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Ten essential electric car trends for 2014

The automotive seers at Navigant Research have drawn up a list of predicted electric car trends for this year. Wireless charging, Tesla under immense scrutiny, electric superbikes, automaker-state legal action, carsharing virgins: it’s all here. What’s more, the global electric vehicle market is predicted to grow by 86 percent in 2014 with sales of more than 346,000 vehicles. The rumblings of a battle for supremacy among the stalwart luxury brands of Europe and America’s upstarts will also intensify.

Navigant Research are usually pretty dependable, but these electric car trends are still only predictions. Smell bullshit? Then tell us below.

1. A rough ride for Tesla Motors

While last year saw a huge amount of questionable media attention in the fallout of three Model S battery fires and a very public disagreement with the New York Times, overall it was a great year for Tesla and Elon Musk. The Model S became Consumer Reports’ highest scoring car ever and the company’s stock reached an all-time high of $193.37. Sales also blossomed in both North America and Europe.

This year, however, will see several challenges for the electric-only brand. Firstly, Navigant Research reckons it will cost at least $62 million for Tesla to come good on its promise of covering 80 percent of the US population with Supercharger stations by the end of the year. Scaling up Model S production from 19,000 units in 2013 to as much as 56,000 this year also comes with quality control issues, and any problems would be pounced upon by the media. There are also new markets, such as China, that demand attention, as do the company’s emerging rivals – the BMW i8 and i3, Audi e-tron, Cadillac ELR and Mercedes B-Class Electric drive all present Tesla with a fight for market share. They’ve come a long way in a short time, but any mistakes now could prove terminal.

2. Hydrogen fuel cell vs. battery electric: Round Two

The imminent launch of several hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in 2014 and 2015 will provoke a new wave what Navigant Research describes as “contrived battery electric vehicle versus FCV debates” in the media. Since fuel cell vehicles will offer significant range and a price tag to match, however, they will only compete with luxury electric vehicles – such as Tesla – at first. Who are ‘they’? Chiefly Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, and later Daimler.

This year will see governments and policymakers continue to address the elephant in the room for fuel cell vehicles: refuelling infrastructure. So far there are only ten-or-so public stations in the US, although California has committed to building 100 facilities by 2024. Several large European economies, including Germany and the UK, have also put ‘hydrogen road maps’ in place to cater for the year hydrogen fuel cell takes off – tentatively billed as 2015. The companies building the cars, however, will bide their time to see what the market does.

3. Electric cars will attract curious carsharing virgins

Navgiant Research has already predicted that car sharing programs – where members can borrow a car at short notice without having to worry about fuel, insurance or maintenance – will grow by 20 percent in North America this year to include more than 22,000 vehicles. Electric cars are going to play a crucial role in that growth.

Not only are electric cars ideal for those who don’t want to own a car, as they don’t require visits to the fuel pumps or expensive servicing, but car sharing electrics offer curious newbies a chance to experience zero emissions electromobility without any commitment. The Parisian Autolib carsharing program, for example, uses only electric cars yet now averages 62,000 rentals each week – enough to prompt a 3,000-car expansion by the end of this year. The Autolib has already emigrated to Indianapolis, too, and, with the backing of city governments keen to promote zero emissions car sharing programs, could be in your city soon.

4. Electric car makers will diversify, building exciting tech

While European and North American new vehicle sales are almost at a peak, electric car sales will continue to grab an increasing proportion of the market. This is both a boon and a problem for the companies building them, as electric cars require little in the way of maintenance or replacement parts in comparison to their oil-burning contemporaries.

As a result, automakers will offer information and entertainment services which reflect the “state-of-the-art telematics and communications systems” found in their cars, and are even launching their own car sharing schemes. BMW is leading the charge with a host of urban mobility apps developed for the new i3, as well as this recent collaboration with Samsung for CES 2014.

5. Electric Motorcycles will be massive this year

By and large, two-wheeled electrification has so far been confined to pedal-assisted bicycles, but that’s going to change. Powerful machines with an electric range of more than 100 miles are now available from Zero Motorcycles and Brammo – two market leaders in this burgeoning segment – while out-and-out electric superbikes come from the skunkworks at Lightning Motorcycles, Mission Motorcycles and, more quirkily, from Agility Motors. The traditional players in the motorcycle market – BMW and Yamaha – will also spend 2014 preparing to launch electric motorcycles next year.

This is part of a wider trend for the motorcycle industry, which has seen declining sales over the past couple of decades. Now, however, sales in developed markets are rebounding, and Brammo is even toying with idea of floating on the stock market (any takers?). Tesla’s example, showing that electric machines can be desirable, has likely played a part in the perceived sex-appeal of electric motorcycles, which seem to be standing on the verge of their very first belle époch.

6. This is the year that wireless charging actually arrives

After having the carrot dangled in front of them for some time, electric vehicle owners now have the option of wirelessly charging their cars. The first publicly available system – Evatran and Bosch’s Plug less Power unit, which is available for the Nissan LEAF ($3,098) and Chevy Volt ($2,998) – went on sale this month and it will be followed by units from Toyota and Qualcomm Halo. The world’s first FIA-sanctioned electric range series, Formula E, will even use the technology to charge the teams’ racing cars.

Importantly, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has agreed upon a set frequency with three power levels for charging, which will foster standardisation in a way that plug-in charging has lacked, to the frustration of many thousands of electric car owners. It means that, in the future, charging really will be as simple as parking over a small pad – or driving over it. Dynamic charging, or wireless charging on the move, is already a reality in South Korea, where the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has been trailed electric buses along 7.5 miles of tarmac routed with inductive charging cables. A similar test will soon commence at the University of Utah and Long Beach Transit.

Wireless charging will need to become a dealer option rather than an aftermarket retrofit before the tech really takes off in private vehicles, however.

7. More than 2,000,000 electric motors will ship in 2014

While waiting for battery technology to advance and make electric vehicle prices more competitive, electric motors continue to find their way into more and more cars. For the first time, more than two million light duty electric motors designed for electrified vehicles will ship in 2014, with more than 1.9 million hybrid vehicles sold.

8. Automakers will rally hard against California’s strict zero emission vehicle regulations

California’s zero emissions vehicle mandate – which requires high-volume automakers to sell a minimum number of plug-in electric vehicles each year – has been extended to 2025, with increasingly hard targets. By 2018 two percent of vehicles sold will need to be electric, and that figure rises steeply to 10 percent in 2022. However, forecasts predict that while these goals may be reached up to 2019, automakers are unlikely to achieve these goals in 2022.

The problems is that automakers have already designed the vehicles they will be selling in 2018, so will push extremely hard for changes to regulations. Historically this hasn’t worked, however, with the US Environmental Protection Agency ignoring requests for relief from the program last year. As of now, then, it seems that either legal action will be initiated (as seven other states follow California’s mandate, so the stakes are high) or the cost of battery packs will come down significantly. Hopefully it will be the later.

9. Vehicle-to-Grid projects will start to make cold, hard cash

Vehicle-to-grid technology – whereby electric cars can interact with the grid to either supply in-demand or store excess electricity – has been in existence for several years now, but last year a project called eV2G started to earn revenue by swapping power between the grid and the batteries in electric cars. This has set a precedent, and similar projects will spread across the US during 2014 thanks to a Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission order called “Pay for Performance”.

Put simply, if your car can supply energy to the grid where and when it needs it, you’ll be paid compensation measured by the kilowatt. As most cars spend more than 90 percent of their time parked up, they are ideal for this kind of arrangement.

10. Electric cars will reduce US carbon dioxide emissions by more than one million tons

Navigant Research predicts that more than 304,000 electric cars will be on America’s roads by the end of the year. Around 170,00 of these will be plug-in hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt, while 134,000 will be pure electrics. With the assumption that each of these cars replaces a conventional vehicle achieving the current fleet average of 25mpg, driving between 10,000 and 12,000 miles, around 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide will be saved from entering the atmosphere. The benefits will be particularly significant in urban areas, while many of the states where electric car sales are strongest have cleaner than average energy generation methods.

Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles won’t be the only ones making a difference, however, as full hybrid vehicles will number more than three million – enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a further 133,000 tons.


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