Let’s Not Get Excited

kpjuum-30electricLately the media is back to predicting the end of electric vehicles (EV). Turns out their reasons for the demise of the EV are inaccurate and like most doomsday predictions, lack context, a lot of it. So let’s provide that context.

“After more than 100 years of development and several brief revivals, the electric car still is not ready for prime time – and may never be.”

Electric cars have not had anywhere near 100 years of development. They were briefly around in the early 20th century, mostly before the advent of the electric starter for gas powered cars. They generally did not show up again till the mid 1990’s and for all intents and purposes until 2010, with the introduction of the Nissan Leaf in the US.

“The reality is that consumers continue to show little interest in electric vehicles, or EVs, which dominated U.S. streets in the first decade of the 20th century before being displaced by gasoline-powered cars.”

Through 2010 and 2011, EVs sold in larger quantities than did the Prius in its first two years in the US. This is despite a greater learning curve and a greater leap in technology. After all, the Prius is just a gas powered car with a battery used to improve efficiency. An EV uses a completely different power source and drive train from that of a Prius and gas powered cars.

“Despite the promise of “green” transportation – and despite billions of dollars in investment, most recently by Nissan Motor Co – EVs continue to be plagued by many of the problems that eventually scuttled electrics in the 1910s and more recently in the 1990s. Those include high cost, short driving range and lack of charging stations.”

EVs in the early 20th century didn’t have the luxury of R&D and continued improvement, as the electric starter made the benefits of driving a gas powered car seem greater than those of an EV. In addition, there is no evidence that EVs in the early 20th century didn’t meet the needs of their drivers. In fact, having a clean, quiet ride was considered desirable. Oh yea, and also not fracturing your wrist while trying to start your vehicle was a nice plus of EV ownership.

It is well known that the EV1 was a lease only vehicle from GM who reclaimed all vehicles at the end of the program in 2002, subsequently crushing them. There is no evidence that the public was indifferent to EV1s, and in fact, the Don’t Crush Campaign was successful enough to require police escort of EV1s to their demise, due to public outrage.

Also mentioned was Nissan’s announcement that it’s pivoting their green strategy from just EVs to EVs and hybrids and has toned down language espousing EVs as the next big thing. While it’s true that EV sales have not reached levels desired by the Obama administration and Nissan itself, it is hard to rule them dead after only three years in production (Nissan Leaf).

The much beloved Prius is now the top selling hybrid in the US and has practically served as a proxy for the word hybrid much as Google has become a verb. But it took 10 years for the Prius to do so, and it’s just now sustainable. Many of the same things said about today’s EVs were said about the Prius. Fortunately Toyota kept producing and for their gamble they’re seeing the payoff. Nissan’s approach is similar, gamble on leading the EV revolution and in 10 years hope that the Leaf becomes a proxy for electric vehicle.

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