Monday, October 19, 2009

Can the EV Do the Trip to Vegas?

Despite the exuberance surrounding the electric vehicle (EV), it has yet to earn its “badge of honor” on the American road. To make it real to many Americans, the electric vehicle (EV) must do more than schlep us to school and work, it needs to also hit the open road. 

How close is the open road?

To share different strategies to overcome range and refueling issues, the German American Business Association hosted a panel discussion with electric vehicle (EV) representatives. The hurdles to adoption are:
  • Range. Although most drivers on any given day drive much less than the battery range, they still experience “range anxiety” given long recharge time and few places to recharge. And there are times when drivers need to take longer trips. 
  • Recharging. In US, 1 in 5 cars don’t have a garage for recharging. Even in the suburbs, a quick look around the cul-de-sacs will confirm that many cars are parked outside and away from any convenient plug-in.
Three approaches were shared by the panel to resolve these two issues. The moderator was Thilo Koslowski, Vice President Automotive and Vehicle ICT, at Gartner.

1. e-car with supplemental gas motor to charge the battery once the battery has discharged

Presented by: Byron Shaw, Managing Director, General Motors Advanced Technology Silicon Valley Office
Background: General Motors  will be releasing its Chevy Volt in 2011 which is targeted for Middle America car buyer.
Rationale: Taking no chances, GM is pragmatic that it may take some time to build-out the infrastructure to support recharging. They think “range anxiety” will likely be an inhibitor for first generation e-car buyers. Despite its current approach, GM appeared open to pure electric in the future.

2. Pure e-car. Start with home charging and expand to charge anywhere

Presented by Tom Gage, CEO, AC Propulsion
Background: AC Propulsion was a major technical contributor to BMW’s MINI E, which is currently in pilot with 500 US drivers. AC Propulsion was an early e-car pioneer in the 90’s.
Rationale: Like GM, AC Propulsion thinks that an infrastructure is not needed immediately and expects a strong niche for low mileage drivers with garages and secondary vehicles. The EV option to charge @ home is seen as a benefit to this segment. Once charging is more widespread, the market can grow. 

3. e-car needs supplemental charging stations to gain traction 

Presented by: Jason Wolf, Business Development, North America Better Place and Mike DiNucci, Vice President Sales, Coulomb Technologies, Inc.
Background: Both are start-ups focusing on providing public e-fuel facilities. Better Place has a battery swap business model while Coulomb Technologies, Inc. provides networked recharging stations.
Rationale: Their concerns are identical to GM that the largest segment don’t have a place to recharge and “range anxiety” is real.  However, both companies believe that many auto makers will pursue pure EV. Also GM’s Volt can still benefit from an e-fuel station.

All three approaches support viable segments. With over 18 million new cars sold annually in the US, it’s a big opportunity for many creative players to work out the issues. 

Thankfully, we are not that far off from enjoying a classic road trip in our EV. Mike DiNucci from Coloumb Technologies shared his recent road trip in a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle --- a transition step from traditional to all electric. The non-stop journey was nearly 250 miles from San Jose to Chico California to close a deal with Sierra Nevada Brewery. After refreshing himself and the car, he drove back home.

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