What's Worse: Electro-Hype or Electro-Apathy?
During a speech in Münich, Dr. Martin Winterkorn, the Chairman of the Board of Volkswagen AG, said that VW would introduce its first electric car in 2013 and that it will be based on the same as the Up! New Small Family concept that was unveiled in 2007 (see the pics below). He didn't talk too much about the technical specifications of that VW electric car, but rather warned people against the evils of "electroc-hype", estimating that electric vehicles would have a "global market share of 1 to 1.5% in 2020." Let's take a closer look at his arguments...
The Up! New Small Family concept EV. Photo: VW
We are witnessing an electro-hype. Experts, consultants and politicians tumble over one another with forecasts. And the auto industry doesn’t hold back on announcements. The result is massively false expectations by the customer...More than eight percent of drivers in Germany are rock solid convinced that the electric car is already here.
I think this development is dangerous, because we lose not only potential customers, but we are also at risk of disappointing the.,. The everyday, affordable and safe electric car for everyone is feasible. But it is also true that the way forward is long and tedious. As I said before, this is not a sprint but a marathon.
With this I can agree. There is definitely some danger in raising people's expectations, because the first few electric cars will be - like all new products - not quite there yet. It will take a few generations to get to a product that works very well at a reasonable cost.
But, we must also be careful not to go too far in the other direction. The more people are excited about the electrification of transportation, the faster it will happen (and there is a lot to be excited about!). If the general public is apathetic about electric cars, there won't be pressure on politicians and auto makers to get the ball rolling. That's one of the best things that Tesla ever did: Change public perception from 'golf cart' to 'sexy sports car'. The same must happen with bicycles and mass transit; they need an image change before they can become more mainstream.
Major Challenges Facing Electric Cars According to Dr. Winterkorn
According to Dr. Winterkorn, to become mainstream, electric cars need: batteries with better energy density and faster recharging times (leading to a longer range), lower price premiums (he says "a price increase of a maximum €2,000/US$2,800 more than today"), and infrastructure "including nationwide recharging stations, intelligent network, and uniform standards."
I don't think any of those is a dealbreaker. Batteries are slowly getting better and cheaper, and while we wait for them to be good enough for all applications, series plug-in hybrids (basically an electric car with a gasoline generator, like the Fisker Karma or Chevy Volt) can provide very long ranges and the ability to refuel quickly on longer trips. Battery swapping of the type Better Place is working on might be another way to do things to provide fast recharge and a long driving range.
The price premium shouldn't be too problematic once people realize how much less expensive electricity is compared to gasoline (and with a smart grid, charging up during off peak periods, such as during the night, should be even less expensive than it is now). This will be especially true if oil climbs to the $100-200/barrel range in the next few years (nothing can accelerate the switch to fuel efficient car and EVs as much as high fuel prices). I bet it won't be too long until we see ads that break it down this way: "With a gas car, you pay this much for the car and this much for the fuel. With our electric car, you pay this much for the car and this much for the fuel..."
As for the infrastructure, that is a chicken and egg problem. But VW is big enough to help solve this problem. I hope they will show leadership there.
Via Green Car Congress, Autobloggreen
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