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10 Electric Vehicle Trends to Watch in 2012

by David Fessler, Investment U Senior Analyst
Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yesterday, after nearly a year of waiting, I finally got to order my Nissan LEAF. It’s the first affordable, plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) available to the masses. The Chevy Volt, while touted as an EV, is really a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). It still has a gas tank, an engine and an exhaust system.

I should receive my LEAF next March or April. It’ll be the first one in my area, and one of the first in Pennsylvania.

In about a week or so, my “oil well” should be producing “oil” to fuel my LEAF. Translated, my 10-kilowatt (kW) solar panel array should be live, and connected to the grid.

The system has been finished for over two weeks, but I’m still not connected to the grid. My local power company is in no particular hurry to switch my service over and connect the panels.

I’m not surprised. Solar and wind power, and electric vehicles (EVs), have been less than enthusiastically received by the general public, and even less so by the electric utilities.

They have to manage the additional supply delivered by a solar field or wind generator. They also have the opposite problem when EV owners plug in their cars for charging.

Why all the kicking and screaming? In large part, it’s due to something called the human “normalcy bias.” The idea is that humans will keep doing something the same way, over and over, until they get hit on the side of the head with a two-by-four.

Buying and driving a gasoline-powered car is something most adults have done their entire lives. We know nothing else, nor have we even had a choice… until now.

I’m trying to avoid the two-by-four. You see, I think oil prices are headed up, and much faster than anyone realizes. When the oil price tipping point is reached, EVs will all of a sudden make all the sense in the world.

Many automobile companies are, rightly or wrongly, anticipating this tipping point. They’re in the midst of designing and introducing more and more EV models.

While Nissan beat all others to the punch with an affordable PEV (I’m excluding the $98,000-plus Tesla Roadster here), consumers will shortly have a wide variety of makes and models to choose from.

In 2012, Ford is coming out with the Focus EV all-electric. Toyota’s adding a plug to its popular Prius Hybrid. Tesla is working on a cheaper EV sedan, dubbed the Model S, and Volvo is introducing the all-electric V-70. There are more coming right behind them.

EVs for Dummies… and the Rest of Us

One of the biggest hurdles faced by EV manufacturers is educating the consumer, and it will be their focus in 2012, according to Pike Research, LLC. Few understand the difference between a PEV and a PHEV.

Maintenance costs for PEVs are drastically reduced when compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered vehicle. There are no oil changes. Brakes and rotors last over 100,000 miles. There’s no emissions testing, because there’s no tailpipe. PHEV owners still have to contend with all these things, since their cars still have ICEs.

In relatively short order, both China and Japan will zoom past the adoption of both EVs and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. V2G gives EV owners the ability to allow utilities to use their battery pack as a source of energy when connected to its charging station.

10 EV Trends to Watch in 2012

Pike Research LLC, the leading clean-tech market intelligence research organization, recently published a white paper entitled Electric Vehicles: Ten Predictions for 2012. It’s forecasting the global EV market to reach 250,000 vehicles worldwide next year.

Here’s a synopsis of their predictions:

#1 The global availability and increasing sales of EVs will put an end to the “Are they for real?” speculation.

Pike believes 2012 will be the transitional year for EVs, as more models become available, and even more are announced.

#2 Car sharing services will expand the market for EVs and hybrids.

Right now, at least 10 car-sharing services are offering EVs to rent. Car sharing appeals to younger, environmentally conscious urban dwellers. Avis and Hertz are the most recognizable names, and more are jumping on this hot trend all the time.

#3 Battery production will get ahead of vehicle production.


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