EVs appear to be the future, but where are manufacturers at?

4 Mar 2011

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With GM and Nissan commercialising electric vehicles (EVs) over the next decade, established players such as Toyota, Honda, BMW and Audi are soon releasing their first entries into the EV market, along with start-ups such as Tesla, CODA, and Fisker.

Meanwhile, a new report called Electric Vehicle Branding shows that US consumers seem to show brand loyalty towards Toyota if opting to buy an EV in the future.

The survey, which was carried out by Zpryme Smart Grid Insights, asked US consumers to gauge how their brand loyalty transferred from conventional vehicles to EVs.

Even though questions have been raised about the safety of Toyota vehicles in recent times, as the manufacturer has lately been issuing one recall after another, 57pc of respondents said they would prefer a Toyota EV than that of another brand.

Here’s how the manufacturers fared:

Table 1: EV Brand Preference By Brand of Current Vehicle

Brand          pc (consumers who would opt for the EV in this brand)

Toyota          57pc

Honda          54pc

Ford             48pc

Chevrolet      43pc

Nissan         43pc

Hyundai       28pc

Dodge          25pc

Chrysler       22pc

GMC           18pc

Source: Airbiquity & Zpryme, The Electric Vehicle Study, December 2010

Meanwhile, Hyundai drivers appear to be the most likely to purchase an EV in the US in the next two years, at 45pc.

Table 2: Consumers Likely to Purchase an EV in The Next Two Years By Vehicle Brand

Brand               pc

Hyundai            45pc

Nissan              43pc

Toyota              43pc

GMC                 36pc

Honda               36pc

Ford                  35pc

Chevrolet            35pc

Chrysler             30pc

Dodge                27pc

Source: Airbiquity & Zpryme, The Electric Vehicle Study, December 2010.

Initial hype surrounding EVs

In an interview in Automotive News Europe in February 2011, Porsche AG CEO Matthias Mueller referred to electric vehicles, stating: “We are now almost over the initial hype before business really gets started.”

So where are EVs at right now?

Daniel Jung, editor of the Zpryme study, points to how the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf are starting to spring up in garages and driveways across the US.

In January 2011, for instance, General Motors (GM) sold 321 Chevrolet Volts, while Nissan sold 87 Leafs in the US. These figures are low, but Jung says it does not “signal a lack of interest among buyers for EVs.”

For instance, GM has overthrown its earlier decision to only sell the Volts in select metropolitan areas, instead announcing it will now offer the Volt in all 50 states by the end of 2011. Plus, Nissan has also claimed that 20,000 buyers have placed US$99 deposits so they can be placed on a waiting list for the Leaf.

Earlier this year, Nissan and Renault announced they are putting aside $US5bn by 2013 to build 12 factories capable of producing 500,000 EVs a year globally, says Jung.

Zpryme says that neither Toyota nor Honda will release a commercial EV in 2011, pointing to how both manufacturers will lag in market share should the market for EVs rapidly expand. Take Ford, which is blossoming again with its 2011 release of an electric version of the Focus.

And the luxury manufacturers are also polishing up their EV offerings – Audi and BMW have also announced initiatives to build premium EVS, targeted specifically for affluent, environmentally-conscious drivers.

Meanwhile, EV start-ups such as Tesla, CODA and Fisker are testing consumers’ appetites for EVs.

Hybrids

However, Honda and Toyota continue to push ahead in the hybrid space. Just this week, Toyota unveiled the Toyota Prius + at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, while the Honda Insight is also faring well in the US marketplace.

On Irish soil, ESB is swiftly developing awareness about e-cars, having recently set up a website for consumers to learn more about EVs and their potential. ESB is also working to help achieve the Government’s target of having 10pc of the Irish motoring fleet be electric by 2020.

In December 2010, PSA Peugeot Citroën announced it would be introducing two new electric cars to Ireland in 2011 – the Peugeot iOn and the Citroën C-Zero – as part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Irish Government and ESB. At the announcement, former energy minister Eamon Ryan TD said grants of up to €5,000 for electric and €2,500 for hybrid cars will be available from 1 January 2011 to 2012.

In October 2010, Intel and ESB also signed an MOU to collaborate on the challenges of integrating electric vehicles into the electricity grid.

EVS Aran Islands

View of the Mega e-City car, which is being trialled on the Aran Islands this year

And on the Aran Islands, off the West coast of Ireland, eight View Mega e-City cars (SEAI initiative with Green Machines and Merrion Fleet Management) are being trialled by families in a pioneering sustainable-living project that aims to show how the islands can be viewed as a micro version of how e-cars could work on a larger scale on the island of Ireland.

Key obstacles for EVs

Prof Richard Tol, professor of the Economics of Climate Change at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, says that all-electric vehicles are promising, but not yet ready for prime time.

Explains Tol: “Key obstacles at the moment are range (too short) and price (too high). Other problems are waste (what to do with all those batteries?) and grid integration (the current power system would collapse if 10pc of cars were all-electric). These problems can and will be solved. For the moment, however, all-electric vehicles are an experimental technology. Large-scale rollout will come later, perhaps in 10, perhaps in 30 years.”

EV technology and winning market share

According to Zpryme, competition is going to be fierce in the EV space, as the major manufacturers up the ante to glean an edge.

“Differentiation and branding will play a key role in determining which companies succeed in profiting from EVs, a fact that is no secret to industry leaders and outside analysts,” according to Zpryme. “For both established car brands and EV start-ups, the newness of EV technology provides a unique opportunity to win market share, define consumer perceptions, and establish a foothold in a newly developing class of vehicles."

Carmel was a long-time reporter with Siliconrepublic.com

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