Navigant Research Blog

For EV Makers, Selling Cars Is Just the Start

John Gartner — October 11, 2013

Automakers put thinking outside the chassis at the top of their agendas for the Plug-In 2013 conference, held in early October in San Diego, California.  Because of the lack of moving electric vehicle parts that need routine maintenance or replacement (there are no belts to replace or oil changes required and fewer brake pad changes), the entities formerly known as car companies are developing alternative revenue streams beyond selling cars, and grid services were a hot topic of discussion at this year’s annual electric vehicle (EV) confab.

General Motors’ OnStar subsidiary, which focuses on vehicle communications and safety services, is laying the foundation for multiple services that support the power grid.  OnStar’s data centers will track vehicle locations and charging so that the company can participate in demand response (DR) programs, in which power consumers volunteer to reduce power consumption during time of peak power demand.  While some fleets may incorporate their EVs into their own DR programs, OnStar believes it can get a slice of the more than $700 million DR pie by slowing down or stopping the charging of the Chevrolet Volts and Spark EVs (with customer approval, of course).  How EV drivers will be compensated by OnStar is as yet undetermined, but OnStar as an energy aggregator middleman, which in the future could include grid regulation services, is a new twist for the telematics company.  OnStar has a cloud platform for analyzing vehicle data (Advanced Telematics Operating System, or ATOMS), and has been working with partners to study using EVs to offset variable renewable power production.

Right Size, Right Stuff

General Motors and Chrysler are playing leading roles, as part of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), in  developing the communications standards to enable EVs to help out the grid.  Both companies will adopt the OpenADR (automated demand response) standard.  Utilities will send signals to the automakers, which will determine which vehicles are available for DR and pass the request to the charging equipment or to the vehicles through telematics systems.  This will expand automakers’ relationships with motorists and utilities, and could provide a reliable stream of revenue from vehicles post-sale.

Other Plug-In developments:

  • Billy Hayes, vice president of Nissan, told attendees that the company will different-size its EVs by offering a modified version of the Renault Twizy in the United States and Japan in the near future.  EVs are great for Nissan because the company draws converts into its dealerships – 90% of LEAF buyers had last purchased a car from a competitor.
  • BMW has added carsharing to it services.  The DriveNow program now includes more than 100,000 members in its five cities (San Francisco, plus four cities in Germany).  BMW’s Rich Steinberg said that the extended-range version of the i3, which includes a small gas engine, will be added to its carsharing fleet.  Carsharing, whether with EVs or gasoline cars, is another avenue that automakers, including Daimler, are using to diversify revenue streams.
  • Ford, which continues to offer home energy services so that Ford owners can manage their energy consumption, touted its diversified offerings.  Tesla Motors, which prides itself in going it alone, was a no-show.

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