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Nuke power need for electric cars

2013-05-13 13:38

FINANCE WOES HURT FISKER: Fisker announced it will lay off 75% of its staff due to financial woes. Electric cars may not take off in the near future but analysts are predicting a spike in global hybrid sales.

WASHINGTON, USA – Lay-offs, financial woes and low demand... the road ahead looks bumpy for electric cars.

An automotive analyst echoes what we at Wheels24 have been saying for years about electric cars: there's inadequate infrastructure to provide for electric cars, not to mention the strain they would take on local power grids.

You would, need to build extra nuclear powerplants to cater for recharging should electric cars reach levels of demand comparible with conventional fossil-fueled rides.

Coda Automotive, one of what was a promising crop of electric automakers, filed for bankruptcy protection in May 2013 and said it would focus on the electric storage market.

Electric automaker Fisker Automotive, which has had financial woe for months, is laying off 75% of its workers, raising the prospect of defaulting on US government loans.


Electric cars are still heading for sale from luxury maker Tesla and from major automakers such as General Motors and Nissan. Analysts are divided on the outlook but few believe US president Barack Obama's goal of a million electric cars on US roads by 2015 will be scored.

Rebecca Lindland, analyst with Rebel Three Media and member of a National Academy of Sciences committee studying barriers to electric cars, said: "It's not like people are clamouring for these vehicles. Americans just don't see how an electric car can fit into their lifestyle. We continue to be risk-averse in investing in new technology in our cars."

Mike van Nieuwkuyk of JD Power said more people were aware of electric cars "but there’s still a low number who say they would buy an electric car".

A report by Power and partner LMC Automotive found battery-powered vehicles' share of US auto sales was only 0.08% in 2012 and predicted it would reach only 0.47% by 2015. Only about 3% in the survey said their next vehicle would likely have a battery-electric powertrain.

Nieuwkuyk said consumers were held back by a lack of plug-in charging stations, concerns about vehicle range and especially the high cost.

At the same time, the analyst said, petrol-powered cars "are improving enough to meet the needs of the consumer" without the price of electric cars.


Jason Kavanagh, engineering editor at the research firm edmunds.com said recent surveys suggested battery-only electric vehicles were unlikely to get past 1% of the US market, even by 2040. The lack of range and long recharging times were key factors.

Kavanagh said: "Sitting around for eight hours waiting for your (Nissan) Leaf to charge up is not exactly a selling point. EV's have a sitting-on-your-ass factor that conventional cars do not."

More important, said Kavanagh, was that the US power grid could not support large numbers of electric vehicles which need constant charging.

He said: "You would need a multitude of small nuclear power stations to support that recharging."

Chevrolet cut production of its Volt in 2012 because of low demand and was reported to be working on a less-expensive version. Toyota and Honda also scaled back plans for all-electric vehicles for the US market and Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne said recently the company stood to lose the rand equivalent of R91 500 on every battery-powered Fiat 500 it sold in California.

There were a few bright spots, however. Tesla Motors posted its first quarterly profit, of R100-million in the first quarter, as revenues rose 83% from the prior quarter. The company is banking on its Model S, which sells for upwards of R548 000, by offering special loan and leasing deals with a guaranteed resale price.

Nissan has boosted sales of its all-electric Leaf to more than 5000 in the first quarter, overtaking the Chevrolet Volt, which had seen sales sputter.


Brett Smith, analyst at the University of Michigan's Centr for Automotive Research, said he was not surprised by the slow progress in the electric car market. "There was an enormous electric vehicle hype. In a way that was good because it helped push the technology."

Smith said it was clear that battery-powered cars "are not a near-term mainstream product" but he still believed in the value of the technology. "There is a pretty good chance something positive will come out of this. Whether or not we get a cost-competitive electric vehicle in the next 10 years, the good news is there is lot of development which crosses over to other vehicles."

Kavanagh said the beneficiary of the trend would likely be hybrids - petrol and battery power - that charged while moving.

"We're going to see a big jump in hybrids which can take advantage of the infrastructure we have," he said.

Kavanagh said he expected hybrids to become more attractive in coming years "because they will become more capable in range and more cost-effective".

Read more on:    motor  |  tesla  |  electric  |  hybrid  |  ride  |  power  |  car

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