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DK120180By David Keith
Ph.D Candidate
Engineering Systems Division
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hot on the heels of Thanksgiving, many in the car industry have further reason to celebrate next week: the first birthday of America’s first mainstream electric vehicle (EV).  On November 30th 2010, the first Chevy Volt rolled off the production line at GM’s Hamtramck plant in Michigan.   In light of this anniversary, I attended a dinner hosted by IBM last week, joining representatives of the auto OEMs, electric utilities, government agencies and the media to discuss current issues in the emerging market for EVs.

No shortage of optimism exists for the future of EVs.  One participant observed that the latest wave of support for EVs has the “…largest federated force of people around a new [vehicle] technology there has ever been”.  Nevertheless, this enthusiasm was tempered by equally important critiques of the numerous technical, regulatory and economic barriers that must be overcome if EVs are to become a mass-market alternative to gasoline internal-combustion.

From these discussions, I found the following issues to be of particular relevance over the next few years:

1. Growing consumer acceptance of EVs will be a marathon, not a sprint.
A report released last week (PDF) by IBM’s Institute for Business Value found that only 26% of consumers know ‘a lot’ about EVs.  This is not surprising.  The innovation diffusion literature emphasizes the importance of ‘word-of-mouth’ in the technology communication process – as information spreads, it influences peoples’ decision to adopt.  Our familiarity with EVs will only accumulate once we see a neighbor drive past in their Chevy Volt every day or once we take a trip in a friend’s Nissan Leaf.   As the number of EVs on our roads grows, so will the strength of this word-of-mouth effect, a reinforcing feedback.  However, with fewer than twenty thousand EVs on US roads as of October 2011, these interactions are at present few and far between.

2. How do we remove the barriers of public recharging?
The EV industry is facing the following ‘chicken-and-egg’ infrastructure dilemma:  To attract mainstream car buyers, a ubiquitous infrastructure is needed to support the daily recharging of EVs; however, a significant installed base of EVs is required before the construction of that infrastructure is commercially viable.

The difficulty is how to break out of this bind.  While one approach could be the widespread rollout of publicly accessible recharging infrastructure, this may be expensive and unnecessary.  The economics of public recharging are challenging, requiring high utilization rates and markups to be commercially viable, and are best sustained by large numbers of EVs. Further, early adopters of EVs are likely to include drivers with predictable commuting patterns and those willing to modify their driving patterns to suit their vehicle’s capabilities.  Removing barriers to the private deployment of infrastructure at frequently trafficked destinations such as workplaces, shopping centers and multi-tenant dwellings may be a more effective strategy in the short term.

3. Standards and coordination are needed if consumers are to enjoy a seamless recharging experience.
Numerous companies are developing solutions for the EV infrastructure market, with technologies ranging from overnight charging and direct current (DC) fast charging to battery switching.  This diversity provides useful insurance in the face of uncertainty about consumers’ future recharging needs.  However, it also introduces the potential for incompatible proprietary infrastructure platforms to emerge.

A truly effective recharging infrastructure would be as seamless as the global network of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) we have today.  Almost any cardholder can instantly obtain cash from their home bank account, regardless of where they are in the world and regardless of who owns the ATM they are using.

Achieving this in the EV market will require the adoption of agreed standards throughout the industry.  Similar coordination will be needed in relation to the back-end systems that manage payments, drivers’ search for infrastructure and electricity grid load management if consumers are to find recharging their EV a painless habit.

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Posted by: pelaburan forex
May 28, 2013
12:26 pm

Yeah, there is that other Chinese company (not American) called Tesla Motors (tongue in cheek) that makes luxury electric cars with up to 300 miles of range on a full charge and start at $62,400… The Chevy Volt with its 39 mile range, is a confession by GM that nobody but Tesla Motors has the technology to make electric cars correctly at this point in history. And yes, they are an American company right out of Silicon Valley! Toyota and Daimler/Mercedes Benz are working with Tesla on electric vehicles. Tesla also makes advanced components for electric vehicles (poly-phase ac electric motors).

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Posted by: john spencer
November 23, 2011
1:22 pm

Another important concern which I or anyone else would have before considering to purchase a EV is the battery life. Everyone knows that the batteries are really expensive although electricity is much cheaper than gas/diesel. One more area of research would be to work on solutions to bring down the price of batteries and increase their life at least to a couple of years or 50000 miles.

Posted by: Sam
November 23, 2011
1:05 pm

Another important point which I missed out is the capacity of the battery or the charge to miles ratio. Drivers always want a longer drive for a charge which is still a limitation for electric cars. I remember the days when 1 mb of data storage device used to weigh tons and was carried in trucks. Now we carry petabytes in pockets!!! Today the same is the case with electricity. The more charge we want to store the larger is the size. Is it possible that in the future the electricity storage devices(batteries) will store more electricity and will significantly become smaller in size. A great research is required in this direction.

Posted by: Sam
November 23, 2011
11:04 am

Awesome Article!!!
My views – Apart from the recharging infrastructure, a very good repair and service infrastructure would be required. Also the supply chain for the parts and accessories should be very good. These 2 are the most important factors which people consider before buying a car.
My question – Is the performance of these EVs comparable to their counterparts which use gasoline/petrol/diesel?
How are the EVs priced in comparison to their counterparts? Are they too high, too less or almost the same?
I ask this because performance is one of the most important issues which restrict people from purchasing EVs. Also the cost is another factor.
In India, Reva is the only known Electric car brand. Although it is successful to some extent, but it is definitely not successful to that extent to which it was envisaged. This is because the cost os the car is high compared to its petrol/diesel counterparts which are much better in performance. The pickup, speed etc. is very poor. Moreover the recharging and servicing infrastructure is also not good. Also the availability of parts is an issue.
We are all hoping to see a sustainable planet without pollution running on highly efficient EVs.

Posted by: Sam
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September 4, 2014
8:27 am

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November 23, 2011
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