Charging Networks, New Models, Environmental Awareness Keys to Electric Car Growth

By Earl J. Ritchie, Lecturer, Department of Construction Management

An article of faith among many advocates of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars (collectively referred to as EVs) is that once price becomes competitive with fossil fuel powered cars and the range on battery exceeds 200 miles, there will be a leap in public acceptance, eventually leading to the complete replacement of fossil fuel cars by electrics.

Two new moderately priced battery electrics, the Chevrolet Bolt and the latest version of the Renault ZOE, have over a 200 mile range. The CEO of Renault has said the last psychological barrier has already been removed.

Perhaps so, but there are both practical and psychological factors that make it not that simple. In order for EVs to be successful in the mainstream market, they must compete in both price and function.

The practical factors

Practical requirements may be seen as falling into three categories: economic, utility and environmental.

The economic value might be seen as a straightforward issue involving the lifetime cost of operating the vehicle, however, many consumers are not good at determining the lifetime cost and put undue emphasis on quick payout. In addition, the economics are locally variable, depending upon the costs of the vehicle, electricity and gasoline; subsidies; availability of free charging and other factors.

Utility includes not only driving range and recharge time but also the size of the vehicle, acceleration, handling, cargo capacity, perceived safety, status value and other characteristics. Individual buyers have vastly different requirements. The diversity of interests is illustrated by the amazing variety of vehicles available in the market today. There are over 200 models and 30 brands of cars and light trucks available in the U.S.

Electric vehicles are clear winners on environmental benefit, however, it has been a minor factor in sales to date. Surveys show that cost savings and utility are the primary factors. A UC Davis report listed the factors below as key to electric vehicle adoption.

  • Vehicle price
  • Vehicle operating (e.g. fuel) cost
  • Driving range
  • Recharging time and availability/location of chargers
  • Vehicle performance and reliability
  • Other attributes of utility (e.g. vehicle interior volume, number of seats, trunk space)
  • Environmental factors (e.g. CO2 and pollutant emissions)
  • Operational incentives or disincentives (e.g. access to “clean vehicle zones” or “high occupancy vehicle” lanes)
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