By Tuan Nguyen
Posting in Cities
Surveys have suggested people will want electric cars when the technology becomes cost efficient. But is it enough?
Every now and then a big name automaker dazzles the public by unveiling a electric car concept that it confidently feels represents its vision of the future. Last year, it was Jaguar showing off the C-X75. And just last week, BMW gave us all a tantalizing glimpse of their latest model, the i3 sports car. Yet despite all the hoopla surrounding each of these announcements, the fact remains that consumers simply aren't ready to ditch their gas guzzlers.
So if sexier electric cars aren't enough, just what will it take? Surveys have suggested that the turning point may occur when the technology becomes cost efficient compared to all the other transportation options out there. For instance, back in April, the consulting firm Deloitte surveyed 12,000 people, 1,000 of which were Americans, and found that 78% of Americans would consider buying an EV if gas prices reached $5 a gallon.
Now a new study conducted by the Harvard Kennedy school of government puts the dollar figure closer to $4.50, which means we might be near the tipping point. Drivers in Chicago, where gas is most expensive, are already filling up at a rate of 4.07 a gallon. So just about any day now we should see EVs flooding the streets, right?
Numerical price points are alluring because they do a nifty job of simplifying matters, but they also often belie the fact that there are, of course, numerous caveats (as is the case with so many of these reports). The study's authors reached this magical number by conducting a long-term analysis of purchase, operations, and maintenance costs to determine at which point would electric vehicles be competitive with conventional ones. But this includes taking into account the expectation that EVs will offer a much improved per-charge driving range and are much less expensive then they are now -- selling points that may still be a long time coming.
According to the Deloitte survey, over 77% are looking to spend less than $30,000 on an electric vehicle and most would require that EVs have a driving range of 200-300 miles on a single charge. It would also have to be able to be fully-recharged within two hours since 60% of Americans said they were unwilling to wait any longer.
And in a scenario where these per-requisites aren't met, the prospects become much gloomier. A Gallop poll found that 57 percent of those surveyed wouldn't even explore the possibility of buying an “electric car that you could only drive for a limited number of miles at one time” irrespective of how expensive gas prices get. For perspective, the poll suggested that people are more likely to turn to public transportation before looking into electric cars the way the situation is now.
Still, this seeming reluctance won't stop the major industry players from presenting their own evidence that suggests otherwise. Siemens, an energy and technology conglomerate, recently released an in-house study that they say confirms that electric vehicles like the BMW MINI E, which has an all electric range of 100 miles, has been deemed by test subjects to be "suitable for everyday use."
Here's the methodology, as explained in a press release:
Private and commercial users drove 40 MINI E cars on Munich streets over a period of ten months. During the model trial the electric vehicles were driven 300,000 kilometers, with zero emissions. Siemens developed the technology for charging.
And here are the results of a survey taken after the trial period was completed:
- 89 percent of private users found the MINI E to be sufficient for day-to-day use.
- 88 percent of the private users found charging the cars at a charging station (at home or at work) to be more pleasant than driving to a gas station
- 79 percent of the private users said that environmental friendliness and zero-emissions driving were important advantages of the electric car.
- 59 percent of the private users would like electric cars to be charged exclusively with electricity from renewable energy sources.
But even if you gave Siemens the benefit of the doubt, the study's conclusions somehow omits just what what were the kind of concerns reported by those who didn't find the technology to be satisfactory.
Interestingly enough though, many of the most common criticisms of electric vehicles were highlighted in a recent episode of the popular BBC show "Top Gear" in which host Jeremy Clarkson test drove the Nissan leaf only to experience numerous setbacks and inconveniences, most notably of which involved running out of fuel as he searched feverishly for a spot to recharge his car.
As expected, the segment promptly drew an angry response from Nissan, which charged that the test was misleading since the vehicle was not fully charged at the onset of the journey. Clarkson has so far refused to apologize and told the AFP, "at no point did we mislead the viewers. Top Gear's job is to say to everybody, 'Just a minute, do not believe (electric cars) can be run as simply as you have been told. Charging them up is a pain in the arse'."
Watch the video:
Anyway, this has the makings of a controversy. What do you think?
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More about rising transportation costs and solutions:
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Aug 4, 2011
I also wish to have an electric car that can be reasonable great post guys!
I had a Company for R&D in renewable energies back in 1979. So I could be considered a practical pyoneer. We never did much research in EVs because we saw that the problem was going to be with batteries. There are batteries where the active electrode is liquid or a slurry. Evedently these were the batteries to be developed. But unfortunately they never were. Interests of the large battery Mfrs?. With this type of battery you do not rechage them, you just fill them up in an electric Gas Station in the same time than a gasoline tank. I defy the battery makers to esume the NECESSARY R&D in this wonderful type of battery. One was the Zinc Oxide battery that was filled with solid granules or with an easy to handle slurry. May be you cannot make 200 Km, but only 150 Km. But who cares if you have plenty of electric Gas Stations and you can refill in minutes?. The wonder of these batteries is that you can also recharge them overnight with a socket in your garage Chorete2003
Seriously! The Tesla roadster is the only purpose made EV that I like the looks of and that's probably because I already like the Lotus Elise which is the main source of body parts for the Tesla. Almost all other EVs look like something that belongs on the Jetsons and not in the real world. Choosing an EV should be more like deciding between gas or diesel, a V6 or V8. Instead it's almost always been made into making some bizarre fashion statement. Sure, there are significant numbers of people who do like the strange stylings. The movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?" certainly proved that there's enough demand to make those kinds profitable. But, until they can start making EVs that look like normal cars, only then will the general public even consider EVs in the large numbers needed to drive the infrastructure development.
I would certainly consider an EV as a second car that is used mostly for errands and commuting. Most auto trips are already well less than 100 miles. What I am not willing to do is spend $40k, so it will be awhile before I own one.
Just watch "Who Killed the Electric Car" to see that problem is not driver/customer acceptance but the auto and oil industry who is preventing rapid adoption.
"But this includes taking into account the expectation that EVs will offer a much improved per-charge driving range and are much less expensive then they are now ??? selling points that may still be a long time coming." Car and battery manufacturers have said that prices for both EVs and batteries are mostly an economy of scale issue. Made in small numbers, they are expensive. But once efficient factories are in place prices will quickly drop. Carlos Ghosen of Nissan says that the magic number is between 500,000 and 1,000,000 units per year. Nissan expects to have manufacturing capacity in place to produce a half-million EVs per year in 2012. Nissan's Leaf and battery plant is scheduled to open in Tennessee in the next few months, that plant will be able to make 150,000 Leafs per year. Ford has stated that as soon as their Focus starts coming off their assembly line in volume prices will start to drop. The Focus EV should start production this fall.
I would be willing to have an electric car for my daily driver if it could reliably go 250 miles at highway speeds on one charge with the air conditioner running. However, I would still need another car if I were to ever want to go on a driving vacation. In order to have only electric vehicles, I would want either an option for swapping the battery in about 10 minutes (and there is an article on Smart Planet about just such a system) or, even better, a car that would go 1000 miles on a charge under the heaviest of loads. I expect that we'll see that 1000 mile car in a few years and that, once we're used to them, we'll all look back on the days when we had to fill up our gas tanks every week and talk about how inconvenient it was.
Most people who bought first-generation hybrids and EVs did so because they thought they were making a political statement. What's the point of spending over $40k on car car for the sake of making a political statement if nobody can tell it's a hybrid or EV? And long before most buyers were making political statements, they were for the geeks; looked like something that only Dilbert would drive. Now that these cars are becoming more mainstream, they will start to become externally indistinguishable from their conventional counterparts, except perhaps for a colorful green badge on all four sides.
The Ford Focus electric, due later this year in selected markets, will look much like the gas version. Then there's the Coda sedan, also supposed to be available this year (in California only); based on a Chinese gas-powered car, it's the most generic-looking car imaginable. Far from making a "bizarre fashion statement", many people remark that it's too bland looking.
Get a Volt. Then you'll have an EV for most of your driving (assuming you're a normal driving). And it will go 300 miles without stopping for a charge or tank of gas. Many Volt owners report buying only a single tank of gas (9.3 gallons) per 1,000 miles driven. A few reporting driving 3,000 miles while burning only a single gallon of gas. Clearly for them the Volt is an EV which you can take on a driving vacation.
If they burn 1 gallon of gas to go 3,000 miles is it still considered an EV? I thought that would be called a very efficient hybrid. Granted I would love 3,000 mpg if I did not have to plug it in every 300 miles.