Navigant Research Blog

2018: When EVs Will Change Everything

John Gartner — February 11, 2015

Disruptive technologies don’t appear overnight. They come in gradual iterations until refinements and related technologies evolve to a point when they become so overwhelmingly useful that they are viewed as a necessary replacement for what came before.

While plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) have come a long way since their introduction in the 1990s, they are not viewed by the general public as must-haves today, due to their higher prices and driving range limitations.  However, the next generation of PEVs, due to arrive in 3 years, will likely have a combination of features and prices that will convince most car buyers that driving a car with an internal combustion engine is a habit worth breaking.

Compare the development of PEVs to that of the smartphone. GM’s EV1 was the first significant PEV available in the 1990s, and its limitations in driving range and overall comfort prevented it and other PEVs of that era from catching on with consumers.

The evolution of smartphones can also be traced back to the early 1990s, when handheld personal digital assistants included an operating system with personal productivity features, and the first mobile phones that enabled talking (almost) anywhere became available. While these innovations quickly became popular with geeks and aficionados, they didn’t exactly capture a mass market.

10 Years After

Flash forward to 2009, and along came the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt, which took advantage of advances in battery technology, electric drive, display screens, navigation, and faster wireless communications to provide a driving experience that in most respects is superior to your father’s gas car. Most people have at least heard of a PEV by now, though PEV sales in the United States in 2014 were still less than 1% of all new light duty vehicles.

It similarly took more than a decade for personal digital assistants and mobile phones to converge, and for the then rudimentary technologies to be enhanced with better display screens and wireless connectivity, and new applications including texting, navigation, data sharing, and voice commands. For smart phones, the Blackberry, Windows smart phones, and then the iPhone became must-have devices that initially came with a high premium, but within a few years other manufacturers prompted competition that put this combination of features within reach of most consumers.

Tipping Point

That hasn’t happened yet with PEVs. But by 2018 we’ll have the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt, which will package new technologies and driving enhancements to further separate PEVs from the pack. Anticipation for the Model 3’s extended range and Model S-like performance has been building since it was first announced, in 2013. The Chevrolet Bolt concept, which was announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2015, promises similar or better range for a lower price.

GM has said that owners will be able to start the Bolt with a smartphone application, and that ride-sharing and self-parking features will be included with the vehicles. Some of these features may be available in conventional cars by that time, but with the Bolt (and likely other PEVs), you’ll get them all under one roof for around $30,000, along with  superior electric drive performance and the savings and convenience of driving on electricity.

As with Apple and Samsung in the mobile device sector, Tesla and GM aspire to be the agents of change, and for now we can only guess at the electric alternatives that Nissan, Ford, Volkswagen/Audi, BMW, and Daimler will have at dealerships in 2018. Like smartphones, PEVs have certainly had their shares of missteps in their march toward ubiquity, but as Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.”

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