Archive for the ‘EV’ Category
I recently posted that the new Nissan LEAF Will Fail. That’s blasphemy to some in the green community, as I’m saying something negative about an electric car. I truly would like to see everyone driving an electric car. I write a lot about biofuels, not because I think they are a final solution, but because they are practical now and are better than petroleum based gas and diesel. To be truly green, we will all need to be driving electric cars that are charged on renewable energy. Unfortunately for us, it’s going to take a long time for everyone to drive an electric car.
Before everyone is in an electric car, they need to be practical and affordable to everyone. Nissan estimates that the final selling price will be between $30-40k, and the battery will need to be leased for an extra $10k overall. Even at the low end of the target, if the battery were included, $30k is still out of reach for most US consumers. I have no doubt that there are people that want the Nissan LEAF. However, when there is a price difference that’s only a few thousand dollars for a hybrid and a standard gas model, the lower price drives consumers to the gas model. The Honda Accord Hybrid was even discontinued because of lack of sales. The LEAF is essentially the same body style as the Versa hatchback, but it will be at least twice as expensive. (Google Images: Versa Hatchback, LEAF)
While there are consumers that will buy the LEAF for the fact that it is electric alone, the majority will be evaluating based on the overall value. There would be a $20-$30k premium for being electric, which will be too much for the market. Not everyone makes their decision only based on green factors. The decision to buy a hybrid is often based on the payback period, or how long would the gas savings take to cover the premium paid for the hybrid model. The purchasing behavior was observed in 2008 when oil and gas prices spiked to record highs, and hybrid sales soared. When gas prices fell again, the overall economy was worse, but hybrid sales fell off disproportionately compared to gas only models.
The fact that there is a gas alternative of what is essentially the same car to consumers is very bad for the LEAF, especially when it can only travel 100 miles on a charge. If the Nissan LEAF had the range of a Tesla, it would have a better chance. The Versa gets ~32mpg (real world estimate) with a 13.2 gallon tank, or a range of more than 400 miles. If you do the same comparison with the Tesla Roadster’s nearest equivalent, the Lotus Elise, it’s much closer. The Elise gets ~22mpg, with an 11 gallon tank, or around 240 miles. The Tesla’s estimate range is 244 miles, almost exactly the same. In addition, the Tesla is a faster car. There is no loss of range, and there is a performance increase. The LEAF gains neither of those advantages.
In addition to the price compared to the gas alternatives for the same model, market success will also be based on alternatives at the same price. When the Nissan LEAF is released, the Tesla Model S will be around the same final price. I have been in the Model S, and I have also been in a Versa. I doubt the interior of the LEAF will be the same as a current model Versa, but the Model S prototype had a better fit and finish than any Nissan I have been in (I have never been in a GT-R). The Model S is a luxury sports sedan, targetted in the price range of what would realistically be competition. At the same price, the LEAF will essentially just be an economy car that happens to be electric.
Honda made similar mistakes with the Civic Hybrid. They essentially offered a Civic that happened to get better gas mileage, but charged a price premium that was higher than people looking for an economy car could afford. On the other hand, the Toyota Prius was its own car. There was no gas alternative to the Prius, and it a car that people bought because it was a good car. My previous car was a Lexus, and the fit an finish of my wife’s Prius (Nav, Touring, Leather, etc) was very close. The lower packages are not quite as polished, but still very good for the price range. The finish of the newest generation Prius is even closer to that of a Lexus.
A car will only be successful if it is something that people want to drive, unless you use the word “success” very loosely. Many in the green community would have defined the General Motors EV1 a success, merely because it was a functional electric car, the people that owned it loved it, and there was a long waiting list to buy it. However, the EV1 was not something that could be sold to the mass market, and it did not have any EV competition. I do not doubt that the Nissan LEAF will be a better car than the original EV1, but there is now more competition and there will be a better alternative at around the same price.
Business Insider reports that Nissan has recently unveiled the LEAF, an electric car scheduled to be released in late 2010. The estimated price tag is between $30k-$40k, and a lease on the battery for an estimated additional $10k. With a total estimated price of around $50k, it will not be able to compete in the market with the Tesla Model S, which is a much nicer looking car and has a longer range. Nissan does have one thing that Tesla does not, an existing manufacturing and distribution infrastructure.
The Tesla Roadster, even with its much higher price, has been back ordered since it was released because they cannot be manufactured fast enough. Because of Nissan’s existing infrastructure, barring materials shortage, they will be able to much more easily leverage the economies of scale and eventually reduce manufacturing prices. However, until they can reduce the sticker price, the car will not be successful.
Nissan has the potential for greater reach because of their existing dealerships, but if the value is not there, then consumers will not buy the LEAF. Tesla sales continue, not just because they are electric, but because they are desirable cars. Nissan will be able to manufacture more than Tesla, but at the same price, they are going to have a tough time selling something that looks like a Versa (MSRP ~$15k).
One of the roadblocks to mass production of any non-gasoline based car is that manufacturers are not willing to build them without infrastructure, and infrastructure does not get built without the cars to use it. In order to bridge the gap, transitional technologies are being used, like hybrid vehicles and plug in hybrids on the way to electic vehicles, and blended ethanol and biodiesel for others.
Fortunately, some progressive companies, like Tesla Motors, are still building EVs and some cities, like San Francisco, are beginning to install more infrastructure. However, it’s definitely not enough to have a national impact. One concept that some ports are now implementing, like Los Angeles a while ago and now Long Beach, is to allow (and eventually require) cargo ships to plug into the grid while docked. This improves local air quality and reduces fuel consumption. The same concept could be applied to other vehicles on land.
I am not aware of any specific data, but from personal experience I have seen tractor trailers, buses and RVs idling overnight at highway rest stops so they can run the internal climate systems. There are even regulations requiring rest after long shifts of driving, which add to the problem. Some of these also have stand alone generators that are more efficient, but they still burn fuel.
Many RV parks do provide access to the grid for longer trips, but I have not seen (or really looked for) plugs in highway rest stops. Most of these vehicles already have the ability to run the internal systems on electricity only from the batteries, so adding components to allow them to plug into the grid would not be difficult. There would even be incentive to plug into the grid because running on electricity will be cheaper than powering a vehicle by keeping the engine running, especially over long periods of time.
I found out on a recent trip when waiting for a tour to start, in Rome, there are even regulations limiting how long buses can be idling within the city limits. There are enough buses that it has a noticeable impact on air quality in tight quarters. However, US rest stops are spread out enough that it does not appear to be a concern. Total emissions and fuel consumption, on the other hand, are a big problem. Allowing trucks, buses and RVs to plug in at rest stops and other high traffic areas would help reduce emissions and fuel consumption, as well as help build out EV infrastructure. Quick stops will not allow for most EVs to fully charge, but it should extend the functional range and help break down one of the major barriers to EV adoption.