EVS-26: Are Electric Cars Suffering Sophomore Slump?

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2012 Toyota RAV4 EV launch at EVS-26, Los Angeles, April 2012

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV launch at EVS-26, Los Angeles, April 2012

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Has the electric-car industry passed through its first-year euphoria and entered a sophomore slump?

That’s the question on our mind after dozens of panels, presentations, meetings, and corridor chats at the 26th annual Electric Vehicle Symposium. EVS-26 is being held through today at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

It's hard to summarize an event this broad, but a number of themes have emerged. Here's our listing--in no particular order--of the questions we've heard discussed:

What is happening to sales of the Nissan Leaf?

They’ve fallen substantially in the last two months, and total Leaf sales in the U.S. have been overtaken by those of the Chevrolet Volt for the first time in 16 months. Fewer than 400 cars a month will not build an electric-car population in the U.S.--and Nissan is now offering Leaf leases below $300 a month.

We won't declare a sales problem until there have been three or four months of rock-bottom sales figures. We didn't do that with the Volt, either, which is selling quite well right now. But Leaf sales are definitely an area of concern.

Are we installing too many public charging stations? And are they in the right places?

Hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal and state funds and incentives have gone toward rolling out networks of charging stations, set up by a several private companies with varying membership and rate requirements.

Early data shows DC quick-charging stations along the electric-car corridor in Oregon are getting high usage in unexpected places.

But will there be a glut of Level 2 stations--and does it make sense to seed electric-car charging in areas where early adopters may not live, work, or travel?

Has the political firestorm around the Chevy Volt died down?

Or as Brian Wynne, executive director of the Electric Drive Transport Association, put it with unusual passion, "What the hell is going on with some of this commentary?"

Reviewing a year of often fact-free and context-challenged news coverage of plug-in cars, he said it was important that the industry work to educate the public, and keep the long game in mind.

Other conferees discussed the dearth of anti-Volt diatribes over the last six weeks from usually hostile media sources. With the NHTSA investigation into Volt battery-pack fire risks concluded and Congressional hearings on the topic long past, has the Volt-failure meme lost its news attractiveness?

Or was quiet pressure exerted behind the scenes? Inquiring minds want to know--but that may never happen.

Will sales of the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid plummet once the California HOV Lane permits for plug-in hybrids have all been issued?

More than one conferee related tales of Prius Plug-In buyers who bought the car purely to get back into California’s HOV lanes. Would they plug it in? Ehhhh, why bother?

Factoring in the $2,500 Federal credit and the time value of HOV-lane access, buyers seem to figure they break even or better on the plug-in Prius.

But once the 40,000 "green sticker" permits are gone, does the Prius Plug-In have staying power?

No more NEVs, few fuel cells

At the last EVS in the U.S., which was held in Anaheim in 2007, most of the electric cars on the display floor were low-speed or neighborhood electric vehicles. And hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles were quite visible as well. Now, it was all about Teslas, Volts, Leafs...and you could count the fuel-cell cars on the fingers of one hand.

SAE Combo or CHAdeMO for DC quick-charging?

German carmakers and European equipment providers came together in a unified display to show their support for the DC quick-charging expansion of the J-1772 plug standard. It will compete with the Japanese CHAdeMO standard available on Nissan Leafs and Mitsubishi 'i' models.

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Comments (16)
  1. I am still surprised that these people cannot see the error of their own way. It has always been location, location, location and advertise, and providing the best possible product at the lowest possible price. If they had treated electric cars like they do ICE cars, they wouldn't be now scratching their heads in bewilderment and saying, "Oh woe is us!". If GM hadn't slapped that incredibly stupid high price tag on the Volt and delivered it to every state, like they do their ICE vehicles, the Volt could now be the best seller in America. They cannot blame anyone but themselves for their own stupidity. I have not seen such stupidity like this since Bush was in office.

  2. cont: They know these are electric cars and electric cars need charged. They provide a battery with each ICE vehicle, so why don't they provide a charging station and a couple solar panels with each EV (it can't cost that much and the customer is paying for it.) vehicle and a quick charge DC plug-in for your house? I have seen morons and mental retards show more understanding and knowledge about what they are doing than I have seen the automakers exhibit with electric cars. It is pathetic and they all should be taken out in Time Square and horse whipped.

  3. the volt is not an ev. and gm does not want evs to succeed, so they are a poor example to use.

    we certainly do not need to waste a bunch of money on charging stations that will not be used much. people will do their charging at home, for the most part.

    i suspect that adding solar panels would add considerably to the cost of the car, making things worse for the main reason that there are not more buyers.

    nissan, the only big player who actually seems to want to sell evs, has announced what is coming on their next year's model. which i think includes the fixing of their worst feature - the battery having problems with the outside temperature.

    perhaps future leaf buyers are now just simply waiting for next year ?

  4. i do think that solar panels will eventually be used, though.

    it is an excellent idea, at least in areas that get enough sun, that it can actually reap some benefits for the owner.

    it probably needs to be "an accessory", such that the buyer can choose.

    there are many things that will eventually occur with the ev, such as the motor within the wheel technology.

    and the buyer base will expand, with each price decrease.

    it really all depends on whether the bigwigs really want to sell evs to the public !!

    if they do, the decrease in price will correlate with the upswing in supply.

    so far, nissan is the only big company who has shown a real desire to sell evs.

  5. @EV Enthusiast: Please calculate and then provide the square footage of photovoltaic solar panels required to provide 3.3-kilowatt 240-Volt Level 2 charging--and the retail cost of that installation. You may find the exercise instructive.

  6. i am not sure that i know how to calculate it.

    i already said that i felt it would be too expensive, today.

    if it is a viable thing in the future, i suspect that it will be built into the roof of the car.

    i was not thinking it would be an installation by someone else.

  7. i am however happy to listen to your calculations.

    dont forget that the efficiency of today's panels are in the single digits, at least some of them.

    i really like the idea of solar roadways. to me, that is more of an ultimate goal. we would no longer need solar panels on cars.

    but i dont know if or when that technology will be released.

  8. 15,000miles (40miles a day) / 4miles per kWh = 3750kWh per year,
    or 313kWh per month,
    or 10.3kWh per day.
    Sun hours in Colorado / day 5.6
    10.3kWh/5.6hrs = 1.94kW,
    using 200watt panels you would need ~9 panels to charge your EV.
    Think that's fairly close.

  9. Volt is the best EV that bridges the future. It is selling better than the Leaf b/c people finally start to understand what Volt is. GM designed Volt based on the EV-1 experience. I know plenty of people who would NEVER buy a leaf or pure EV end up buying a Volt. Volt is the most realistic product getting people to move into EV mode before fuel cell become possible.

    I am willing to bet that Nissan Leaf will fail after the initial sales due to EV fan clubs.

  10. @James: I am quite confused about what part of this article your rant applies to. This was a report on a number of themes from an electric-vehicle conference and exposition.

    What you've written across two comments appears to be the same "GM are idiots" rant that regular readers will have seen dozens of times on many, many articles.

    Please try to address the content of the article you're commenting on. Thank you.

  11. I know Renault is seen as just a part of Nissan, and it has no visible presence or any desire it seems to be there, but why are they NEVER mentioned!

    The Fluence ZE will sell in Israel and it does seem to be selling at least a few elsewhere. Zoe and Twizzy could also be pretty major plays. Why the silence in the US?

  12. @Brian: Renault exited the U.S. market after it sold the former American Motors to Chrysler in 1986. The brand has not existed here for a quarter of a century and is not likely to return. We skew our coverage largely to U.S. readers since they are most numerous, and we mostly write about cars available in the U.S. market. None of the ZE Renaults--Kangoo, Fluence, Twizy, or Zoe--will be sold in the U.S. Most U.S. residents only barely know Renault is even a carmaker.

    That's why.

  13. In Australia, we are still waiting for the launch of the Nissan Leaf and various Electric Car Offerings from Renault. The Volt has not come to Australia yet. In the mean time, people in Australia are busy doing their own Electric Car Conversions and EV Conversions. Also, there is a lot of interest in Electric Motorcycle racing with many team owners and riders looking to participate in that form of motor sport in the future.
    This means the demand and interest for EVs exceeds supply which allows the i-MiEV to be sold in Australia for around $50,000.

  14. I would like to see how the Honda Fit EV and the Chevy Spark EV do in the coming years before I pass final judgement on EVs as a whole.
    Toyota Plugin Prius should NOT be in the conversation as it is an EV scam.

  15. hi doug,

    thanks for you calculations.

    however, i think there are variables that people use to make assumptions.

    for example, one needs to use some sort of efficiency factor. there is still a gigantic amount of room for product betterment in the future.

    you also used a figure for hours of sun in the day (for colorado).

    i am not familiar with solar panels, but doesn't the sun's strength play a big part ? not just the number of hours ?

    i do suspect that it may end up as a nice accessory, when it is common enough that it isnt real expensive.

    i recall a time when only wealthy people had ac's in their car. and sunroofs ? unheard of.

    now both are pretty much standard equipment.

  16. i dont think of solar panels as being the answer to range, though. range is an easy problem to solve. they will put better batteries in evs, when they need to, in order to sell them.

    by far the biggest reason for buying a "solar panel accessory" is simply to use it instead of paying for the electricity.

    so a possible purchases will simply way the cost of the panel versus the amount of electricity it will save him.

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