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The electric car on the move??

On a shopping trip in London’s West End on Saturday I came across the first real signs of the dawn of the electric car – charging poles. These have been installed by EDF, look a bit like parking meters and are available, with a free dedicated parking spot, for electric car owners needing a recharge. Then on Sunday at a BBQ I met someone who is about to take UK delivery (the 7th in the country) of a Tesla Roadster from Tesla Motors. Tesla now market two electric cars, the aforementioned Roadster which is available today and a small Sedan, the Model S which is targeted for 2012. Both seem to have excellent performance and reasonable range (some 400 km). Tesla is a US company.edf-charging-station

So has the electric car now arrived?

Certainly there are now some real models startring to appear in the showrooms and judging by the announcements by many manufacturers, quite a few more models could appear in the near future. In London today there are also a number of very small electric cars which people use for local commuting and avoiding the £8 per day congestion charge. The most popular of these is the G-Wiz car, now available with a Lithium Ion Battery. These cars are manufactured by the REVA Electric Car Company in Bangalore (India), currently the world’s leading electric car manufacturing company.

We might therefore imagine that electric cars will be everywhere in just a few years and that the days of the internal combustion engine are over. I remember getting my first digital camera in 1995, a model from Apple (who don’t even make them now). At that time I was incredibly impressed by the 1 million pixel images and imagined that within 10 years film cameras would be well and truly on the way out. Today it is hard to even find one in a camera store. But electric cars will be different. Hybrid technology has been around for over 10 years now and whilst Toyota and Honda have been incredibly successful with them, less than 2 million have been sold globally. In the same 10 years global auto production was some 700 million units.

Back in 2005 I did some work for WBCSD for an upcoming publication. We looked at how rapidly new vehicle technology might deploy throughout the world. We assumed a zero emission (at the vehicle itself) vehicle would be available in 2010 and that production would commence at some 200,000 units globally. We then assumed this would grow at 20% per annum until all produciton globally was this type of vehicle. Meanwhile, global vehicle numbers were also growing at 2% per annum. The end result is shown below – it is not until about 2040 that the number of internal combustion vehicles peaks and then begins a sharp decline. Certainly by 2050 they are well on their way out.

Despite very ambitious assumptions on deployment, the size of the industry today and the reality of turnover of both the vehicles themselves and the production facilities means that the lag in the system is huge. The simple study strongly underlined the need for action to start early if there is any chance of meeting the very ambitious 2050 emission targets now being tabled. It also highlighted that we are not about to see the end of the internal combustion engine, despite our love/hate relationship with it.

But on a national level some markets may move faster.  A recent study by The Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at UCal/Berkeley has a baseline forecast showing 64% of US LV sales to be electric by 2030, at which time the e-car will have a share of 24% in the US LV fleet. Decoupling of battery ownership (to keep upfront cost for the customer low) is seen as crucial. We certainly live in interesting times!!

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