Electric vehicle business will be a slow drive – Gartner

29 Oct 2009

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Cautious carmakers are being blamed for the likely slow acceleration of the electrical-vehicle business and until then governments will need to promote these technologies until market dynamics take over the wheel.

The technology world has been embracing the electric vehicle idea like wildfire, with vehicles like the Tesla Roadster, which is due to go into production in 2011, sparking major interest. The Model S will carry seven people, last for 300 miles per charge and has an on-board charger that will work with any 120V, 240V or 480V outlet (a full charge can be achieved in 45 minutes from a 480V power outlet).

Electric-vehicle development

However, according to Gartner, the majority of traditional automakers are taking a careful but positive approach to the development of electric vehicles (EVs), according to Gartner, Inc. This cautious attitude is aimed at minimising infrastructure-related risks and maximising return from previous investments made to optimise combustion engines.

Gartner predicts that in industrialised automotive markets, battery-powered vehicles (that is, plug-in full-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) will represent 5pc to 8pc of all vehicles sold using various types of propulsion technologies by 2020.

Battery-powered vehicles will account for 15 to 20pc of all vehicle sales by 2030.

“Prospects for the successful development, launch and sale of EVs in industrialised global markets are maturing as a result of automotive industry and technology advancements, infrastructure developments, as well as societal and political trends,” said Thilo Koslowski, research vice-president at Gartner.

“These factors have the potential to lower costs for EVs, simplify the customer ownership experience and accelerate overall market adoption.”

Testing, testing …

To test EV market acceptance and prepare for a potential boost in EV production, virtually all global mainstream automobile manufacturers are planning to bring at least one EV model to market in the next four years; some plan to do so even sooner.

The growth in EVs is also opening the door to emerging vehicle manufacturers that specialise in the design, development and sale of battery-powered automobiles. Furthermore, the emergence of new supply-chain partners that provide engineering, powertrain components, testing and battery offerings continues.

At the same time, key technological advancements are prerequisites for creating dependable battery-powered vehicles in the future and include:

  • Increased energy density for various chemical compositions in EV batteries and new powertrain designs with increased reliability.
  • Advanced software control models (eg, for energy, battery and temperature management).
  • Expanded standardisation efforts, such as the SAE J1772 initiative for standardising EV charging plugs, which is likely to be adopted by most OEMs this year.

Infrastructure developments require massive investments to provide users with a seamless transportation experience for battery-powered vehicles. To this end, infrastructure efforts need to accomplish new forms of collaboration between vehicle manufacturers, energy providers, charging service providers and vehicle owners.

Gartner predicts that EV brokers will play a critical role in achieving this required collaboration aimed at simplifying EV ownership, but brokers’ business models will need to adapt to a changing value chain over the next five years.

Societal and political trends

Consumer awareness about the operational costs of passenger vehicle ownership and the desire to meet environmental objectives has grown steadily in developed countries over the last three years in response to rising awareness about global warming, higher fuel costs and vehicle emissions. At the same time, regional governments have also increased their financial support for EV development.

Gartner predicts that governmental support for EV and other alternative propulsion technologies will continue until competitive market dynamics are strong enough to ensure sufficient momentum.

Governments will also play a vital role in enforcing the standardisation of critical technology elements that will accelerate infrastructure deployments.

For example, governments could require that automakers make battery-charge information available to other companies in order to develop reliable charging solutions and manage electric grid requirements.

By John Kennedy

Photo: The Tesla Roadster.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com