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Bright IDEA PHEV at the Business of Plugging In conference - Click above for high-res image gallery


EV business may be booming soon

I dropped by the Center for Automotive Research's (CAR) "The Business of Plugging In" conference in Detroit recently and came away with a collection of quotes and useful information from movers and shakers working to make vehicle electrification happen.

Most reasonable observers understand that electric vehicles will not replace liquid-fueled vehicles in large numbers any time soon due to their three key disadvantages of high battery cost, limited driving range and long recharge times. But everyone sees that they will become an increasingly viable alternative as automakers respond to growing consumer demand and ever-toughening fuel economy standards.

Respected research firm J.D. Power and Associates forecasts that, while 90 percent of U.S. light vehicles sales today are gasoline-powered (most of the other 10 percent are flex-fuels and diesels), the gas-only share will decline to about 80 percent in 2012 and less than 75 percent by 2016. Part of the alternative-energy 25 percent will be 1.5 million gas-electric hybrids (about nine percent of projected total sales), including plug-ins.

Power's good-news predictions: the number of hybrid models available in the U.S. will increase from 22 today to more than 100 by 2015, and the number of "pure" (battery only) EV models will swell from one (the Tesla roadster) to at least 13 by 2012. Bad news for pure EV fans: Power says just 0.5 percent of sales (fewer than 100K units) will be pure EVs by 2015. There's more after the jump.

Still, the opportunities for electric vehicle component suppliers will be huge. As will the challenges. One topic of discussion was that parts suppliers for electric-powered vehicles, many of them small specialty electronics builders, will have to substantially improve to meet very stringent auto industry quality and reliability requirements.

For example, an annual cell failure rate of one in 200,000 for li-ion batteries used in consumer electronics products that use only one cell may be acceptable, said Ricardo, Inc. global vice president Karina Morley. But that same cell failure rate translates to one in 2,000 for vehicle-size packs of 100 or more Li-ion cells – completely unacceptable. Achieving an acceptable cell failure rate of less than one in a million, Morley said, will require extremely good manufacturing process control and sophisticated battery management to carefully balance cell-to-cell voltage, energy and temperature.

On a more positive note, the country's electric utilities as a group pledged to "move forward aggressively to create the infrastructure to support the full-scale commercialization and deployment of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs)." Anthony F. Early, Jr., chairman of the Edison Electric Institute and Chairman and CEO of DTE Energy, said, "Our industry acutely recognizes that now is the time to redouble our ongoing efforts to lay the groundwork for making plug-in electric transportation in this country a reality, not just a vision. We, as an industry, are eager to collaborate with the auto industry and others to bring PEVs to market."

Five key elements of this industry-wide pledge are:
  • Infrastructure – working with state and local governments on system impacts and potential problems with fueling large numbers of plug-in vehicles from the electrical grid
  • Customer support – working with stakeholders to facilitate a streamlined charging installation process and a "robust customer service process"
  • Customer and stakeholder education – helping to implement a broad nationwide education process on the benefits of electric transportation and off-peak charging
  • Vehicle and infrastructure incentives – helping to develop financial and other incentives to support vehicle purchase and ownership as well as infrastructure deployment
  • Utility fleets – developing "sustainable" fleet acquisition and operations plans to help drive development and significant deployment of electric vehicles
Yet few American cities have begun to create infrastructures to handle large numbers of PEVs, said Enid Joffe, co-owner of the consultant firm Clean Fuel Connection. Joffe said it typically takes a month or more to get a 220V charge unit installed in a private home, that there is still no good solution for apartment dwellers, and that some states (including California) penalize heavy residential electricity users with rates more than triple the national average.

Pacific Gas & Electric chairman Peter Darbee warned that even a fairly small number of PEVs using 220V chargers simultaneously in a residential neighborhood could overwhelm local circuits and cause blackouts, since each would be drawing as much power as an entire house. On the other hand, an EV charging on 110V house current draws only about as much power as a hair dryer, said Michigan Consumers Energy CEO David Joos.

But the biggest obstacle in the way of widespread adoption of PEVs near term will be battery cost. Nissan and others may lease batteries separately to keep vehicle prices down, but that will only segment, not reduce, the total cost. A University of Michigan survey showed that 46 percent of buyers would consider a PHEV priced $2,500 higher than a comparable conventional car; but consideration dropped to 30 percent at $5,000 and 14 percent at a $10K premium. Magna Corp.'s J. E. Robertson put the current cost of just the materials for a 23kWh vehicle battery at about $8,000, but A123's Ric Fulop predicted that battery costs could be reduced by about nine percent a year over the next decade or so.



Chevy Volt Vehicle Line Director Tony Posawatz said the fact that PEV buyers will continue to demand vehicle choice, freedom, independence and few compromises led to GM's range-extender concept. Following a recent multi-state road test trip in pre-production Volts, he told his team: "I think we're very close to making something that a lot of people will fall in love with." He added that what may be most interesting and important about it is not that first Volt car but "what we do after it." The possibilities include both alternative body styles and a range of battery sizes and prices. "We could offer 20-mile, 40-mile and 60-mile battery options."

Sounds good. Anything to get that initial price tag down from the predicted $40K-plus!


Award-winning automotive writer Gary Witzenburg has been writing about automobiles, auto people and the auto industry for 21 years. A former auto engineer, race driver and advanced technology vehicle development manager, his work has appeared in a wide variety of national magazines including The Robb Report, Playboy, Popular Mechanics, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Autoweek and Automobile Quarterly and has authored eight automotive books. He is currently contributing regularly to Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), AutoMedia.com, Ward's Auto World and Motor Trend's Truck Trend and is a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror.


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  • 22 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      The 4hr charger on the Tesla Roadster (same as max draw of J1772):16.8kW.
      The 8 hr charger for Tesla (same max draw as dryer outlet): 7.2kW.
      The 220V charger on the Volt: ~3-4kW.
      The 110V charger on the Volt (same max draw as standard plug): ~2kW

      Electric range: 10kW.
      Air conditioner: 2, 7, 10kW depending on size.
      A dryer or water heater: 5kW.
      An oven or microwave: 3kW.

      The one that might cause a big problem is the 16.8kW charger. This won't be needed or used by most EVs (cars like the Leaf can use the dryer outlet rating ~7kW since that is all it needs to get under 8 hours). When we have 300 mile EVs with 100kWh packs, then we'll see more people using the 16.8kW charger (only way to get under 8 hours in that case).

      Of course if a bunch of people are charging EVs with the 8 hour charger and you add in the other stuff you are using (air conditioner, stove, dryer, etc), it has a potential of overloading the local circuit. That's why night charging is important (though night charging has to account for the cooling period of transformers, which might raise another problem).

      Who invented the term PEV? Is it supposed to be to be an inclusive term? Usually I just hear plug-in being used instead.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is a social-human-economy disaster. Paying these folks on cash-lease-subsidies-gasoline bills to market problematic ' new ' green cars. They are only ' traders ' and anti- car guys working for big oil subsidies regulations. Organized crimes all over the world.

      They rejected hydrogen because it apply to cars, motorcycles, trucks, machineries, trains, ships, airplanes and they propose battery which will replace 0.5% of petrol use because as he said himself battery will not work and cost more and last shorter then 10-20 years. They rejected too, small inboard high efficiency gasoline electric generator to please the u.s army and nasa that need to kill every ' invention and technology ' because a cytizen can build himself a high power long range airplane or helicopter or small spaceships and then become a potential *****.
      • 5 Years Ago
      We? Why? Are you unwilling to pay, for this additional service? Can't remember anyone subsidizing gas stations.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Do you work for an oil company or something, all of your posts here are anti-environmental, what is you reason to be here?

        If we invest in sources that don't use oil we benefit both the economy and the environment. Less oil imports mean less money leaving the country and also less money for regimes that support terrorism. Perhaps you have a comeback to that, but then again maybe you don't.
      harlanx6
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hydrogen? Come on! Nuclear power generation makes sense, but once you know how it is produced and how much infrastructure it would take, hydrogen makes no sense.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Pacific Gas & Electric chairman Peter Darbee warned that even a fairly small number of PEVs using 220V chargers simultaneously in a residential neighborhood could overwhelm local circuits and cause blackouts, since each would be drawing as much power as an entire house."

      Wow, now that's a revelation. And this is from the guy who has a vested interest in promoting EVs!

      We need to be upgrading the grid now if we're going to be ready for EVs.
        • 5 Years Ago
        No, this is from a guy who has a vested interest in promoting *PH*EVs. Which generally charge on 120V.

        According to the studies I've read, you need significant EV penetration to pose a problem for even local distribution, and that's just not going to happen any time soon.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The PG&E chair is probably trying to scare up congressional support for subsidies to utilities to modernize their equipment and add capacity. They were planning to do these things anyway so it would be a sweet deal if they can get can get taxpayers to foot the bill.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "No, this is from a guy who has a vested interest in promoting *PH*EVs. Which generally charge on 120V."

        Why would you say that? As the Chairman of PG&E, I would think that he would want to be selling as much electricity as he can - you know, fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders and all that...

        Anyway, why would you assume that PHEV owners wouldn't want 220V quick-charge capability as well? You can't generalize about PHEVs when they aren't even on the market.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Just because it *can* doesn't mean that's the normal mode of operation. The normal mode of charging for the Volt is 120V, since it only needs to refill about 8kWh when empty. The normal mode of charging of, say, a Tesla Roadster, is high current 220V.

        Many (if not most) Volt owners won't have a 220V charger installed. Almost no Roadster owners have no 220V charger installed.

        And in terms of interests, I'm talking about Witz, not PG&E. Witz selectively chose a quote from PG&E to make his point. Heck, he didn't even choose a quote; he made a generalization of an off-the-cuff statement by Darbee. And Darbee only mentioned the off-the-cuff statement to promote their *solution*, which is to provide timers and off-peak rates to encourage people to charge their vehicle at off-peak times.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I don't have any special knowledge, but a VOLT slide claims to use the same electricity as a hot water heater. At 220 volts it draws 15 amps. That is NOT overwhelming. What I hear the man saying is that if everybody turns on everything at the same time there are aggregation points in the grid that just can't handle the load. Many years ago there was a TV series about students at West Point. One episode was about a student in an engineering class that did a failure analysis of the water mains on the campus. His thesis was that if every water faucet was turned on and suddenly turned of a water main would break. His teacher failed him, so he organized hundreds of students to carry out the experiment. They did it and the water main failed. He was expelled until he had his "day in court". Kind of a parallel here.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Volt can be quick-charged in only 3 hours at 220V.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I was going to comment on that quote too.

        So, PG&E basically expects a residential neighbourhood to not use either clothes dryers or electric ranges in significant numbers at the same time? It's about the same current draw as a car charging on 220V. And considering that this is a *quick* charge, it will only do so for a few hours. You can solve this "problem" by installing timers in the quick chargers so that they turn on at midnight.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I was just thinking Meme and Paul had been baited once again on letstakeawalks irritating little hook. Then I had to laugh because xuchaoxio couldn't resist getting in on the action with his Christmas line up.

        I'm still praying he doesn't make one cent this festive season.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Just because it *can* doesn't mean that's the normal mode of operation. The normal mode of charging for the Volt is 120V, since it only needs to refill about 8kWh when empty. The normal mode of charging of, say, a Tesla Roadster, is high current 220V.

      Many (if not most) Volt owners won't have a 220V charger installed. Almost no Roadster owners have no 220V charger installed.

      And in terms of interests, I'm talking about Witz, not PG&E. Witz selectively chose a quote from PG&E to make his point. Heck, he didn't even choose a quote; he made a generalization of an off-the-cuff statement by Darbee. And Darbee only mentioned the off-the-cuff statement to promote their *solution*, which is to provide timers and off-peak rates to encourage people to charge their vehicle at off-peak times.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "he's just be realistic about his company's ability to serve those customers."

        ... in a *high penetration scenario*, *if and only if* people don't *primarily* charge off-peak -- something that there is a *really easy solution for* (time-of-use metering and a timer).

        "too many EVs charging at high voltages would bring down the grid. "

        No, they will absolutely not bring down "the grid". "The grid" can handle almost 90% of our vehicle traffic being EVs... except for some local neighborhood distribution infrastructure. Which can only handle a ~10-20% penetration scenario. Which is something nobody believes we'll be encountering any time soon.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It remains to be seen what the "normal mode" will be for charging PHEVs. I know if I had one, I personally would want to quick-charge it to minimize my need to buy gasoline.

        The reason why Darbee wants people to charge with timers and at off-peak times is obvious - it's the truth behind Witz's paraphrase - too many EVs charging at high voltages would bring down the grid. Darbee isn't trying to save his customers money, he's just be realistic about his company's ability to serve those customers.

      • 5 Years Ago
      In order to protect a battery pack from cell failure is to have replaceable modules. The battery management software should be able to tell when a cell is about to go bad or under performing. Software with good load balancing and an ultra capacitor cache should be able to extend pack life, but having replaceable modules would make it less of a hassle to fix a car with one bad cell.

      It would also be interesting to be able to buy a car with 50 mile range and be able to upgrade it to 100-150 later when battery prices come down.

      The great thing about EVs is that after you pay for the cost of the battery the fuel is pretty cheap compared to gas. This means that operating cost and vehicle efficiency directly impact the cost of the car at the time of purchase. This keeps manufacturers from ignoring fuel efficiency and helps buyers be more aware of a vehicles total cost of ownership.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Good report...one point about your early comments re projections of growth rates:
      "the gas-only share will decline to about 80 percent in 2012 and less than 75 percent by 2016. Part of the alternative-energy 25 percent will be 1.5 million gas-electric hybrids (about nine percent of projected total sales), including plug-ins."

      This is overstating the penetration rate because gas-electric hybrids are 100% fueled by gasoline, just more efficiently. They REDUCE petroleum use; in contrast, PHEVs and EVs DISPLACE petroleum with electricity. So ther rate of gas-only will not be that rapid. In fact, that's why at this conference CalCars.org promoted a strategy of large-scale conversion of gas-guzzlers as a way to get more rapid market penetration for plug-ins.

      -- Felix Kramer, Founder, The California Cars Initiative
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well what's the probability of a whole lot of customers plugging in at 240V all at the same time?

      They say take up of EV's is going to be slow, so there's more than enough time to deal with the issue.

      What I don't like is Chairmen making subjective, ill-thought out, scaremongering statements. When they should already know the extent of the problem and the solution.

      Typical anus that calls himself "talent" when bonus time comes around.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Charging an EV on 240V is about the same load as running an electric stove/oven, hot water heater (with the water running) and a big screen TV all at the same time.

      Just about everyone in the neighborhood actually does this all at the same time every Thanksgiving, and yet transformers blowing up on Thanksgiving day are very, very, rare.

      Now if all the above loads and a bunch of EVs are all going at the same time, then there could be some problems. The solution is quite easy. Time of day metering, with prices significantly cheaper after midnight. That way most of the EVs will be recharging when most of the stoves, water heaters and big screens are off.
        • 5 Years Ago
        That's what confused me. My house and my neighbors' houses -already- have a 220V circuit that gets used for various appliances, and power outages are currently rare.

        I can understand concerns with adding vehicle charging above the existing load, but surely a smart meter on the home that talked to a charger could look at current information from the utility, perhaps even build a schedule of a house's load over time (this clothes dryer usually runs at 10:00p.m.), and choose when to charge the car based on usage patterns. This seems to be a problem involving communication and scheduling as much as infrastructure load capacity.
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