For our 17th episode of Cleantech Talk, we got to dive into a handful of electric vehicle entrances that provided us with very mixed results. Kyle, Matthew, and I also provided our thoughts on electric car sales, which is one of my favorite topics to track, analyze, and discuss.
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As in previous months, Matthew is sharing his show notes to offer readers more to chew on in text form.
Variable Platform Architecture sounds promising, but – unless we’re missing something (and we might be) – it isn’t actually a new idea. All automakers already use common platforms for their vehicles, as much as possible. For example, American automakers generally build their large SUV’s off their truck platforms, Japanese automakers generally build their small SUV’s (or crossovers / CUV’s) off a car platform.
Up until their “clean diesel” scandal Volkswagen had been fêted and feared for the fact that they had figured out how to standardize many of their vehicles to be built off a handful platforms, allowing them to share an unprecedented number of components. This meant higher volumes and better prices from suppliers, and some combination of fatter profits for VW and lower prices for buyers.
Volkswagen’s MQB (modular transverse matrix) platform is used (or is planned to be used) for the VW Golf, Jetta, Polo, Passat, Tiguan, Touran, next-generation Beetle, and the Audi A1, A3, Q3 and TT for good measure. They had hopes this one platform would give them 7 million sales per year as of 2018, but what with the diesel scandal, they’ll no doubt have to scale those expectations back.
Oh, and Alex Roy’s article, in which he claims to have seen the real vehicles Faraday Future is working on, is here. It looks like there’s a crossover and a full-sized SUV, and there are a lot of exciting things you can do if you start designing vehicles with a blank page and an eye to connectivity and autonomy. That said, launching two differently-sized vehicles (presumably from two different platforms) adds a lot of complexity. Hopefully Faraday Future has that well under control.
Car of the Year – Tesla Model X
Not much to add here, except that Tesla could probably collect some interesting data (and create amazing marketing materials) from the “bioweapon” HEPA filters from owners in polluted areas such as China: “Mr. Zhang Wei’s filter caught 1,000,000,000 particulates today. Every second.”
Perhaps health researchers might even be able to convince grant-giving organizations to let them lease Model X’s for commuting purposes, erm, multi-year studies of pollution in urban centres?
Electric Car Sales
One of the biggest reasons for optimism around electric vehicles – despite the modest sales so far – is that several of the big automakers seem strongly committed to them. The German luxury brands seem to realize they need to keep up with the superior drive experience electric propulsion offers, and GM seems determined not to let its early leadership go to waste. And even if Toyota and Honda seem tepid, Nissan is forging ahead. (Nissan appears to be the only automaker to have been planning an electric vehicle before Tesla came out with its Roadster, which prompted GM to develop the Chevy Volt).
In contrast, only Toyota has ever been fully committed to hybrids (perhaps in part because they locked up all the relevant intellectual property).
Critics like to say that, eighteen years after the first Prius rolled off the production line, hybrids only account for about 2% of global auto sales, despite rosier assumptions from consulting groups and proponents. That’s factually correct, but contextually flawed. After all, only Toyota ever doubled down on the technology. And as of 2013/2014, about 14% of Toyotas sold were hybrids. That’s one in every seven vehicles – and remember, many of their vehicles are sold in much more price-sensitive developing countries too!
14% is a lot more impressive than 2%, eh? And while formerly-high gas prices probably helped boost hybrid sales somewhat, that’s not the only example. VW first developed its, ahem, “clean diesel” technology in the late 1980’s. If memory serves, twenty five years later, those represented about 25% of their worldwide sales. (Sadly, I haven’t been able to find a link; the only stats Google wants to give me are dieselgate–related…)
We can generalize a bit and say that committed automakers were able to get technologies less transformative than electric propulsion into perhaps 10-15% of their sales in about 15 years. More automakers are committed to plug-in electric vehicles than were committed to hybrids or “clean diesel”, so EV market share should eventually rise faster than hybrids and TDI, even if we have to wait another decade for the comparable sales numbers to come in.
To reiterate from the podcast, there’s a risk that plug-in electric vehicle sales in North America in 2016 are sluggish, because buyers will wait for the Chevy Bolt EV to arrive, before deciding on a purchase. The lack of compatibility for supercharging speeds means it might not fit the bill as a family’s only vehicle, but it would surely make an excellent second car.
And thanks to the fact that auto-centric North American urban planners generally built “car-chitecture” instead of architecture, there are a lot of families for whom it could be the battery electric vehicle of choice. At least, until/unless the next-generation Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model 3 knock it off its perch.
It would be also very cool if Chevy could make the Bolt EV debut on December 5, 2016 (even if they provide some early deliveries to help generate buzz). As Chelsea Sexton noted, that would be the 20th anniversary of the EV1!
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