Electric cars have been around since the 1900s, but it hasn’t been until recently that they have really taken off. One of the main reasons for the increased demand of electric cars is due to improvements in technology, but a lot of it also has to do with the increase in oil prices.
Many companies have been creating electric cars on a small-scale basis because of low demand, low efficiency and high cost. Despite many automakers attempting to push their electric cars to the general masses, only 20 percent of consumers would buy an electric car, and only 40 percent of those were willing to pay extra for one.
An Edmunds.com study shows that only 2.4 percent of all cars bought in 2010 were electric or hybrid, with that projected to increase to 3.7 percent in 2011, 4.1 percent in 2012 and 4.8 percent in 2013.
These low numbers and only slight increases are probably related to uninformed consumers, especially in the actual cost of charging the cars. The cost can vary depending on the location. Charging an electric car in Hawaii, for example, will be equivalent to owning a car that gets 36 mpg, while in Washington state it will be far lower. This is due to the varying cost of utilities in different states.
Besides this, the actual efficiency ratings of these electric cars differ from standard internal combustion engines. While the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt advertise a MPG of 93 and 99 mpg, upon closer inspection, the numbers are actually mpg equivalent.
Electric cars’ efficiency, like other electronic appliances, is based on kilowatt hours (kwh). For cars, the rate of efficiency is based on kwh per 100 miles. The lower the number, the better the efficiency. The kwh/100 miles is converted to mpg by the EPA to give car owners a basis of comparison to standard automobiles. While the mpg might give buyers a basic idea of savings, to find actual efficiency, kwh/100m should be compared instead.
Besides the cost of an electric car, creating an infrastructure to support widespread usage of these cars is very important. According to Kal Gyimesi of IBV, about 50 percent of the 123 auto industry executives interviewed believe that electric cars will begin to replace traditional cars by 2020. This has led to automotive industries beginning to partner with utilities and startups to help create this electric infrastructure.
Cars could be charged at malls, office buildings and, of course, at home. Even the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, has begun to push for green car initiatives that would focus on investment in battery management infrastructure, modifying building rules to mandate charging points in large parking lots and developing battery swapping and leasing schemes for electric vehicles.
Washinton, D.C. now has two electric charging stations: one for public use at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Center and another for private use at an apartment complex at 425 Massachussets Avenue. Both are part of the Chargepoint program funded by a $15 million grant from a federal stimulus package.
Currently there are 4,600 other regions slated for Chargepoints development, including: Austin, Texas; Southern Michigan; Los Angeles, California; Manhattan, New York; Orlando, Florida; San Franciso Bay Area, California; and Bellevue/Redmond, Washington.
With increasing infrastructure, growing demand for electric cars and improved technology, it seems that it is only a matter of time before standard automobiles become obsolete.
Toyota plans on developing litium batteries in-house with Tesla Motors, decreasing the cost of cars by almost a third. The company hopes to offer a plug-in version of their Prius in 2012 with a price point below $30,000 (compare that to Chevy’s Volt at around $40,000).
Even the 2011 Detroit Auto Show has increased exposure to electric cars, offering a new Electric Car Techzone that occupied 3,500 square feet of showroom space. The area featured cars from Ford, Audi, GM, Toyota and Onstar.
Hopefully the projected 4.8 percent electric car owners by 2013 will actually be much higher, should electric cars actually take root and not be killed off like in the 1900s.
Photo credit: Peachy Green