Electric Vehicles

Since 2010, increasing numbers of electric vehicles, including buses and commercial vehicles, are being phased into transport plans around the world.There are currently 11 plug-in hybrid and electric models available to US consumers as 2013 begins, compared to just three in 2011. While some manufacturers explore fuel cell technology, the emphasis will be on electric/hybrid for the coming decade as we transition away from petroleum as a source of energy. However battery-powered vehicles are forecast to make up less than 2.5% of the world's fleet in 2015. There are currently 880 million vehicles on the roads, with 98% gas powered contributing 40% of the planet's greenhouse gases.

The problem. American vehicles make up only 30% of the cars in use globally, they are responsible for almost half of the GHGs emitted by vehicles. In the U.S. alone, autos emit more than 333 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year, while consuming about 44% of oil use. Of roughly 250 million vehicles on US roads, about 55% are classified as automobiles: 92% of US households own at least one car. In Britain, a report by the Royal Academy of Engineering lays out the reality of turning some of Britain's 30 million cars electric in coming decades. They conclude that the challenges are do-able but also pretty daunting.  link  (In the European Union in 2011 cars emitted an average of 135.7 grams of CO2 per kilometer. By 2015 the target is 130 grams per km, then by 2020 down to 95 grams per km.)  

Lessons from four EV hotspots in United States editorial  -  August 2012 
EV UPdates -

Latest news:

March 24 2015: Batteries get cheaper and more efficient. Next-generation hybrid cars combining electric and gas power in new ways are emerging as a low-cost alternative for consumers as batteries get cheaper and more efficient. Battery packs for electric vehicles, loaded with lithium- ion cells, now cost around $496 a kilowatt-hour, a 60% drop from 2010. That could plunge to $175 within five years. In January, Johnson Controls and Toshiba Corp. unveiled a shoebox-sized system at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit that throws a charge into the battery each time the brakes are hit. Production is expected to begin in 2018. The new systems are emerging just as the auto industry faces a U.S. goal of 54.5 mpg on average by 2025. link

  • Ford & Tesla - likely leaders in mass production
  • Battery charging advances
  • Overview of the electric car market
  • Batteries and the role lithium plays & other technology
  • The role being played by Asia
  • Commercial vehicles & buses
  • Shai Agassi's "Better Place" development
  • Selection of electric models 
  • Hydrogen fuel-cell development

Tesla & Ford - likely leaders in mass production

Time to look more closely at Tesla, and Elon Musk. 
Over the course of several years, Tesla sold about 2,400 Roadster sports cars.

October 2014: Tesla on track to sell 50,000th Model S - link
Tesla's supercharger network - link
These numbers are not large
for a big carmaker -- Toyota sells more Camrys in a month than Tesla plans to sell in a year. Still, for an automotive startup, they seem heroic. Tesla's Model S presents a confusing test case. It's a stylish, high-performance car, with a battery pack that gives it greater range (between 160 and 300 miles before recharging, depending on the model) than any other electric car. And EVs like Tesla's seem to be evolving at an astonishing rate. If batteries get 50% better, it will put EVs on an even playing field with gas cars. Between the time Tesla produced the Roadster and Model S, the batteries have improved by about 40%. And Tesla does not advertise, does not give discounts, and has never given any test-drives. link  (Tesla's $465 million in federal loans was paid back in full, nine years early.)
Tesla shows off a 90-second battery swap system; wants it at supercharging stations by December 2012 - link
  (August 2013) Tesla looking at major expansion - link 
June  2014:Tesla helping advance electric vehicle technology. Electric carmaker Tesla Motors is handing over the keys to its technology in an unusual effort to encourage other automakers to expand beyond gasoline-burning vehicles. link  
(December 2014) Elon Musk’s so-called gigafactory may soon become an existential threat to the 100-year-old utility business model - link

October 2012: 100 mpg Ford hybrid announced. Ford is poised to roll out the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid utility vehicle that can travel up to 620 miles powered only by its lithium-ion battery and one tank of gas. The C-MAX Energi is also America’s most fuel efficient plug-in hybrid. The EPA certifies the C-MAX Energi for 108 mpg equivalent in city driving and 92 MPGe on the highway, for a 100 MPGe combined rating. link
Ford, with the Focus model, will quite possibly lead the breakthrough in acceptance of electric vehciles, challenging the Nissan Leaf. (For other challengers in the market, see "Selection" lower down.)  Tesla may be the company that makes the breakthrough on electric cars for the masses. In one way, it is not a car-maker in the traditional sense, but more like a company such as Apple - starting from scratch, with a product not based on conventional gas-engine vehicles. So, different completely from the Nissan Leaf or Volt. There have been huge risks, but staying with a plan that required first the expensive roadster to provide funding, it is coming closer to reality. As batteries become cheaper, and gas prices stay high, transition time for electric vehicles is getting within sight.

March 2012: Ford's Focus could be leader in sales soon. Ford is taking a different approach to other EV manufacturers in producing the Focus EV on the same production line as the gas, hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. If the price of crude rises and demand for EVs climbs we can produce more EVs and fewer gas vehicles. The Focus boasts a similar range and top speed to other electric cars in the market, covering around 100 miles on a full charge and reaching speeds of up to 84 mph but offers faster charge-up times than alternatives such as the Nissan Leaf, delivering a full charge in just over three hours Ford would also be working with solar firm SunPower to offer a solar array alongside the car that will provide enough electricity to drive 15,000 miles a year. Dubbed "Drive Green for Life", the system will be priced at less than $10,000 and boast a 25-year warranty. link

Battery charging advances

And further into the future, lithium air batteries.
Leap forward on lithium-air batteries. link

October 2012: Single charging system agreed by manufacturers. A single standard charging system has been agreed by automakers for electric cars and ratified by the Society of Automotive Engineering International. This promises to cut the time to charge an electric car to 20-30 minutes. Developed by 190 experts from automotive charging companies, utilities and other stakeholders the system combines 240- and 480-volt charging into a single combo plug. Getting all automakers on board with the standard will also reduce their costs (and hopefully sticker prices), because they'll be able to use "standard parts." link

February 2013: Estonia installs “world’s first” nationwide fast-charging network. Estonia has become what is thought to be the world's first country to launch a nationwide fast-charging network with 165 web-connected direct current chargers can recharge an electric vehicle in just 15 to 30 minutes, a fraction of the eight hours standard chargers typically require. Highway chargers are never more than 60km (37 miles) apart, making it possible for electric vehicles to travel across the country without running out of power. link 

June 2012: Alternative to plugging in electric cars 3 years away. A number of companies are developing ways to cut the cord, to replenish the battery wirelessly with a mat that sits on the floor. Coils on the underside of the car engage the charger when the car is parked over them. The mats are plugged in while the car isn’t. Automakers and suppliers expect to have the chargers ready for sale around 2015.link

March 2011: A 5-minute fill up at the gas station?  Imagine being able to charge your cell phone in a matter of seconds or your laptop in a few minutes. That might soon be possible, thanks to a new kind of nanostructured battery electrode developed by scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The researchers found that their electrode can charge and discharge up to 100 times faster than existing devices while holding the same amount of energy. High-storage batteries that could charge and discharge quickly might make a number of still-marginal technologies much more attractive. For example, if you could recharge an electric car in minutes rather than hours, filling up your battery at a charging station would take no longer than the amount of time it takes to buy a tank of gas. link

Overview of the electric car market
February 2014: Electric vehicles gaining foothold. Worldwide production of all-electric and plug-in vehicles is expected to rise 67% in 2014 to 403,000 vehicles, up from 242,000 last year, according to market research firm IHS Automotive Last year, 96,000 EVs were sold in the US. Thanks to competition, battery prices are dropping rapidly - the most costly component of EVs - starting this year, bigger batteries will be in many cars, giving them a 150 mile range.  link

October 2013: Electric car sales surge in US in 2013 as “range anxiety” fades.  The problem of “range anxiety” amongst car buyers is overhyped. 97% of the time; the typical American consumer doesn’t need anything beyond the range electric cars can already provide. In raw numbers, total electric vehicle sales for 2013 are at 67,232, while they were just at 15,708 at this point last year. Combined sales of all-electric cars and hybrids is up 30.11%. link

December 2012: Indianapolis mayor orders city fleet weaned off petroleum. Calling it a vital national security issue, Republican Mayor Greg Ballard has signed an Executive Order making Indianapolis the first U.S. city to require the purchase of either electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles for the city’s non-police fleet. The plan is to convert the entire city government fleet to “post-oil technology” by 2025. If the city could get a plug-in hybrid police car that averages just 40 miles a gallon, and still provide all the necessary features needed by our officers, we could save taxpayers $6 -10 million dollars a year.link   (Update - Indianapolis plans 425 electric vehicles by 2016 – link)

September 2013: How much CO2 are electric cars responsible for? A map showing where electric car charging ends up using the most low-carbon electricity is linked here. Each country has a number attached to it, which is the number of grams of CO2 equivalent per kilometer. This means how much CO2 is emitted per kilometer traveled. It takes into account vehicle manufacturing carbon emissions as well, though that number is held constant in each country. The lowest numbers are Iceland, Paraguay, Uruguay, Norway, Sweden, France, and Switzerland. The worst countries with the most carbon-intensive fuel mixes are, unfortunately, a lot of high-population countries with high coal and oil consumption. India leads this pack. link 

The global market for plug-in vehicle charges will soar to $11.75 billion by 2015
to support the anticipated widespread distribution of electric vehicles in the coming years according to research by ABI Research. 
Their report entitled Plug-In Vehicle Infrastructures, projects a surge in the installation of charging station infrastructure, from just over 20,000 stations at present to approximately 3 million by 2015. In five years, the U.S. will represent 54% of the global  market. link   January 2011: J.D.Power market research company predicts the prospects for electric vehicles are low however. link    

May 2013: Although the plug-in market is still tiny, it's actually ahead of where hybrids were when they were first introduced. May saw the 100,000th vehcile sold in the USA. Most auto makers are making plugins: Nissan, Tesla, GM, Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, and Fiat. link

January 2012: Electric vehicles could soon be cheaper than conventional cars.  This week, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu gave a speech at the Detroit Auto Show  about the progress being made on bringing down the costs of batteries - the biggest cost for EVs.  He expects the cost for electric car batteries to drop 70% by 2015, down from a whopping $12,000 in 2008 to $3500 by 2015 and $1500 by 2020. link  

March 2013: Hybrid solutions for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.  Several companies participating in the Energy Department's National Cleran Fleets Partnership are working to expand the number of hybrid trucks in their fleets.  Medium-duty delivery vehicles with hybrid technology can achieve up to 36% higher fuel economy than their conventional counterparts. link  (Fleet member General Electric has committed to convert half of their global vehicle fleet, and will partner with fleet customers to deploy a total of 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015.)

May 2012: Strong sales for electric two-wheel vehicles. Nearly 382 million electric two-wheelers will be sold in Asia Pacific through 2018. Two-wheel vehicles, including scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles are a very popular mode of transport in China, India and most south-east Asia nations.  According to a new report by Pike Research, annual sales of electric two-wheel vehicles will reach 65.5 million units resulting in a cumulative 382 million sales by 2018. Close to 92% of sales will be in China. link

Plug In America is an advocacy group for electric vehicles.

Batteries and the role lithium plays / technology

Lithium BatteriesIn order to mine the resource from the salt flat, technicians need to get a brine to the surface, where it is evaporated in pools to expose the lithium. Half of the world's known lithium reserves lie in a remote salt flat in the southern Andean plane of Bolivia which is not a country known to be friendly to foreign businesses. Accounting for an estimated reserve of 5.4 million tons, the Salar De Uyuni salt fields - predicted to become the Saudi Arabia of lithium - is being eyed by the world’s largest auto companies. Compared with lithium reserves of 3 million tons in Chile, 1.1 million in China and just 410,000 in the United States, the Bolivian reserve indicates the leverage Bolivian President Evo Morales has.

July 2014: Breakthrough in lithium battery design. A team of Stanford University researchers, including former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, believes it has achieved the "holy grail" of lithium battery design: an anode of pure lithium that could boost the range of an electric car to 300 miles. The lithium in a lithium-ion battery today is found in the electrolyte. The electrons in the electrolyte flow to the anode during recharging, and if the anode were also made of lithium, the battery would be able to generate much more power and weigh much less. Until now, however, lithium anodes have been unusable, but the Stanford team thinks it has solved these problems.  link

July 2012: US seeks return to lithium leadership. Two plants in North Carolina and Nevada are the beneficiaries of the Obama Administration's quest to reclaim a leadership position in lithium manufacturing, a key component of electric vehicle batteries and consumer electronics. The US was a leader in lithium production during the 1990s, but it now imports the majority from sources in South America, just as demand for lithium has risen rapidly. link

March 2010: The lithium chase. About 60 mining companies have begun feasibility studies in Argentina, Serbia and Nevada that could lead to more than $1 billion in new lithium projects in the next several years, while dozens of smaller projects are being proposed in China, Finland, Mexico and Canada. The four biggest current producers, which mine and otherwise gather lithium in Chile, Argentina and Australia, say they are planning to expand long-running projects as future demand warrants. link  

June 2010: Nanotubes expand lithium battery prospects. A lithium-ion battery with a positive electrode made of carbon nanotubes delivers 10 times more power than a conventional battery and can store five times more energy than a conventional ultracapacitor. The nanotube battery technology, developed by researchers at MIT and licensed to an undisclosed battery company, could lead to batteries that improve heavy-duty hybrid vehicles and allow faster recharging for electronic gadgets, including smartphones. link

May 2012: Standardized electric vehicle charging.  Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen have agreed to support a new single-port fast-charging technology that will recharge vehicle EV batteries in just 15 to 20 minutes. This marks the first step towards harmonising the electric vehicle market, by creating one charging option to suit them all. This way there will be no proprietary charging systems requiring a specific charging set up. Now, one charging station will charge multiple vehicles. link

The role being played by Asia

(September 2009) China is now the  largest global auto market. A report by McKinsey & Co predicts the Chinese electric vehicle market to be worth up to $220 billion by 2030. The government is adding fuel to the fire by offering local governments and taxi fleets up to $8,800 in subsidies for every electric or hybrid vehicle. Electric charging stations will soon be constructed in Beijing, Shanghai, and Tiajin. Even if powered by electricity generated from coal, electric cars will decrease carbon emissions by 19% and reduce urban air pollution.  First time car owners comprise a whopping 80% of the market.   link

Currently Japan is the market leader in hybrids today with cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight which run on both electricity and gasoline. Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that. China wants to raise its annual production capacity to 500,000 hybrid or all-electric cars and buses by the end of 2011 (from 2,100 in 2008). By comparison, CSM Worldwide, a consulting firm that does forecasts for automakers, predicts that Japan and South Korea together will be producing 1.1 million hybrid or all-electric light vehicles by then and North America will be making 267,000.  link

Commercial vehicles & buses

July 2014: Bus fleets are going electric. Thanks to recent technological advancements electric buses are now a viable option. And it isn’t just environmental sustainability that’s so appealing - electric buses also make sense from an economic perspective. Proterra, the maker of a 77-passenger all-electric bus, says that the battery-run bus can operate continuously for 24 hours. Fully charged, the bus can run for three hours, and stops along its route to recharge while passengers load and unload. Cities around the world are turning to the quiet, emissions-free buses to meet their growing transit demands. Here in the U.S., Reno, Nevada recently introduced four new electric buses to its fleet, which includes 18 hybrid-diesel electric vehicles. A spokesman for the city’s Regional Transportation Commission told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the buses, which are also in use in Stockton and Pomona, California, offer “the lowest carbon footprint of any bus on the road … [and] have a life cycle of 16 years, versus 12 years for a traditional bus.” In Worcester, Massachusetts, six Proterra electric buses will each emit 130 fewer tons of CO2 emissions per year, compared to the diesel alternative, and will reduce operating costs by $3 million over a 12-year span. link

Commercial vehicles.  
Smith Electric Vehicles, a British company, is the world's largest manufacturer of electric commercial vehicles and they've just made the world's largest electric road vehicle. link  Ford is working with Smith Electric Vehicles to market a pure battery electric-powered light commercial vehicle in North America, based on the all-new Transit Connect global commercial vehicle platform. Since 1920, Smith has converted tens of thousands of vehicles to battery electric power.   (Smith expands in US market - link)  

Electric buses.      

February 2015: First 200-milke electric bus unveiled. Industry pioneer BYD Motors recently unveiled the first long-range battery-electric bus,  the BYD C9, at the United Motorcoach Association Expo in New Orleans. The +190-miles range of the C9 puts BYD’s new offering in a category all its own as far as electric buses go, extending the potential uses of such buses far beyond immediate urban environments. link

August 2010: An LA transit system purchased three Proterra EcoRide BE35 electric buses with an option for nine more. The vehicles are designed to operate up to 3 hours with juicing up in 10 minutes at inductive fast-charging stations en route. link   [Compared to traditional diesel buses, these electric buses will offer $300,000 savings in total lifetime fuel expenses per bus.]
 More about electric buses             

Shai Agassi's "Better Place" development

May  2013: Better Place files for liquidation. Plagued by setbacks and delays, the concept of leasing electric cars based on miles driven annually never gained sufficient traction to entice subscribers. link   (July 2013: A possible comeback in Israel - link)

February 2013: Better Place struggling. Perhaps because of dramatically increased competition in the electric car charging market, pioneer Better Place is struggling to gain traction. On its third CEO in recent months, Better Place announced it would be pulling out of the US and Australia, and focus on its original markets, Denmark and Israel, where it has yet to sign up enough subscribers. link

Better Place, a firm started by Shai Agassi, a 41-year-old Israeli and co-founder of Project Better Place, is seeking a fundamental challenge to petrol-driven cars. Better Place, which will run the scheme with Renault are planning to market around 160,000 cars annually by 2011 in Denmark and Israel. "Around 160,000 electric cars will be made available every year. I believe the [annual] sales will be in the tens of thousands," said Jens Moberg, the chief executive of Better Place Denmark, the Danish subsidiary of the transport company developing the lithium batteries fitted in the vehicles.  [By the end of June 2012  only 500 cars had been sold - link]

Selection of electric models

Chevrolet's Volt. (August 2009) GM is putting a lot of its faith in the Volt with a claim of 230 mpg. However the Volt is still trailing alternative choices in mpg and cost and could prove to be no more than PR and hope for GM read  (Under current EPA guidelines for mileage ratings the Nissan Leaf rates 99 mpg compared to the Volt's 60 mpg.)  
February 2013: After a difficult first year in 2011, during which a mere 7,671 Volts were sold, sales increased to 23,461 in 2012. General Motors will be upping 2013′s production to 36,000 units. link

New Nissan Leaf unveiled -  August 2009 - Nissan announces the long-awaited zero-emission cars being developed with Renault. Designed as a four-to-five seat, front-drive C-segment hatchback, Nissan says the Leaf is not just for use as a specialty urban runabout, but an everyday vehicle with a range that meets the needs of 70% of the world's motorists. In the case of U.S. consumers, Nissan says that fully 80% of drivers travel less than 62 miles per day. link  
Established in 1999, the Renault-Nissan Alliance aims to be the global leader in zero-emission mobility. Nissan took out $1.6 billion in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy to revamp its factory in Smyrna, Tenn., for Leaf production.
] November 2013: Leaf sales rising. Nissan says its electric Leaf is now profitable, and they are ramping up US production. There are 34,000 Leafs on US roads today and 75,000 worldwide. link

February 2013: VW to unveil 261 mpg electric car. Volkswagen plans to unveil its 261 mpg XL1 plug-in hybrid, a two-seat sports machine, at the Geneva auto show on March 5. It will begin offering for sale this year, The vehicle can travel up to 31 miles on electric power. Under full power, VW says the XL1 will accelerate to 60 mph in about 12.7 seconds and can achieve a top speed of 99 mph. After an initial production run of 50 vehicles, VW says it will adjust further production plans according to demand. link 
(Update -  June 2014: The XL-1 diesel-electric plug-in hybrid can travel from New York to Washington DC on just one gallon of gas, while emitting a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gases of the average US car. It spews out 34 grams of carbon for every mile driven, compared to 340 grams for a conventional car. The car is now at car dealers in Germany and Austria, but only in a limited edition run of 250 vehicles. About 50 have sold so far for a pricey $150,000. link )    Magazine's test, it averaged "only" around 160 mpg -  link

What's it like to live with an electric Mini? After 6 months driving an all-electric mini, a British businessman reports on what life is like with an all electric car. link

Hydrogen fuel-cell development

Fuel cell vehicles are basically electric vehicles that use hydrogen tanks rather than batteries for energy storage. With current technology, fuel cell cars tend to have greater range than pure electric cars. Hydrogen tanks are lighter than big battery packs and take much less time to fill. However, electric cars have the advantage of an existing charging infrastructure - a hydrogen station infrastructure has yet to be built.  Sept. 15 2009: Hydrogen-powered vehicles are slowly gaining traction, first with an announcement  last week that auto companies are spending billions on fuel cell vehicles, and now with news that Germany is planning with to launch a countrywide hydrogen fueling network by 2015. A total of eight companies (Daimler, EnBW, Linde, OMV, Shell, Total, Vattenfall and the NOW GmbH National Organisation Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology) are working to bring the fueling network to fruition. link

January 2015: Toyota releases hydrogen fuel-cell patents. Toyota will make more than 5,600 patents on fuel-cell technologies available for use, free of royalty payments, to a wide array of companies in the transportation sector. Those patents include many granted for innovations that led to the production version of the Japanese maker's first hydrogen vehicle, the 2016 Toyota Mirai. link

January 2014: First hydrogen fuel cell car set for market in 2015. Toyota's work on hydrogen fuel cells, which generate electricity out of hydrogen and oxygen, has emerged in fits and starts. From the beginning, the company built its own fuel cell stacks, borrowing technology from its hybrid electric vehicles. By 1996, Toyota showed off its first fuel cell hybrid vehicle. But broader availability was still far in the future. Toyota’s new FCV concept car is expected to be released in 2015. Toyota says that its FCV can go for 310 miles without a fill-up, though the biggest challenge may be growing a hydrogen filling station infrastructure.  link

November 2013: Doubt over hydrogen fuel-cell cars. Nissan Motor’s CEO Carlos Ghosn said consumers won’t take to fuel-cell vehicles before the decade’s end, joining Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk in questioning the future of hydrogen-powered cars. Such vehicles only have a few locations to refuel and the required infrastructure would be prohibitive to build. link

September 2013: Progress on hydrogen fuel-cell cars. Hyundai will become the world’s first car company to mass produce hydrogen fuel cell cars according to a company report. The Korean car maker plans to manufacture 1,000 of the SUV-based fuel cell cars and by 2020, Hyundai plans to up the target to around 100,000. link

August 2012: Hydrogen fuel cell technology advances. The world’s largest, longest hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle and hydrogen fueling demonstration indicates that automakers could bring FCEVs to market in the 2014-2016 timeframe. During the seven-year real-world validation project, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory deployed 183 vehicles travelling 3.6 million miles through 500,000 trips, resulting in 154,000 hours of second-by-second data delivered to NREL.  link

Hydrogen fuel-cells not a solution for USA:
May 2009 Fuel cells have been touted by politicians and people from the industry for many years. However the Department of Energy's proposed budget boosts research on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources but makes cuts in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles because the technology is many years from being practical.
Energy Secretary Chu said: "We asked ourselves, 'Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy?' The answer, we felt, was "no."  

An in-depth comparison of the costs of fuel-cells versus electric  - here 
Links to other alternative fuels: biodiesel  hydrogen  natural gas  electricity  propane   ethanol
supplied by the Department of Energy.
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