A recent report by Zpryme Smart Grid Insights shows the US poised on the brink of a breakthrough year for both the smart grid and electric vehicles. A synergistic series of converging developments have aligned the stars, both on the vehicle and the infrastructure side, to make this possible. The big question remaining is whether or not American consumers will write the checks and bring these vehicles home. Will they understand the value proposition and the trade-offs involved and will they find the pricing acceptable? These appear to be the two biggest potential roadblocks.
Zpryme’s recent survey had the following noteworthy findings:
- 37.2% of respondents said they were somewhat likely or very likely to purchase an EV in the next two years
- Model awareness was topped by Chevy Volt (51.3%), Ford Focus (49.1%) and Nissan Leaf (30.8%)
- Brand preferences were led by Ford (17.8%), Toyota (16.7%), Chevrolet (16.0%), Honda(12.6%).
On the infrastructure side, GE, Leviton, ABB and Siemens are ready with EV-ready components. Charging stations are or will soon be available from ECOtality, Coulomb Technologies, Better Place, and ClipperCreek. And a number of utilities including Southern California Edison, Florida Power & Light, and Xcel Energy are prepared to take a proactive role to ensure that they can safely absorb the impact of thousands of EV’s on the grid. In-vehicle telematics companies such as Airbiquity, combined with smart phones and in-dash devices will also play a key role. In fact, 52.9% of likely EV drivers in Zpryme’s EV Consumer Survey indicated that tight integration with mobile device apps would have a positive influence on their purchasing decision.
But will the dog eat the dog food?
Given that both car makers and utilities are eager to see this trend take off, you can expect to see a double-barreled marketing approach. Utilities will provide a broad blanket of grassroots messaging that will address consumer concerns about the EV experience, direct consumers to subsidies, and provide long term cost-benefit analysis. Car makers, on the other hand, will provide brand and model specific advertising.
There has already been more than $5 billion in government loans and grants given out in hopes of overcoming roadblocks and getting this ball rolling. Beyond the 37.2% of respondents who said they were likely to purchase an EV in the next two years, an additional 16.9% said they were likely to purchase one within the next five years. In fact, projections now show some 730,000 EVs and PHEVs on the road by the end of 2016.
Economic factors were given as the top reason (66.8%) for an EV purchase. Most likely purchasers tend to be tech-savvy, heavily involved in online activities, and many already own smart phones.
Among those surveyed, 31% said they would be willing to pay a premium of as much as $5-10,000 for an EV. 44% of respondents said that environmental concerns were important to them. That number rose to 64% among those likely to make an EV purchase in the near term. Geographically, consumers in Western states are slightly more likely to purchase an EV than elsewhere (40.1% as compared with 37.3, 37.0 and 35.3 for the South, Northeast and Midwest respectively). Most of that difference came in the youngest (18-25) age bracket.
Other key findings disclosed in the report, which was sponsored by Airbiquity, include:
- Rental car companies will play a major role in promoting EVs.
- Smartphone apps could help find charging locations
- Smart grid technology will anticipate peak charging and take measures to prevent overload.
- Charging corridors are currently being identified
- The role of home charging will evolve and clarify in time.
The market for charging infrastructure is expected to grow from $746 million next year to $3.9 billion in 2016.
Adaptation will move from “EV evangelists” in the west and in metro areas elsewhere during the first two years, to the “Brand Loyalists” after that, and then finally to the “EV Sideliners,” the wait and see group that will begin to buy after year four.
This is exciting news that represents great opportunities for both economic growth and environmental benefit. Of course, in order for full environmental benefits to be realized we need to move aggressively into clean, renewable energy sources for vehicle charging. Cleantech claims that if we end up burning more coal instead of gasoline we are still better off. And while that may be true on paper, it’s not going to be enough carbon reduction to avert the dire consequences that will be awaiting us if we don’t take the strongest possible action.
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails.
Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own
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