Auto Service World
News   November 11, 2010   by CARS Magazine

EV technology slowly, very slowly making headway

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are slowly making their way into the market, very slowly. While hybrid vehicles like the popular Prius have been gaining mainstream acceptance, full EV vehicles are only now appearing in anything resembling a...


Electric Vehicles (EVs) are slowly making their way into the market, very slowly. While hybrid vehicles like the popular Prius have been gaining mainstream acceptance, full EV vehicles are only now appearing in anything resembling a consumer-oriented vehicle. I won’t bother to go into the controversy surrounding the Volt, if it is a true electric vehicle or as some claim a much-improve hybrid. My colleague David Booth, writing in the National Post, has an insightful piece about this debate, delving into the complicated engineering around the vehicle’s engine system and the rather poor public relations promoting the Volt, which has unfortunately muddied the waters around what is, in fact, a very good vehicle by all accounts.
Regardless of the technology, electrified vehicles have a long way to go before they get anywhere near the acceptance of existing hybrid technologies. There are several reasons for this. While the technology for all-electric vehicles exist, many people are not right now willing to pay for it. James B. Treece at Automotive News pointed to a Nielsen survey. It found a majority of Americans are interested in buying an electric vehicle, but with one caveat — sixty-five per cent of those said they would not pay more for such a vehicle. There was even a little twist. Amongst those interviewed who said they would pay more for an electric vehicle, the amount they would willing spend was only about US$5,000 more than an equivalent gasoline vehicle.
The problem lies in the perception that these vehicles have a limited range. If people believe the vehicle will give out and leave them stranded on the side of the road after a trip to the dentist, picking up the kids from soccer practice and running a few errands, the environmental credentials of an EV wear thin very quickly. People believe they are getting something of a lesser vehicle with EV technology and they are not willing to pay extra for it; and certainly not the same that they would for a standard gasoline vehicle.
None of this is surprising. But I believe something is missing. What will drive this electric vehicle technology forward or cause it to fail is not the technology itself; or even the cost of that technology. It is something much simpler: the price of oil. As long as North American gasoline prices remain relatively stable and the cost of oil per barrel does not go significantly over $100 and stay there, then there will never be an incentive for people to buy this technology. And even if the cost of a barrel of oil does go over $100 and gasoline prices increase, if those increases happen gradually people actually become accustomed to the higher prices.
When gasoline in major metropolitan areas went to $1 a litre a few years ago, it was shocking; howls of outrage echoed for days. Now, a dollar or more per litre is considered normal; anything less is greeted with the bemused smile of someone remembering a time when chocolate bars were 25 cents.
To prove my point, one only has to look at the history of compact, fuel-efficient vehicles in the United States. When the OPEC crisis hit in the 1970s and people stood in long lines to buy gasoline, the market for gas-saving cars grew dramatically. In the 1980s and 1990s when gasoline became cheap, what were the popular vehicles? The gas-guzzling SUV and the military-style Hummer.


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