Is EV movement running flat?
NOT THE FLAVOUR OF THE MONTH: Ford's Focus Electric is among the EVs on sale in the US that have not found favour with car buyers.
WASHINGTON, US - A123 Systems Inc., an electric-car battery company in Michigan,in the US, filed for bankruptcy on October 16, 2012. It has, the Detroit News reported, lost $900-million since 2007 as the promised electric car rush failed to gain traction.
Fuel prices in the US remain high but battery-car makers are struggling to convince Americans to buy cars that remain more expensive the petrol-powered cars, despite large government tax credits.
Ford won R5.9-billion in US government loans in 2009 to build fuel-efficient vehicles. The Focus Electric is one but only 228 were sold to September 2012. The Focus Electric will only be sold at 70 dealers in three states, though there are plans to expand to other sites in 2013.
Similarly, Nissan won $1.4 billion in government loans to build electric vehicles and batteries, but is expected to fall far short of its goal of selling 20 000 electric Leafs in the US in 2012. Andy Palmer, Nissan's executive vice-president for product planning, said: "The uptake isn't as strong as we first hoped. We see this as a marathon, not a sprint."
Palmer added that Nissan was, however, not giving up on its plan to double battery vehicle sales. It has sold 5212 Leafs since the start of 2012 though there is now litigation in the US over alleged misrepresentative claims on the vehicle's range.
Chrysler, which received nearly $60-million in government grants to develop more than 100 hybrid bakkies and MPVs, in September 2012 pulled all the vehicles after three overheated. Chrysler will install new batteries before it decides how many it will sell.
Also showing strain, Toyota – the leader in hybrid sales with its Prius – announced in September 2012 that it would not sell a new electric minicar worldwide after earlier plans to sell its EQ. The car will now be available in limited numbers in the US and Japan.
Another problem that has been identified is the limited availability of recharging stations. Plug-in hybrids, such as Chevrolet’s Volt, have a back-up petrol engine and these battery-electric hybrids appear to be doing better in the marketplace, the Detroit News added.
However John Voelcker, editor of GreenCarReports.com, said it was important to keep the problems in perspective. He told the DetNews these problems were "predictable bumps in the road in the very, very early stages of what will be a long and inevitable evolution to electrified vehicles".
"Major powertrain changes for the global auto industry — think, for instance, automatic transmissions or fuel-injection — usually take a couple of decades to work their way through the system," he said. "Similarly, electric drivetrains — from hybrids through to plug-in hybrids and battery vehicles — will take a decade or more to reach even noticeable volumes."
Turnaround specialist Jim McTevia disagreed: he said the battery car business was in trouble. "Electric vehicles and batteries are a tad premature. I think it's going to be a long time before enough of the public is comfortable where there is sufficient demand."
A mandate by California to require major automakers to sell zero-emission vehicles will help prod automakers to keep rolling out the cars – the state expects to have 500 000 zero-emission vehicles on its roads by 2025.
GM has reported strong sales of the Volt – 16 348 to Septem ber 2012 and three times what it sold in the same period in 2011.
GM has offered hefty incentives on the Volt, which has helped boost sales, while Nissan has recently begun offering some incentives on the Leaf.
GM also recently announced it is investing $35-million to build a Cadillac version of its plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant from late in 2013 for sale in 2014.