In 2009, while the automotive industry was on its knees, and OEMs around the world were looking for loans or bail-out funds, government policies were being introduced to develop greener vehicles. Many OEMs invested heavily in new electric vehicles (EVs); however, apart from a handful of cars, such as Tesla’s Roadster and the Chevrolet Volt, they were just standard cars with large batteries and electric motors in place of their traditional engine and powertrain. New EVs were gracing motor shows around the world, but there was a problem: the EV industry had something of an image crisis.
Last year, leading players in the automotive industry featured in a film called Revenge of the Electric Car (a follow-up to the earlier film, Who Killed the Electric Car?). The new film highlights the elevated profile that the EV industry was receiving.
For the EV industry to gain consumer acceptance, OEMs must collaborate to develop common standards for everything associated with running an EV
Or was it? The reality in the eyes of the consumer was very different. There were three fundamental problems to be addressed in order to kick-start the EV industry. Firstly, OEMs were more concerned with bringing EVs to market than about the charging infrastructure to support them. Secondly, the batteries were of poor quality and low range, leading to so-called ‘range anxiety’. Thirdly, the long charge time was slowly putting another nail in the coffin for the industry.
Since OEMs began launching EVs three years ago, efforts have been made to improve the overall ownership experience. For the EV industry to gain consumer acceptance, OEMs must collaborate to develop common standards for everything associated with running an EV. Batteries, charging infrastructures and even the design of the charging plugs/sockets need industry-wide agreement before second-generation EVs hit the market.
There have been efforts to create standards across the European automotive industry in terms of developing common EV platforms, but these standards need to apply globally. Better Place has done a good job of pushing its battery switch technology into certain markets – but should consumers be forced to buy a particular type of car to enjoy this technology? Efforts to reduce charge time advanced this week as Tesla launched its Supercharger fast charging network, but only Model S and Model X support the technology. Like the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the recently-launched Ford Focus Electric and Coda, it uses a DC system, but there’s no socket compatibility. There are talks on a common European-US plug, but differences remain between the European and US versions of the ACEA-SAE ‘standard’ Combo2 socket. It would be better, perhaps, to focus on deploying charging infrastructures that are easy to roll out, cheap to use and, crucially, enable faster EV charging. Consideration should also be given to licensing EV charging technology to major utility providers.
The automotive industry could learn from the consumer electronics (CE) sector when it comes to standardisation, and the EV industry could benefit from greater participation from the world’s high tech companies in developing new technologies for use in future EVs
The automotive industry could learn from the consumer electronics (CE) sector when it comes to standardisation, and the EV industry could benefit from greater participation from the world’s high tech companies in developing new technologies for use in future EVs. Panasonic, Sanyo and others have begun building battery factories to support the EV industry, but they could be doing more.
Imagine if Steve Jobs had followed through with his ideas for developing a car: an ‘iCar’ could have revolutionised the car industry, in the same way that Apple has turned the CE industry on its head. The automotive and CE industries are converging quickly, and if these industries want to look for new business opportunities moving forward, they will have to work more closely together to develop joint standards, processes and technologies that will help to put the spark back into the EV industry.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Mark Morley is Automotive Director at GXS
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