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Plug-In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance is currently small but growing...

Friday, May 26, 2017

2017: A New Age For EVs

The modern electric vehicle (EV) launched in December of 2010 when the first Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf owners were handed the keys to their new cars. Tesla launched the Model S in June of 2012 and the modern EV movement was off the the races. These three were the vanguards of the new technology.

Since the starting flag was waved, many other automakers have joined in the race (at least tepidly). Worldwide to-date, approximately 2 million plug-in vehicles have been sold.

Even with ~2 million EVs sold, plug-in cars are just a small percentage of vehicles on the roads. That's because EVs are not yet for everyone.

Battery technology is currently the Achilles' heel of EVs. Batteries are expensive, they have a low energy density compared to gasoline, they degrade when not thermally managed properly, and they charge slowly. These are all engineering problems. Year by year batteries will improve and, eventually, each of these issues will be solved.

More R&D money is currently being invested in battery tech than ever before. Here is a sampling of things that are underway since the launch of the modern EV:
  • South Korea's LG Chem fired up a new battery factory in Holland, Michigan in 2012. 
  • Renault-Nissan broke ground on a European battery plant in 2013. 
  • Bosch acquired the startup Seeo Inc. for their breakthrough battery technology in 2015.
  • Similarly, Samsung acquired the EV Battery division of Magna International in 2015.
  • Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) started construction of a battery factory in Germany in 2016. 
  • In 2016 LG Chem broke ground on their fourth battery factory. This Poland factory is five times the size of a soccer field and will be Europe’s largest electric car battery factory. By 2018, it is expected to produce over 100,000 high-performance lithium batteries each year.
  • BYD broke ground on a factory in Brazil. Globally, by 2020 BYD is expected to have about 34 GWh of annual production capacity. 
  • Tesla's Gigafactory is in operation today and planned to ramp up to 35 GWh of production by 2020. And Tesla plans four more battery factory locations to be announced this year.  
All of these and other activities have driven (or will drive) the price of batteries down and the energy storage capacity up. This has enabled the affordable 200+ mile EV to hit the roads in 2017.

Just as December of 2010 saw the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf to kick off the modern generation of EVs, 2017 will have the Chevy Bolt EV and the Tesla Model 3. With the introduction of these two cars, 2017 will be a major inflection point in electric vehicle adoption.

2017 will be an inflection point for electric vehicles. 200+ miles of range with an affordable price tag allows EVs to move beyond the enthusiasts and into the mass market. 

With more range, EVs will reach a new audience. They can be used by people with longer commutes and in places with less charging infrastructure. When you have longer range, your need for mid-day top up is greatly reduced.

Just as two cars kicked things off in 2010, we have two cars that are upping the game in 2017. And just as these two were joined by many others in the years that followed, so too will the 200+ mile club soon have several new members.

Multiple automakers have announced plans for 200+ mile EVs by 2020. Mercedes-Benz says by 2025, their passenger car product portfolio will contain more than ten fully electric vehicles.

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

In his book "Thank You for Being Late," Thomas Friedman pointed out that 2007 was a major year in technology, but at the time, no one noticed. It was the year Apple launched the iPhone, Facebook and Twitter went global, Kindle and Android were released, Airbnb was founded, Google bought YouTube, and IBM created Watson. These all eventually took the tech world by storm, and no one saw them coming.

In this case, we have the advantage of knowing what's coming and being witness to it. The world of personal transportation is undergoing more change than it has in over 100 years. These are interesting times and we are living in them.

We've been waiting for this day.

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