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What’s holding Electric Vehicles back?

By Rémy Pothet, TNS Global Automotive Practice Head  From Gasgoo.comJanuary 31, 2013

At the peak of the global economic and automotive industry crisis, when new car registrations in mature markets slumped, Electric Vehicles (EV), alongside plug-in hybrids, were hailed the miraculous solution which could fundamentally change and therefore save the global automotive industry. As such it was thought that millions of consumers in highly populated fast growing markets could continue to become car owners without damaging the planet.

Energy efficiency, zero emissions, noise reduction & congestion relief aren't enough

New EV car registrations worldwide are expected to grow significantly, even if manufacturer predictions of market share in 2020 are surprisingly different: from a conservative forecast of 2% on one side, to an optimistic 10% on the other. This makes quite a difference given the scale of the market, we're talking about a difference of around 5-6 million vehicles here…

But either way, it seems that promises of energy efficiency, zero emissions, noise reduction and congestion relief aren't enough to conquer consumers' hearts and minds.

5 years on, what's holding EV's back?

I see three key obstacles. Firstly, the lack of public awareness and a limited range of EV's for consumers to choose from, secondly high prices – despite financial incentives schemes introduced by many governments. Finally the insufficient infrastructure to support a "revolution" is a major obstacle: few charging stations, no standardisation of batteries or connections, limited vehicle autonomy, long charging times… As a result there is no long term visibility of where EV's are heading, which translates into a rather unconvincing offer for consumers to "Go Electric".

Don't get me wrong, progress has been made. Nearly all OEM's have an EV in their range. Electric car-sharing schemes have been introduced in major cities like London and Paris. Tesla's Model S has won numerous awards and Venturi has achieved a world-record-breaking "Shanghai to Paris" challenge in an electric vehicle.

Our relationship to cars may change. Owning a car in a large city may become "so last century".

But what else needs to change? It's not just a question of changing the type of motorisation. To achieve a large-scale breakthrough we should look beyond product to the bigger picture of consumer mobility and purchasing behaviour. Our relationship to cars may also change – ownership is still key to our relationship with conventional vehicles; less so with electric ones. Car ownership in major cities is decreasing as people turn their backs on traffic jams, lack of parking, and the financial burden of owning a car. The youth segment is increasingly disillusioned by the automotive industry. They are exploring alternative solutions: car sharing, journey sharing, renting from car owners in their community, or simply using taxis or public transport instead. Maybe one day owning a car in a large city will become "so last century"!

We need some disruptive innovation!

Maybe we don't have all the answers within the Automotive industry. In which case we should look further afield to other industries for inspiration and innovative solutions. Are there opportunities for strategic partnerships with innovative players from other sectors – energy, IT or digital for instance? Some "disruptive innovation" via a strategic partnership of innovative players could put the EV breakthrough back on the map. In the same way Apple has changed our way of consuming music, and the lifestyle changes brought about by the launch of Smartphones, electric vehicles have the potential to change our way of getting from A-B. The perks of free parking and use of bus and taxi lanes certainly sound like a tempting alternative to idling in traffic with conventional vehicles or circling to find a parking space!

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