Gas2 Week in Review, April 29: Electric Cars and their Effects on the Marketplace
Electric cars were the focus of many reader comments this week on Gas2. With a major oil producer predicting that electric cars will assume one-third of car sales by 2010 and AAA survey results pointing to 15% of the public ready to consider electric cars for their next vehicles, the momentum seems to be swinging to a future where electric cars are normal. Other stories supporting this issue that grabbed our readers’ attention were Hyundai’s humorous marketing message about consumers’ fears of hybrids, the Fisker EMotion electric car pre-reveal, and automakers coming to slow acceptance that higher octane gas will just be the starting point of reducing environmental impact. Here are those stories and more on our “Gas2 Week in Review.”
One of the world’s largest oil producers has forecast that sales of electric cars will surge from about 1% globally in today’s new car market up to 30% of market share by 2030. Joel Couse, chief economist for Total, says demand for petroleum based fuels “will flatten out, maybe even decline.” To support Couse’ prediction, one need look no farther than battery prices, which are falling by as much as 20% a year. Recharging infrastructures, too, are seeing progress. For example, Tesla announced this week that it will double the extent of its Supercharger network by the end of 2017. Chargers from Tesla and others that can provide up to 350 kW of power are in the planning stages and are expected to become available in the next few years, reducing charging times dramatically and increasing consumer confidence.
If 15% of possible U.S. car buyers are considering electric cars for their next purchase, that could translate into 30 million people, or 1/7 of the U.S. car buying population. Those numbers come from the American Automobile Association, which conducted a survey of 1,004 Americans to determine how they feel about electric cars. The results? Electric cars have real appeal due to lower ownership costs and compatibility with emerging autonomous technologies. The results were interesting because respondents continued to lean toward electric cars even as gas prices remain relatively low. This longitudinal study indicates interest among millennials was somewhat higher than the average, with millennials showing concern for the environment, lower long term costs, desire for the latest technology, and access to car pool lanes. The fear of running out of battery power while away from home continues to plague the electric car industry, according to the AAA study. Other factors that are high on their priority list are safety technology, brand recognition, styling, and smartphone connectivity.
Hyundai’s new commercial pitches the 2017 Ioniq in an attempt to debunk stereotypes of a hybrid driver. It addresses the average U.S. person’s concerns in a funny, self-deprecating, and very effective way. The individuals depicted in this commercial are average people in the midst of their daily work routines, and they sing about their reluctance to buy a hybrid car. Their collective hesitation speaks to the next generation of car buyers in the U.S. who are considering electric cars in a variety of available forms. Hyundai is using the hybrid Ioniq as symbol that it is ready to enact a long game that speaks to regulatory landscapes and fuel prices.
Fisker EMotion electric cars had a “pre-reveal” this week, with just enough information released to whet people’s appetites. Henrik Fisker’s new company is trying to build fast-charging, long-range electric cars that have no battery. Instead, they use graphene-based ultracapacitors, which show a higher electron mobility. When electrons can move fast, a battery will charge more quickly. Challenges using graphene in a supercapacitor in the past have include density and energy storage. Fisker is trying to solve those issues with technology that will alter the structure of the graphene, which should improve the supercapacitor’s energy density. Moreover, Fisker says the EMotion will be lighter than a comparable car because it will feature a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber in its construction.
To obtain lower emissions and better fuel economy, combustion engines designed to run on higher octane gasoline gain efficiency. Yet raising octane ratings means higher costs at the pump. So industry analysts are debating the point at which consumers will rebel against more expensive gasoline. A 10 cent price rise over today’s level seems to be the breaking point. Some of the major U.S. auto manufacturers are looking to new fuel formulations as a priority to reduce environmental impact. It has been reported that the U.S. Department of Energy is working with automakers and oil companies on a project called Optima designed to reduce petroleum consumption by 30%.