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.
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.