EVs and Hybrids could soon penetrate the mass automotive market or EVs and Hybrids could always remain on the horizon, never reaching their technical potential in a similar fashion to fuel cells. Recently at the Clean Equity event in Monaco, the different manufacturers of EV and Hybrids did not agree on much however they all agreed that listening to the voice of the customers is paramount. Customers will dictate when EVs and Hybrids shift from a technology push to a market pull; Renault’s Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn predicts that EVs could account for 1 in 10 new cars sales by 2020 however we will see regional variations.
In the US, the 2010 market share for hybrids is 4.3% according to the EPA. Although this has been supported by tax credits on these vehicles which expire on 31st December 2010, the US market share will continue to grow due to improved fuel efficiency and the made in the US effect. One of the most popular hybrids in the US, the Ford Escape Hybrid delivers 34 mpg which is a significant improvement on the US average fuel consumption of 22.5 mpg. Hybrids and EVs represent new cars that existing US car plants can be re-tooled to produce thus preserving the made in America brands that many US customer value.
In Europe, a key difference is the prevalence of diesel cars. The Toyota Prius achieves 57.6 mpg on a combined cycle where as a Volkswagen Polo SDi achieves 62.8 mpg. The European customer has several other high efficiency options that are comparable to hybrids thus in Europe the Hybrid and EV market share will be lower.
Whilst EV business plans may feature technical advantages such as range, torque, depth of discharge, drive by wire, regenerative braking and suspension for the man or woman in the street the purchase of a vehicle whether it’s an EV, Hybrid or traditional ICE is an emotive purchase. This vehicle is generally going to be the second most expensive asset they purchase so I’d expect a great deal of thought and research will go into the transaction (call it due diligence). Each individual is different and will individually weight the daily commute (important for EVs) with the once a year road trip. The entertaining and innovative adverts for automobiles highlight the complexity in marketing and positioning vehicles for individuals.
If all goes well for the EV and Hybrids and the advertising is a hit then perhaps the customers will come down to showroom and request a test drive. The acid test will be how these potential customers react to the driving experience. I have been fortunate enough to test drive 2 EVs, the Tesla and the Elettrica Open Street 80, which target different needs and although very pleasurable my over-ridding feeling was just how different an EV feels and handles compared to an ICE. My trip in the back of an electric taxi was very relaxing, the silence was serene, and as a happy passenger I was not concerned about the driving experience.
In China, customers have less historic user experiences of ICEs thus customers will quickly adjust to the EV and Hybrid frame of reference. In addition the support provided by Chinese Government will be also drive the adoption rate.
For me as an environmental and socially sustainable investor, I am in the target segment for EVs and Hybrids, however when my next car purchase is due I’ll be weighing up the kids’ needs, the size of grocery shopping and of course what my wife wants.