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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Could an "iCar" boost the electric vehicle market?

Automakers need to learn a lesson from the world of consumer electronics and create an "iCar" with mass customer appeal if electric cars are to truly take off.

That is the view of around 100 industry experts polled by financial services firm Ernst & Young on the global challenges and opportunities facing today's electric vehicle (EV) market.

In a report published last week, the participants in Beijing, Detroit and Bonn recognise EVs are "moving into the fast lane", driving alliances between manufacturers and utilities, the rollout of recharging networks, and the creation of a dedicated supply chain.

In addition, high volume models such as the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt are already on the roads, while manufacturers have a pipeline of nearly 30 announced EV models to come by 2016.

However, industry insiders also identified significant risks, including high model prices, conflicting charger standards, gaps in charging infrastructure, and the public perception that EVs will struggle to meet their needs.

Many of the problems can be alleviated as technology improves and investment increases, the report says.

Although it adds that clearer subsidy systems, work to develop common standards, innovative business models, such as battery leasing or car-sharing schemes, and an increase in the numbers of cars available will also prove crucial.

The report also notes that electrifying transport brings cars "one step closer to being a consumer appliance", and says manufacturers who maximise that link could improve sales.
"Marry EV technology with compelling industrial design and a revolutionary interface to create a vehicle with mass consumer appeal – call it an 'iCar'," the report suggests. "Consumers are willing to pay more for cool and will become evangelists for cool products."

Gil Forer, Ernst & Young's global cleantech leader, forecast that EV numbers would rise "significantly" over the next four years if manufacturers could take the recommendations on board.

"Companies across the spectrum are working overtime and partnering to embrace the EV opportunity and overcome deployment challenges. But the dress rehearsal is over," he said. "Hard work and cross-sectoral cooperation are required to build an enduring EV industry and to ensure a positive total customer experience."

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