As hybrid cars are becoming more and more popular, most of the major car manufacturers are focusing on the development of pure electric vehicles (EVs). Up until recently, electric cars were impractically slow and short-ranged, but new technical developments allow them to better serve consumer needs. On August 2nd, the Renault-Nissan Alliance announced their new electric car called Leaf, which is due to be launched in 2010. Leaf has a range of 100 miles (160 km) and seats five adults. Tesla Motors will offer its Model S, also a five-seater, with a range of 300 miles starting in 2011.
The advantages of having lower operational costs and being more environmentally friendly are overshadowed by three major concerns; the range of the car, its price and the availability of charging stations. The range of an EV is related to technological developments in battery research and motor efficiency, and with further development in these areas the prices for EVs will drop significantly. Availability of charging stations, though, is an infrastructure issue which could be addressed when national targets are discussed.
As we are beginning to see great enthusiasm for electric vehicles in US cities like San Francisco, Portland and San Jose (the city of San Jose has installed 7 charging stations so far), European cities are taking several steps towards implementation of an electric vehicle grid.
In the last week of July, six major Austrian companies, lead by national utility company Verbund, came together to form the Austrian Mobile Power platform. The companies agreed upon an initial joint investment of 50 million EUR and aim to bring 100,000 electric vehicles to Austrian roads by 2020. A test fleet of 100 cars will be starting as early as 2010, and it will be increased up to 1,000 EVs by 2013.
For this particular project, a total cost of 5 billion EUR is estimated, where 4 billion EUR will be spent on the cars, 200 million EUR on infrastructure, and 400 million EUR on electricity.
A similar platform called e-mobility Berlin was formed last year by two German industry giants, utility RWE and car manufacturer Daimler. Daimler plans to provide and service 100 Mercedes and Smart electric cars until the end of 2009, while RWE is handling the development of infrastructure and operation of the 500 charging stations. Daimler has been testing 100 Smart electric cars in London since 2007.
France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway have already begun piloting their own projects. Beyond Europe there have also been significant developments in EV implementation. As reported on the CleanTechies Blog earlier this month, Better Place and Israel Railways have agreed on installing 220 charging stations in Israel.
In Japan, Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and Fuji (manufacturer of Subaru), all of them EV manufacturers, met with national utility company Tokyo Electric Power in order to discuss standardizing the power exchange methods and popularizing EV fleets in Japan. Purchases of EVs are expected to rise fast since the government significantly subsidizes the cost of electric cars.
Coulomb Technologies provides a map of charging station locations in the USA. Even though it doesn’t cover all available stations, it’s a step in the right direction. It would be nice to see all stations worldwide on Google Maps, giving information about the supplier, availability of electricity and charging characteristics.
Many of us, when thinking of electric cars, still have the image we had when we were kids: This is a thing of the future! Recent developments all around the world are slowly dismantling this image. In a few years time, driving a conventional car might become too costly for us and for the environment — and it might not be cool either. The future of electric vehicles may be here sooner than we think.
[photo credit: Alan Trotter]