[Photo: BYU Bonneville Flats EV. Although it isn’t the world’s fastest EV, the car uses 880 DeWalt Drill batteries which produce about 200hp. The car set a record at 155mph but hit a top speed of 175mph.]
Soon, probably within the next six weeks based on recent monthly sales figures, somewhere in the US someone will purchase the 100,oooth electric vehicle. But what does that really mean?
Being directly involved in sales/business development for an EV charging station provider has opened my eyes to a few of the realities of the market place and the relevance of this number. Like most emerging technologies, but particularly ones that promise radical change to the existing system and the formidable interests invested in them, the road to deployment is not straight and flat. Misinformation abounds- about the car’s cost, its range, its battery’s resiliency, an EV’s carbon emissions, the superiority of other alternative fuels, its”green” political pre-disposition. Often the one with the bullhorn shapes the “facts”. I read a mix of daily articles from news sources all over the world and it would be interesting to document the ratio of negative to positive commentary as an indicator of the market’s actual progress.
Even as recently as six months ago, when I would go into auto dealerships to sell chargers, they would listen politely and tell me they had sold very few Volts or LEAFs and their customers weren’t interested in charging stations.
Where are we today? We have Nissan, Tesla, Chevy, Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, BMW, even FIAT, manufacturing PEV models with their own branding. Now when I go into auto dealers, they invite me back to speak to their sales staff and discuss charging as an issue and what their customers will need to make better use of the car’s range capabilities. Anecdotally, last month in Portland’s metro area, Nissan dealers collectively sold more 2013 LEAFs than any other model- including the Altima- over 65 units between the four major dealerships. Tesla’s stock is up over 43% since the beginning of the year. 17,813 PEVs have been sold this year since March, practically matching the entire PEV sales for all of 2011. While PHEV still account for a 2/3 share of all sales to date, March revealed that BEV purchases exceeded PHEVs for the first time since 2011, fueled in part by Nissan’s aggressive pricing and the Tesla S’s popularity. Consumers are embracing both technologies- and no one can predict which may become dominant even in the short-term. We are on track create a passenger fleet of almost 100,000 PEVs in a little over two years, and the graph shows purchasing accelerating faster than the adoption of the Toyota Prius over the same timeframe- by some estimates soon to experience 48% annual growth.
From a grid perspective, we now have over 2,000 megawatts of battery storage associated with the domestic PEV fleet. To provide perspective, Boardman Coal Plant, the largest remaining coal plant in Oregon, has a nameplate capacity of 550 mWh- and serves as base power generation for a service territory of over 800,000 people. Many utilities have now begun to consider the imminent prospect of using PEV related storage for direct load management to assist in smoothing their peaks and avoid triggering activation of older, dirtier generation sources. This is shown by a number of pilot studies going on nationally and increased interest in pursuing them as part of smart grid planning and utilizing smart meters communication capabilities. I recently met with a representative of Puget Sound Energy, with a service territory in Seattle, who remarked that their DMV data showed purchases of over 300 PEVs in their territory- just for the month of March. These numbers make utilities imagine the future is much, much closer- and spur investment in harnessing ancillary benefits for the grid.
So as we take stock in April 2013, and try to be objective and critical and dispassionate, we can admit that the reality of where we are is a great place compared to where we have been. Over 93,000 PEVs have now been sold. We were correct about the prospects for growth of PEV technology, as their sales progress outpacing the growth of the hybrid vehicle over its first three years. And hybrids did not have “range anxiety” issues or the complex amount of information associated with them. We were correct in believing that the American consumer would accept an alternative choice besides gasoline if the technology delivered performance and savings over the long haul. A virtuous market- and policy-based cycle has developed to bring down prices and spur R & D. We appreciate that these vehicles are not just “green,” they are advanced vehicle technology creating better transportation choices and superior driving experiences. They can become the Car of the Year.
Most importantly we are now soon to celebrate 100,000 PEVs on the road in the United States. When has that happened before? Never.
So as we mark the 100,000th domestic sale of a car with a plug, which should happen in the next six weeks, we need to recognize that we are emerging from the fog onto a clear, flat, open expanse where we can stomp the accelerator and let the true qualities of what’s under the hood be free and- as if that’s not enough-the posted speed limit just increased.