation company. They've designed an interesting hybrid system for boats with two engines, enabling one to run at lower RPM. Electric mobility is not ready for big trucks, but a lot of people are working on it.

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