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Monday, December 31, 2012

Fork in the Road for EVs


2013 will be a bellwether year for plug-in vehicles. 2011 saw the introduction of the Leaf and Volt. 2012 introduced the Ford Focus EV, Tesla Model S, Fisker Karma, Toyota Prius Plug-in, and others. 2013 will add the Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford's C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi plug-ins, and more.

As of 1 December 2012, total plug-in sales for the year were 47,500. This is up more than 200% over 2011. Not as high as the optimistic numbers that some manufacturers and research firms predicted, but still an excellent growth rate.

Even more important than the growth rate is the customer satisfaction rating. Plug-in owners love their cars. The enthusiasm abounds for them in the owners' circles. They create forums, blogs, fan pages, share mods, tips, and speculate about the upcoming changes.

Sure, if you look hard enough you can find someone that walked away from an EV because they had unrealistic expectations or their needs changed, but by far the large owner surveys such as those by JD Power show that plug-in cars have the highest satisfaction rating of any vehicles being sold today.

A brief detour:

The title for this blog post came from a story that I recently heard about the fork. This humble eating utensil is arguably the most ubiquitous tool on the planet. This was not always the case. When the fork was first introduced to the western world, it had detractors. It was considered unnecessary, effeminate, and only needed by those who were not skilled enough with traditional implements.

Assorted Forks via Wikipedia
The fork, however, did find an enthusiastic niche. In Italy, it was hailed as the perfect device for twirling long types of pasta such as spaghetti and fettuccine. From here, hundreds of fork variations were invented to meet various needs.

Tying this back to plug-in cars. From today's niche of enthusiastic early plug-in vehicles adopters, the market can continue to grow. More plug-in vehicles will be coming to market soon. If you want two-door, or four-door, or a particular manufacturer, or electric range, there will likely be options. SUVs and trucks are coming too. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, for example, goes on sale in Japan soon. US sales, however, will not start until 2014.

The pace of innovation is increasing. Battery technology is improving 8-10% each year. This allows the driving range, prices, and charge time to all improve with each model year.

Technology improvements combined with more model options will practically guarantee that plug-in vehicle sales will continue to increase in 2013 and 2014. This will allow economies of scale to reduce the price tag while improving profitability.

The internal combustion engine has had 100 years of innovation. Despite some incredible achievements the combustion engine of today is not much better than the 25 MPG engine of the Model T. We have been working on the wrong problem for 100 years.

There is a fork ahead and it is time to take the road less traveled. The electric road. Let's help accelerate this change. If you own an EV, give your friends, family, co-workers, & neighbors rides or test drives. Let them know what you love about it and how nice it is to 'fuel up' in your own garage.

Don't, however, just paint a rosy picture. Maybe a pure EV would not work for them so a PHEV would be a better fit. Having the right tool for the right job is what matters and what will make their plug-in experience a positive one.

See you out there in 2013.