Referenced from Driving without Oil by Pierre Langlois

Despite the fact that the majority of cars will be plug-in hybrids, there remains a niche market for 100% electric cars, in particular for company fleets of vehicles that do not travel more than 150 km (90 miles) a day and return to the company every night, and for community city cars intended to be rented and to stay within a prescribed range in the city. As for personal cars, we must understand that a good plug-in hybrid with a battery allowing a range of 50 km (30 miles) will be less expensive than an all-electric car with a range of 150 km (90 miles). This is due to the high price of Li-ion batteries which is presently between 15 K$ and 25 K$ to provide a midsize car with a range of 100 km (60 miles). And since the plug-in hybrid cars offer a range of 700 km (435 miles) and can fill up everywhere in existing gas stations, the all-electric car will be less attractive if equipped with a large battery, especially knowing that 2 out of 3 car owners drive less than 50 km (30 miles) a day, and 80% less than 65 km (40 miles). Economically viable personal all-electric cars will then probably have a range limited to about 100 km (60 miles), which should restrain the number of potential buyers.

There again, several manufacturers have announced commercial electric car models, available around 2010. The Think City of the new Norwegian manufacturer is already available, in 2008, with a range of 180 km (110 miles). Phoenix Motorcars, another new manufacturer, is coming out at the end of 2008 with its all electric sports utility vehicle which offers a range of 160 km (100 miles) and is rechargeable in 10 minutes thanks to an industrial 500 Amp charger. Aptera Motors, a third new player, has designed a small very futuristic three wheeled two passenger electric car which will be driven on Californian roads in 2009, with a range of 200 km (125 miles) and will use one quarter of the electricity consumed by an intermediate electric car. Mitsubishi will commercialize its electric iMiev in 2010, with a range of 160 km (100 miles), and Subaru its Rle with a range of 80 km (50 miles) in the same year. In China, BYD will market, in 2009, the electric F3e, with a range of approximately 225 km (140 miles) and able to recharge its battery to 70% capacity in ten minutes. All these vehicles are able to reach 130 km/h (80 mph) and more, except for the Think City which is limited to 100 km/h (60 mph). Also, Zenn Motor marketed a small neighborhood electric car in 2007 with a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) and a range of 50 km (30 miles) to 80 km (50 miles).

Renault-Nissan is in a class apart and is probably the company that has made the most firm commitment to market a large number of electric cars starting in 2011. It has signed an agreement with Project Better Place (PBP) and the Israeli government to supply 100,000 electric cars per year to Israel, where it will open a plant in 2011. PBP will implement an infrastructure of recharge points and battery exchange stations. At these stations, people will be able to fill up with electricity in 5 minutes. The problem is the necessity of building a new infrastructure and filling up about every 130 km (80 miles) in stations few and far apart, while with plug-in hybrid cars, there is no need for a new infrastructure, services stations are numerous and we can fill up with gas at every 700 km (435 miles). This does not take into consideration that PBP cars will be more expensive than plug-in hybrids cars with a range of 50 km, due to the cost of the battery. Let us not forget that a plug-in hybrid car will be able to travel 80% of its yearly mileage on electricity. While the PBP approach may be applicable in certain areas, the author is not at all convinced that the concept is applicable on a global scale, because, we must add to all the above -mentioned handicaps the vulnerability in the event of a major power outage. Liquid fuels provide an important source of redundant energy.

However, although most manufacturers have announced electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle models, the crucial question remains to know at what pace they will be introduced on the market. Indeed, we must not forget that over 70 million new road vehicles are produced worldwide every year, in 2008, and that a few hundred thousand electric vehicles will not solve the oil related issues. We have seen that big manufacturers stand to loose revenues in virtue of the greater durability and lesser complexity of electric propulsion systems. Our governments will have to be vigilant in enforcing this inevitable transition through all sorts of incentives. On the other hand, if some manufacturers want to drag their feet, the new players will happily take up more and more market share, Chinese companies in particular.

Realistically, we cannot expect electric cars to become an important part of car manufacturer’s production before 2020. What is more, if the decline in global oil production progresses in the coming years, fuel prices will rise steeply and something will have to be done. This is besides the fact that more and more people are concerned with air quality and global warming. These pioneers seek to drive electric in spite of the blatant inertia of the large car manufacturers. Thus, a growing number of individuals, groups of students and companies are already converting traditional vehicles into electric vehicles by removing useless components, such as the combustion engine, the exhaust system and the engine cooling system, as well as the gas tank.

Also, students in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California Davis, under the supervision of Professor Andrew Frank, have been converting commercial vehicles into plug-in hybrids since 1996. According to Professor Frank, these vehicles perform better than the original vehicles and can travel 65 to 100 km (40 to 60 miles) in all electric mode. In fuel mode, they consume half the gas the original commercial vehicles consumed. It is astonishing to see how much a handful of well-supervised youths can achieve!