Navigant Research Blog

Buy a Car, Get a Solar Array

— July 29, 2014

BMW Canada is betting that EV drivers want to further reduce their carbon footprint by going solar.  The company’s new electric i3 comes with an added purchase incentive for Canadians: a 10% discount on a home solar system (only available in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia).  BMW partnered with Toronto-based Pure Energies Group, which will provide the solar home evaluations, panel installation, and relevant paperwork.

BMW Canada e-Mobility Specialist, Blair Dinsdale, stated in a press release that the solar energy offer “was designed to cover the exact amount of power you would use in the car, based on sun access in Canada.” According to Pure Energies Group, a 6 kilowatt (kW) system (24 panels) in Canada produces roughly 7,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the BMW i3 gets an estimated 100 miles of range per 27 kWh of electricity.  Thus, with a 6 kW solar system, a homeowner could drive the i3 nearly 26,000 miles per year, exclusively on home-produced solar energy.

A Literal Sunroof

A February 2014 survey conducted by the Center for Sustainable Energy in California found that 32% of EV owners in the Western U.S. already have solar panels on their homes.  While parts of Canada do not enjoy abundant sunshine, the province of Ontario does offer a feed-in tariff program to help offset the lack of year-round solar energy.

While combining solar with EVs is not new, the move by BMW to offer direct discounts on a home solar system is a first for the industry, and a smart one.  According to Navigant Research’s 2013 Energy & Environment Consumer Survey, 79% of Americans have an overall positive impression of solar energy and 61% share the same impressions for EVs.  While not all consumers of EVs purchase the vehicle for environmental reasons, the ones who do place great importance on where the electricity to power the car comes from.  And, as you’d expect, EV owners align very closely with solar buyers from a demographic perspective.

Combining solar with EVs makes so much sense that several automakers are now showing prototype EVs with solar panels directly integrated onto the roof of the vehicle.  The Ford C-Max Solar Energi and the Sunswift eVe have built-in rooftop panels.  If BMW’s approach proves successful, we could see Tesla and SolarCity creating similar offers in the future.  For more information on solar and EV synergy, check out Navigant Research’s research brief, Solar and Electric Vehicle Cross-Marketing Strategies.

 

The Humblest, Most Popular EV on the Planet

— July 15, 2014

Neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) are a less famous sub-segment of the more familiar class of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), such as the Nissan LEAF.  NEVs are low-speed EVs that are limited to a top speed of 25 mph and to roads that have maximum speed limits of 35 mph; they usually take the form of golf-cart-style vehicles.  Although they get less attention, and advertising, than their larger, faster cousins, NEVs are the most popular type of EVs in use worldwide.  Fleets, including airports, local governments, university campuses, retirement communities, and the military, are the principal users of the technology.  Navigant Research estimates that fleets account for at least 75% of the global NEV marketplace.

 

 (Source: GEM)

The primary market driver for NEVs is the low production cost and purchase price of the vehicle.  Most NEVs are priced between $8,000 and $14,000, compared to $28,980 for a full-sized BEV like the Nissan LEAF (excluding incentives).  The operating costs of NEVs are also very low, since they use electricity to charge batteries that are typically much smaller than those found in BEVs.

Half a Million Strong

While NEVs are affordable, and particularly convenient in fleet applications, they have their flaws.  Being limited to streets with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph is enough to deter the majority of private consumers, who expect full access to all roads.  Combined with poor performance in snow and cold weather, safety concerns (NEVs usually have less safety equipment than full-speed vehicles), and short battery ranges (25-30 miles per charge), the market for NEVs will remain with niche fleets for the foreseeable future.  Nonetheless, this has proved successful, as significantly more NEVs are in use worldwide than BEVs.  Navigant Research estimates that globally 229,166 light duty BEVs were in use by the end of 2013, less than half the number of NEVs, at 542,134.

As battery prices come down and gasoline prices continue to rise, NEVs will likely increase their market share within fleet applications.  Meanwhile, some companies are also looking into using NEVs for carsharing programs.  In this scenario, the vehicles would be used mostly for connecting travel purposes – from homes to public transit stations, for example, or from stations to offices.  Additionally, NEVs are also considered to be the frontrunners for autonomous vehicle technologies – mainly because low-speed EVs are safer and more suitable than full-sized vehicles for testing these experimental technologies.

 

Japan Doubles Down on Fuel Cell Vehicles

— July 13, 2014

Two recent announcements out of Japan have dramatically cut the price that Japanese drivers will pay for a fuel cell car.  Toyota unveiled its completed design for the fuel cell vehicle (FCV) it will put on the market in 2015.  More importantly, the company revealed the price would be around ¥7 million, or $70,000.  This is a big drop from the $100,000 price tag floated, alarmingly, a few years ago.

A day earlier, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe called for subsidies of FCVs beginning next year.  A part of the government’s economic growth strategy, these incentives reflect the hydrogen energy roadmap adopted by Japan’s trade ministry.

As described in my Fuel Cell Vehicles report, I’ve long said that the two impediments to fuel cell cars taking hold in the market are cost and infrastructure.  Automakers like Honda and Daimler have already shown that the technology works, resolving early issues such as cold-start capability.  FCVs will also deliver on the key performance characteristics that make them intriguing, as compared to battery electric vehicles: range and refueling.  The Toyota FCV will have a 420-mile range and refuel in 3 minutes.

The Post-Fukushima Strategy

For longtime fuel cell technology followers, I am stating the obvious.  The potential benefits of fuel cells in transportation have been well-understood for years.  Honda, General Motors (GM), Daimler, Hyundai, and Toyota have all shown they can make cars that meet those performance targets.  Nevertheless, in the U.S. media, the perception persists that fuel cells were made obsolete by the successful introduction of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs).  In Navigant Research’s recent white paper, The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Industries: 10 Trends to Watch, I noted that the U.S. media would continue to tie these two technologies together – and would misunderstand the rationale for pursuing them both.  Sure enough, this article asserts that the Japanese government’s goal is to crush Tesla.

Not quite.  The Japanese government’s plan is to promote technologies and fuels that will help ensure the country never has another experience like the Fukushima disaster in 2011.  The Japanese government also wants to grow the economy by supporting domestic industries.

The Market Will Decide

To take a phrase from President Obama, Japan has taken an “all of the above” approach in pursuing these two goals.  Nissan and Toyota have done well in the PEV market.  But fuel cells offer an alternative for consumers who may find that a plug-in car doesn’t meet their driving needs.

Japan has also made a huge commitment to fuel cells that provide residential power.  The country’s residential fuel cell program has supported the deployment of over 42,000 combined heat and power (CHP) fuel cells in Japan.  Manufactured by Toshiba, Panasonic, and Eneos Celltech, these residential units are sold through gas companies like Tokyo Gas.  After Fukushima, when the plant’s backup diesel generators were rendered useless and employees scavenged car batteries to power monitoring equipment, the Japanese government set a requirement that the fuel cells be capable of starting up when the power is off.  While these fuel cells employ a different technology from automotive fuel cells, the CHP program demonstrates both Japan’s commitment to pursuing whatever technology the country believes will support its energy resiliency (utilizing domestic expertise) and its willingness to support that technology in its early market introduction.

Japan has already committed to building 100 hydrogen fueling stations in key metro areas.  The country’s energy companies are partnering in that effort.  Note that the Japanese government is also supporting the automaker deployment of 12,000 charging stations in Japan.  Again, it’s not an either/or prospect for Japan.  The announcement on the FCV subsidies will put the cars at a price point where they might have a chance in the market.  If the infrastructure is in place to make fueling reasonably convenient, then it will be up to consumers to decide whether FCVs will succeed in the market or not.  Success will be measured over many years, not in 18 months.

 

Automakers Go for MPG Records

— July 10, 2014

Automakers have had some poor publicity recently, with safety recalls and financial penalties imposed for exaggerating fuel efficiency performance.  In the United States, Ford was forced to apologize and offer customers compensation when its vehicles did not deliver the promised number of miles per gallon.  Honda and Hyundai suffered a similar fate in 2012 in the United States, and Hyundai and Ssangyong have also recently incurred the wrath of legislators in their home country of South Korea.

Fuel economy has risen to the top of the list of factors that influence new car purchases, even in North America, where historically cheaper fuel has made miles per gallon a low priority for consumers, until recently.  Thus, many manufacturers have shifted their marketing emphasis from 0-to-60 miles per hour (mph) times to average miles per gallon (mpg) under standardized testing.

Taking the Long Way

The big problem with standardized tests is they don’t represent anyone’s actual driving, so the prospect of achieving the stated figures is unlikely.   Most people have bad driving habits (from a fuel economy perspective), such as hard acceleration and braking, driving with under-inflated tires, and carrying excess weight around without realizing that all of these factors affect how much fuel is used.   Others make it their life’s work to squeeze the most miles from a gallon of fuel, and there are competitions for those who want to be the best.

Mercedes periodically attempts long-distance driving feats with its production cars.  In July 2005, three standard Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDI cars drove from Laredo, Texas on the Mexican border to Tallahassee, Florida, covering 1,039 miles on a single tank (80 liters/21.1 gallons) of fuel.  This was part of Daimler’s introduction of diesel vehicles to the U.S. market.  In 2012, a Volkswagen Passat TDI made it 1,626 miles from Houston, Texas to Sterling, Virginia, again on a single tank of fuel.

Out of Africa

Now, a Mercedes-Benz E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID has driven the 1,223 miles from Tangier, in Northern Africa, to the United Kingdom in 27 hours, arriving at the Goodwood Festival of Speed with an estimated 100 miles of range still available.  The BlueTEC averaged 73.6 mpg on the journey.  This type of demonstration shows what can be accomplished in a production vehicle in driving conditions that included heavy rain, intense heat, rush hour traffic jams, and significant elevation changes.

This sort of feat is one of the biggest challenges facing electric vehicle sales.  Although few people would actually want to tackle a journey of over 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel, many people are happy that their vehicles can do that, just in case.  And few would want to undertake such a journey where they have to stop every 100 miles to recharge for a couple of hours, even if there was a network of charging stations in place.

 

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