One estimate says more than 600,000 EVs could be on U.S. roads by 2014, but that’s a speck in the rear-view mirror compared to the 140 million passenger cars Americans already drive. And, high vehicle costs combined with range anxiety makes many consumers leery to get off gasoline. So is the EV industry accelerating or running out of juice?
energyNOW! correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan looked at the independent carmakers and big auto companies trying to charge up the transition to EVs and convince American drivers that going electric is really worth it. You can watch the full segment by clicking the video below:
Electric vehicles hold great promise for reducing both emissions and our dependence on foreign oil. Almost 30 percent of America’s energy use is for transportation, and almost all of that comes from oil, costing $300 billion per year. When compared to an Electric Power Research Institute estimate that running an EV costs 20 percent filling up a car with gasoline, and EPA’s estimate that EVs are half as carbon-intensive as gas-powered vehicles, the benefits of electric are clear.
But many potential EV owners are concerned about the higher up-front price of electric cars (despite them being cost-competitive or cheaper in the long term) and their limited range compared to gasoline-fueled models. Buying an EV can cost anywhere from $32,000 to $120,000, a tab somewhat mitigated by the $7,500 federal tax credit. And, most EVs get about 100 miles on a single battery charge, compared to 400 miles per tank for internal combustion engines. A recent study from Deloitte found that only 20 percent of U.S. drivers say they would buy an EV with a 100-mile range.
Perhaps no company embodies the EV industry better than Tesla Motors. Despite a successful launch of its Roadster model, the company was running on fumes until a Department of Energy low-interest loan enabled it to raise $600 million in private capital, build a massive factory, and launch its second vehicle, the Model S. “This is the first car that will have over 300 miles of electric range,” said JB Straubel, CTO and co-founder of Tesla Motors.
Several other notable EV manufacturers weren’t as fortunate as Tesla over the past year, however. Fisker Automotive had several delays in launching its extended-range EV, and both Modec and Think Automotive declared bankruptcy. Major automakers like Nissan and Chevrolet debuted their EV models this year, but have only sold half as many Volts and Leafs as expected.
These difficulties aren’t a surprise to Straubel. “It’s an extremely hard activity,” he said. “The tooling required, the investment, the years of engineering and validation, it’s all very, very difficult.”
But a brighter future may be just around the corner for America’s EV industry. At least five new EV models will debut from automakers like Ford, SmartCar, and Mini. And as more models hit the road, collaboration is occurring between manufacturers, which drives down costs. Tesla currently makes battery packs and chargers for Daimler AG and Mercedes, and will soon make the motor for Toyota’s electric RAV4.
“Our vision is to drive down the price of electric vehicles and the technology that makes them possible, relentlessly,” said Straubel. “Everything we’re doing internally is reducing the cost of battery packs, reducing the cost of motors.”
Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.