Electric Cars Should Be Customized for Different Drivers: Report

Mckinsey picA report released recently by McKinsey and Company argues that electric car makers should consider engineering their vehicles for different market segments, rather than try and build a “one size fits all” electric car.

According to the report, the “one size fits all” model means a longer range, and thus a larger battery, than many drivers need. For instance, people who use the car mainly to drive around town use significantly less juice — less than half, according to the report — than someone using the car to commute to work on highways. (Most of that difference comes not from the increased range required by commuting, but by the higher speeds on the highway, which drain power dramatically.)

Since the battery is the most expensive component in an electric car, the report argues manufacturers could sell more cars by selling different sized batteries to different market segments. From the report:

Most existing gasoline-fueled cars, as well as many electric ones now on the drawing boards, are intended for multiple driving missions of differing lengths and speeds. By focusing on specific driving missions of consumers, a company can match a vehicle’s energy storage requirements to a consumer’s particular needs and thus design more economic vehicles. It can also shape its brand and advertising messages and go-to-market strategies for such products more efficiently.

The report does not refer solely to all-electric cars, but also plug-in hybrids, which will likely be the more common electric vehicle on the road, at least until manufacturers deal with “range anxiety” and other technical stumbling blocks.

Just this week a consortium of corporate leaders announced the launch of the Electrification Coalition, a non-profit with the goal of making 75 percent of all miles driven in the US electric by 2040.

Several mass-produced EVs will hit the market next year, including GM’s Volt, which can go 40 miles on a charge, and 200 miles with a back-up gasoline powered electric motor, and the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which claims a 100 mile range. Both cars would seem to be examples of what the McKinsey report advises against: trying to build an EV for everyone.

Triple Pundit recently reported on another complication regarding EVs: how to power them. Assuming electric cars do eventually rule the road, electric utilities are going to have a lot more work to do.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.