The rapid growth of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales in the last 4 years has slowed in the United States as of late. Low gasoline and diesel prices have likely had an effect, but more likely, the slowdown is coming from a lag between the introduction of next-generation models and the clearing of first-generation inventories. Notably, second-generation PEV development is focused on significant range increases at lower costs, which will greatly impact the PEV market as well as create interesting implications for infrastructure developers and electricity providers.
The most near-term second-generation introduction is the Chevrolet Volt, which is slated to enter production in August. Besides the significant redesign of the vehicle body, the Volt’s all-electric range has been extended by 12 miles and the price starts around $34,000. This is $7,000 less than the original 2011 Volt. Further afield, Nissan has announced its intention to increase range of the next-generation LEAF beyond 200 miles. The second-generation LEAF is not likely to be introduced for quite some time, however, it is rumored that some of the battery technology designed to achieve this 200-plus mile range will feed into the 2016 LEAF, assisting that vehicle in breaking the 100-plus mile all-electric range mark.
When the second-generation LEAF is finally introduced, it won’t be alone. 200-plus mile all-electric range introductions are expected from Tesla and Chevrolet at price points from $30,000-$40,000. Similarly, some premium brands, specifically Audi, are likely to introduce 200-plus all-electric range vehicles to compete against Tesla’s large sedan and SUV platforms. The introduction of these vehicles makes all-electric drive a more viable option for a larger population. However, it also drastically changes things for electric vehicle service providers by increasing demand on a per-vehicle basis and expanding that demand to intra-city locations.
Longer Range = More Use
Most battery electric vehicles (BEVs), aside from the Model S (which already has a 200-plus mile range), are acquired as the second vehicle in households with two or more vehicles, and use is limited by vehicle range. Initial studies on average annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for BEVs have indicated that these limited-range BEVs travel around 9,650 miles a year. Meanwhile, light duty vehicles average around 11,250 miles.
However, for the Model S, average annual VMT is higher than for the average BEV. Last month, Tesla was the first automaker to announce that drivers of the Model S have surpassed 1 billion all-electric miles, with 68% of those miles being driven in North America. This equates to roughly 13,200 miles per Model S sold in the United States and Canada through May 2015. Given estimates on Tesla’s U.S. monthly sales, the average Model S has been in service for over 1.3 years. This means average annual mileage is around 10,400 (or 7% more than other BEVs).
Granted, Model S owners have great incentives to drive often, as the Supercharger network makes long-distance travel fuel costs free. Yet, these drivers also have the benefit of a vehicle that can get them to the network stations. Soon enough, owners of non-Tesla’s will, too, and these vehicles will need their own networks.