Friday, August 19, 2011

Electric Vehicle Dynamics Changing

Could it be that all my blogging (and of course Mike at Confederate Yankee) about the Chevy Volt has had an impact? Of course I josh a little. There have been many bloggers, both big (Like Mike’s) and small (Like mine), who have taken on electric vehicles (EV) like the Chevy Volt and to a lesser degree the Nissan Leaf. All of that press pointing out the pros and cons (mostly cons) looks like it is having an impact.

According to a story from The Detroit Bureau (through Yahoo News) interest in the Chevy Volt and other electric-type vehicles is waning.

Through the end of July, Chevy has sold about 3,200 of the plug-in hybrids compared to 4,500 Nissan Leafs. But both makers have begun ramping up production, General Motors forecasting sales of around 16,000 for the year as a whole – including a small number of Volt clone Opel Amperas targeted at markets abroad.

But a new study by CNW marketing raises a red flag, finding that the potential buyers GM is most counting on are rapidly losing interest in the Volt. In March, 21% of so-called Early Adapters said they were “very likely” to consider buying a Volt, while 38.1% said they were “likely” to do the same. That slipped to 14.6% saying “very likely” and 31.1% “likely.”  Among EV enthusiasts, reports the CNW study, the number of those likely or very likely to consider Volt fell from a combined 71% to 51% during the same four-month period. (Source: Yahoo News)

The article goes on the report that cost might be a significant factor in this tail off in possible demand. At a base cost of over $40K, I wouldn’t dream of thinking this is not an issue for the EV buyer. But I also think there is much more to it. There is a laundry list of issues that could be a reason why folks who have expressed an interest might now be reconsidering.

First of all the cost IS a concern. But I am not taking about the cost to purchase the car which is pretty high for a around town run-about hatchback (The comparable Chevy Cruze is half the cost). At 35-50 miles rose-colored glasses estimate, this is nothing more than a town run-about. It goes deeper than the initial cost. It is life-cycle costs. No one really knows what it will cost to replace the batteries but some estimates put the cost over $30K. Even if the battery last for 10 years, you will not recoup the cost of the vehicle. Replacing the battery would be like purchasing a new car, considering the price tag of those batteries. And while the cost to charge the EV is cheaper than a tank of gas, this factor still must be considered.

Charging the battery is almost certainly another concern. A full deep charge will take all night, some where in the neighborhood of six hours. Even a quick-charge isn’t even all that great when you consider that it could take 30 minutes to two hours, depending on how depleted your battery is and how far you still have to go.

And where are you going to charge that battery? Outside of a home charger, there is currently little to no charging infrastructure out there. It is beginning to grow, but I say, so what. Out here on the west coast, and the PACNW in particular, there are pie-in-the-sky plans to put charging stations along the I-5 corridor. But again, I say so what. If it takes six hours to fully charge a battery, is there really going to be a demand for a car that goes about 50 miles per charge (and this is under optimal conditions)? I think the consumer is beginning to get wise to this troubling issue. Let’s just say I want to drive from Olympia down to Castle Rock, a little more than 50 miles. This would take 50 minutes. At approximately 50 miles per charge, Castle Rock would be about as far as you would be able to go. Then you have to spend six hours in Castle Rock charging up the battery for your return trip home. This doesn’t make sense and I think folks are seeing the folly.

The environmental impact of producing this vehicle and keeping it running is also beginning to raise an alarm. The impacts are huge, and many of them are hidden. There is the impact of pulling the resources out of the ground to make the batteries. Don’t forget production at the factory, which can release harmful chemicals into the air and soil. And how about the disposal of the used battery? Again, I think those who have considered purchasing these vehicles are beginning to understand they are not as green as originally thought, and it is giving the buyer second thoughts.

EV technology still has a long way to go before it can replace the internal combustion engine as our chief means of getting from place to place, other than the corner grocery store. But hey, if you want to drop $40K on a grocery hauler, power green power to you.

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