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7 trends driving electric vehicles in 2012

As 2011 draws to a close, the environment for electric vehicle adoption remains positive — despite a dramatically altered political landscape, which could result in reduced federal financial support for pilots or individual purchases moving forward, and battery safety concerns raised by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), related to several post-crash fires caused by lithium-ion batteries.

Cleantech forecast firm Pike Research offers a pulse of the electric vehicle industry in its white paper, “Electric Vehicles: 10 Predictions for 2012.” Based on my reading of their paper, as well as my own gut take on technologies likely to emerge during the next 12 months, here are 7 trends I believe will drive the electric vehicle industry in 2012.

#1: Would-be buyers will have far more choices in 2012. Pike Research predicts that unit sales of plug-in electric vehicles will reach 257,000 units globally next year. The pioneering technologies found in the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf will be joined by models from BMW, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Volvo, as well as the newcomers Coda and Fisker. North America will account for about 66,000 of those unit sales, slightly more than for all of Europe but about half of what is predicted for the Asia/Pacific region.

A limited production run for the new Ford Focus Electric will be available in 2012 (Image courtesy of Ford)

#2: Prices will remain high for electric vehicles. Pike Research notes that even though the Chevrolet Volt will have a pricetag that is $1,000 less in 2012, its stripped-down feature set will turn off many potential electric vehicle buyers. In fact, prices for the Nissan Leaf will be higher for 2012 than they were for 2011. The research firm believes that $23,750 is the optimal price range to inspire more mainstream adoption, but most of the models that consumers will consider in 2012 will all be priced at more than $30,000. That includes the Toyota Prius, the Ford Focus EV, and the Honda Fit BEV. Even though an anticipated glut of electric vehicle batteries will affect the market in 2012, most of the batteries for the 2012 models were ordered before increased production helped bring down prices. So, battery availability won’t help with pricing until 2013 or 2014 model years, Pike Research predicts.
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