Dawn of the electric revolution?

Dawn of the electric revolution?
21 July 2015

Dawn of the electric revolution?

Paul Rivera - President Ricardo Inc

Ever since the launch of the Nissan Leaf as the first volume-market electric car in 2009, the car business has been delivering mixed messages about the prospects of Electric Vehicles (EVs) within the overall mix of car sales.

Few still subscribe to the bullish prediction of Renault Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn that by 2020 one in ten of all passenger car sales will be electric; doubters point to the slump in US EV sales as gasoline prices have fallen. Equally, however, those same sceptics who insist that EVs are an over-hyped revolution that will never happen have also had the wind taken out of their sails by the stellar performance of Tesla in the premium sector, often a solid predictor of future trends across the mass market.

So the question now is not so much whether or when electric cars will reach take-off velocity, but what will cause that shift to happen. And despite what are by any standards disappointing sales figures, especially in Europe, several recent developments hint at a change in public and business consciousness towards electric cars and, perhaps more importantly, how EVs fit into the bigger energy picture.

For example, Tesla’s recent spring launch of its Powerwall domestic energy storage battery was instantly
oversubscribed: the stylish wallmounted device allows the capture of daytime solar energy (or cheapnight-time current) for later use and for protection during power outages and brown-outs – an increasingly likely prospect with energy grid  capacities becoming borderline as dirty coal and politically unacceptable nuclear generation units are taken out of national energy mixes.

Daimler’s subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive and several other organizations have been swift to follow Tesla’s well-publicized lead, and both Nissan and GM are launching schemes to re-use EV batteries for domestic and industrial stationary power.

China-based EV manufacturer BYD has been making inroads in Amsterdam and London with its battery-electric E6 taxi: now an update to the taxi’s operating system allows for bi-directional charging. The significance of this development is that not only can the vehicle be charged, but conversely the vehicle can now power the house, the office or even the workshop. India’s Eicher Motors recently unveiled its Multix, a cheap diesel micro pick-up where the engine can operate as a current generator to power homes and machinery. Again, this promises independence from an often unreliable grid.

And in a somewhat eccentric move, BMW Mini has shown a concept for a lamp post housing an EV charging point, a piece of lateral thinking with the potential to expand the provision of EV recharging with minimal disruption to the urban environment.

While seemingly unconnected, what all these developments do have in common is that they give consumers and businesses a much greater say in their relationship with energy – how they acquire it, how they store it, and how and when they choose to use it or re-sell it. And if that added control enables consumers to save money as well as reducing carbon emissions and promoting grid security at the same time, perhaps this could turn out to be the psychological breakthrough that the EV has always needed.

This view point featured in RQ Q2 2015 - click here to download the full publication.