Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Musings On The Electric Vehicle Story


May 28, 2014: three news items --
First: GM with a 2-year supply of the new Cadillac ELR. The graphic at the site is quite incredible. And worrisome, I suppose for GM.

Second: Tesla's debt is now junk-bond status.
Third: In April, 2014: Nissan Leaf widens lead over Chevy Volt.

August 26, 2013: Tesla outselling Porsche, Jaguar, Buick, and Ford Lincoln in California.

August 9, 2013:  read the post below if you have not yet read it, and then go to the post on the Chinese luxury car market.
Original Post

Some random data points:
  • there are hybrids (Chevy Volt/Nissan Leaf/Toyota Prius/Honda Insight) and there are all-electric vehicles (Tesla Model S)
  • BWM says they will introduce an all-electric vehicle in 2014 (unveiled in 2013)
  • GM says they will introduce a Cadillac plug-in hybrid in early 2014 (unveiled in 2014)
  • hybrids Volt and Leaf are running $40,000, though manufacturers are bringing prices down, and tax incentives bring prices down
  • the Tesla is in the $80,000 range
  • BMW will be in the $40,000 range
  • GM's hybrid Cadillac: about $60,000
  • on a full electric charge, the Volt will get 38 miles, but with gasoline engine, range is 380 miles
  • BMW range: 80 - 100 miles; an additional 2-cylinder generator can increase the range to 180 miles
  • Tesla Model S range: 265 miles 
  • The Model S ranked as the top selling plug-in electric car in North America during the first quarter of 2013 with 4,900 cars sold, ahead of the Chevrolet Volt (4,421) and the Nissan Leaf  (3,695)
  • The Tesla, Volt, Cadillac, and BWM are (will be) all about the same size
  • These are not inexpensive cars. In fact, they are downright expensive, and studies have shown that even at $5.00/gallon, these cars are unlikely to save money vis-a-vis conventional, gasoline-powered automobiles. 
  • They are small cars, not particularly suited to a growing family with two toddlers, car seats, and all the accompanying paraphernalia toddlers require.
  • The range is ridiculous. A range of 265 miles is fine, except one needs to know where an electric "fueling" station is when going on a road trip. In reality: anyone who buys an all-electric vehicle in 2014 will be charging their automobile at home, overnight. Period. Dot. These are not for long-distance road trips. 
  • The hybrids are fine for long-distance road trips, but by switching to the gasoline engine after 38 miles, one has defeated the purpose of an electric car in the first place. By the way, the all-electric range for the Prius is 14 miles.
So, some predictions, perhaps:
  • I almost want to say the hybrids are dead, with one possible exception: the Toyota Prius. But there may be a niche for hybrids. I think one can safely assume the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf will not be around much longer without major changes (more on that later).
  • The all-electric cars will surprise everyone and will become runaway success stories. Car manufacturers are going to make a ton of money on them (margins will surprise investors). 
  • Only the very, very well-to-do will be able to afford all-electric vehicles: a) they will be significantly more expensive than comparable conventional gasoline-powered vehicles; b) they will be the second, third, or fourth car for the buyer.
  • These will not be cars used for road trips or family vacations. These will become luxury cars driven by professionals to work and back, recharging at home in the evening, and pretty much in the larger metropolitan areas. I see the average owner of the Tesla or the Cadillac ELR to already own a luxury gasoline-powered automobile like a Mercedes, or BMW and a Toyota Prius. The Tesla/Cadillac ELR will be the third car and will be the car driven back and forth to work. The Mercedes or BMW will be driven on weekends and for the road trips; and the Prius will be driven by the soccer-mom/spouse.
  • I don't know what their pulling power will be but the other possible exception might be pick-up trucks at the high end. It is surprising the amount of money middle-income, young/middle-age men will spend on a pick-up truck and over time, pick-up trucks have started to resemble luxury vehicles on the inside. Do electric pick-up trucks even exist? I don't know but a google search will answer that question.
  • In hindsight, GM might have made a mistake marketing a high-priced Chevy Volt to a demographic that could not afford it in the first place. One wonders if Tesla had it right all along: targeting the high-end middle class and the very well-to-do. Everything I have heard is that folks who own a Volt love it. But they can't afford it and it doesn't make sense when a full charge has a maximum range of 38 miles and then it's a standard gasoline-powered car.
  • But an all-EV luxury automobile/pick-up that sells in the same range as a luxury gasoline-powered automobile/pick-up truck could be a surprising success. I think GM's mistake was going after the crowd that couldn't afford an EV in the first place.
By the way, what probably irritates the well-to-do more than anything about their cars? Maintenance. Gasoline-powered cars are taken in every 3,000 miles for an oil change (even though not required). My understanding is that all-electric EVs need almost no maintenance whatsoever. When a lawyer, a physician, or a wealthy business owner gets a few hours off on Saturday afternoon, he/she is not interested in getting the car's oil changed. Scheduling maintenance during the week is a hassle.  That alone might be an incentive enough to purchase an all-electric EV as a second, third, or fourth car to be used for the daily commute.

People will probably laugh at thoughts of a third or fourth car, but there is a surprising amount of money being accumulated in this country, and I'm seeing more and more McMansions with three-car garages.

Oh, I forgot. I mentioned that the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf may not be around much longer. Certainly not the Chevy Volt; possibly the Nissan Leaf will find a niche. But when it was announced that there were minimal changes to the 2014 Chevy Volt and that GM was introducing the Cadillac ELR, that told me that GM had moved its engineers from the Volt to the Cadillac. The Volt will gradually fade away, and the Cadillac will be GM's flagship EV.

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