Navigant Research Blog

E-Trucks and Chargers Headline 2013 Plug-In Show

Lisa Jerram — October 17, 2013

The Plug-In 2013 show in San Diego highlighted some key trends in the plug-in vehicle (PEV) and PEV charging markets.  In addition to the issues of interoperability and payment systems, below is a round-up of some themes that emerged this year.

Hybrid and Electric Trucks Make a Push

Electrified trucks had a big presence, literally, in the exhibit hall.  Boulder Electric Vehicle, Odyne, and VIA Motors all displayed their latest electric truck technology.  The positive impression from their presence belied the actual state of the electrified truck market, which is still in its earliest stage.  In the United States, hybrid electric trucks are facing stiff competition from natural gas, thanks to the low cost of gas and the high price premium of hybrids.  Odyne and VIA each announced new government funding awards, with VIA’s including emissions and fuel economy testing.  These awards will help demonstrate whether there is sufficient return on investment for plug-in technology in the truck market.

EV Charging Industry Slims Down

There were some noteworthy absences from this event, providing evidence of EV charging industry consolidation.  The two absences that loomed largest were Better Place and ECOtality, both of which have declared bankruptcy.  Many conference participants are worried about the effect the failure of these two companies could have on the industry by creating a perception that these investments – both from the government and the private sector – were wasted.  The Better Place and ECOtality experiences are really quite different.  Better Place failed because of a very risky technology concept.  ECOtality promoted a conventional charging solution but suffered from a poor business case.  That said, what they do have in common is they could have a chilling effect on private investors’ enthusiasm for funding startups in this sector.

PEV Choice Expands Dramatically

The strong automaker presence at the show highlights the proliferation of PEV models available or coming to market in North America through 2014.  Both Nissan and Chevrolet had a major presence, with Nissan touting its MY2013 LEAF and its larger onboard battery charger.  The exhibit hall also featured PEVs from Ford, BMW, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Toyota.  Based on my conversations, the BMW i3 generated the most buzz, followed perhaps by the Chevrolet Spark.  Those are also two of the first PEVs to be compatible with the new SAE combo fast charger plug.  Navigant Research’s report Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment projects that DC charger sales will rise rapidly in North America after 2014, as more SAE-compatible cars are  on the road.

Annual DC EVSE Unit Sales by Country, North America: 2013-2022

(Source: Navigant Research)

DC Charging Comes to the Fore

There was a surprising level of comity around the DC charging market, given that the market is still grappling with the dueling standards issue.  In the DC charging panel, Nissan’s Brendan Jones and BMW’s Cliff Fietzek each touted the importance of fast charging as part of the total charging puzzle for their customers.  They agreed that the first priority is putting DC chargers within the community to serve customers who need an emergency charge or simply want to extend their daily range.  They also agreed that using DC charging to create intercity electric highways is not a high priority right now.  Interestingly, although Nissan has backed the CHAdeMO plug, Jones sounded supportive of all standards and did not seek to argue against the SAE standard.  Fietzek argued that the combo plug is easier for the EV driver and lighter for the vehicle.

There is increased interest in lower power DC chargers and whether they may be more commercially viable than 50 kW chargers.  The major advantage of these chargers is the lower price tag.  They also can help charging installation hosts avoid demand charges, a serious cost issue that could hinder the DC charging market.  Interestingly, the DC charging panel did not necessarily see higher power AC charging as a viable alternative to the DC charging market, at least not in the United States.  Fietzek noted that the OEMs would rather remove weight and cost from the vehicle not add to it by putting on ever higher power chargers.  As a result, the United States may not see a push for ever higher power AC charging as parts of Europe have.

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