Electric Vehicles in for Remarkable Ride in 2011

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The first Chevrolet Volts, Nissan Leafs, and Smart EDs were delivered in December, but in the annals of history 2011 will be remembered as the year that electric vehicles (EVs) arrived. EVs for sale to consumers will dominate the headlines throughout the year as average Americans begin to recognize EVs as the roll down the road.

Because of the stalled start in the 1990s, when consumers were tempted by and then denied access to GM’s EV1 and other EVs, every milestone during the year will be magnified in the media. By year’s end nearly 50,000 EVs will be plugging in at garages and lots across America. The arrival of new models from automakers Think, Coda, Mitsubishi, Mini, Toyota and Chevrolet (a few of which were delayed from 2010) will give consumers more options and be closely tracked.

Any missteps – and there will be some – will be cause celebre for the EV doubters who don’t believe in or desire a move away fossil fuels. Humans have always been fallible in designing and operating vehicles, and replacing liquid fuel with electrons won’t change that. While considerable safeguards have been put in place to prevent accidents when charging a vehicle, somewhere someone will find a creative way for failure, and we can expect considerable fanfare by the naysayers when this inevitably occurs.

Any of the important trends we’ve identified at Pike Research for 2011 will be the slow subsiding of the catch phrase “range anxiety.” Range anxiety is the supposed fear that both prevents consumers from wanting to buy an EV with a 80-100 mile range or from driving said car very far for fear that the batteries will run out, leaving the driver stranded. Range anxiety has been overblown, underestimating drivers’ ability to monitor their battery charge level through the various dashboard displays and auditory prompts.

While like EVs, the rollout of charging infrastructure has been slower than expected off the line, installations of public charging infrastructure such as the government-subsidized EV Project and Charge Point America will see hundreds of charging stations installed across many of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

The availability of public charging equipment will actual outpace the need for vehicles to plug-in, which will result in many charge spots idled for most of the day, or even days at a time. While this will be the subject of derision as a waste of taxpayer money, EVs outpacing the charging infrastructure could result in a serious setback as the minority of drivers who plan to regularly charge their vehicles away from home might otherwise wait to make a purchase.

The electric vehicles’ second act will be a top media story throughout the year, even at the box office with the release of Revenge of the Electric Car mid-year. Many consumers will get their first direct exposure to EVs by renting a car from one of the many rental agencies that will make emissions-free driving a premium service. Fleets including delivery vehicles and taxis will be critical for collecting data about EV performance and to build confidence that this time around, EVs are here to stay.

Article by John Gartner, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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