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Why 2013 Will Be the Year of the Plug-In Electric Vehicle: 10 Expert Predictions


A new paper published by Pike Research lists reasons that next year will be a game-changer for electric cars and bikes, but not trucks.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL This year served as a litmus test for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), with critics asking the fundamental questions that will determine the future of PEV productions and use: Will there be any interest in buying electric cars? How will the issues around charging PEVs be resolved? Is production of PEVs cost-effective and sustainable? Early answers all point to "Yes," but with some definite caveats.

In its new paper published today, Pike Research has presented ten predictions for PEVs in 2013, including that the sales will outpace the first year's sales of hybrids, that electric bikes will begin to proliferate the market, and that Germany will lead the way for big PEV growth in Europe.

In 2013, Pike estimates that 210,000 PEVs will be sold around the world, with over 36 new models making debuts this year.

Here's a recap of the 10 predictions:

1. Capital investments will shift from vehicles to battery components.
PEV sales have been solid, but not high enough to satisfy many venture capitalists and private equity firms. A lack of funding will make it hard for smaller companies to stay in the market and avoid being acquired by larger firms. In this situation, chemical conglomerates like Dow Energy Materials (NYSE:DOW) and BASF (ETR:BAS) will continue investing heavily in the development of battery components. Research will continue in earnest for nano-scale components and activated carbon that could make PEVs more cost effective and marketable. These technologies will be touted and used to raise funds from venture capitalists.

2. A speedier and more integrated supply chain will put electric bikes on the map.
The number of brands offering electric bicycles will continue to grow as it has in recent years (major companies offering electric bicycles include Currie Technologies, Prodeco Technologies, and Pedego.) Because component suppliers are partnering with electric motor and battery manufacturers, it's beginning to take less time for an e-bike to come to market. Pike estimates that in 2013 North American sales of e-bikes will grow by 50% to 158,000 bikes, and worldwide sales will grow by 10% to 33.6 million units sold.

3. 48-volt batteries will put a charge in stop-start systems.
Because vehicle buyers will begin demanding more power, reliability, and innovative features such as the stop-start hybrid function (which engages the battery without the engine when the car is below a certain speed), the more traditional 12-volt battery will have less of a hold on the market. of In the early 2000s, the idea of standardizing 42-volt batteries was quickly dismissed because of costs that were far too high and unsustainable. But with those costs now significantly decreased, Pike expects several 48-volt batteries to be featured in new vehicle designs in 2013.

4. More than 3,400 fuel cell vehicles will hit the road.
A small minority of automakers have been investing in fuel cell technology; because of slower than anticipated PEV sales, they are reaffirming their commitment to commercializing cars that run on fuel cells. Pike projects that 3,442 fuel cell vehicles will ship in 2013 from Toyota (NYSE:TM), Daimler (PINK:DDAIF), Hyundai, and Honda (NYSE:HMC), though most of these vehicles will be used for public trials by fleets and other qualified commercial participants.

5. Battery swapping will give way to better financing.
The idea of battery swapping, pioneered by California transportation start-up Better Place, is meeting some considerable challenges. The service provides lower cost vehicles without batteries, and customer pay a subscription fee for access to battery swapping and recharging stations. The problem is that only one car manufacturer, France's Renault (EPA:RNO), has designed a vehicle to comply with Better Place technology. A more diversified Better Place is likely to emerge from these issues, but so is the general idea of separating the vehicle and battery costs in production. In 2013, more companies are likely to follow the lead of Renault and lease batteries separately. This will reduce upfront costs for car production, as well as the uncertainty of battery performance.

6. Germany will lead the PEV trend in Europe.
In 2013, German automakers will come to market with at least seven new electric models that will jumpstart sales throughout Europe. Volkswagen (PINK:VLKAY) will lead the way with two plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEVs) and two battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The company's Audi division will release two plug-in hybrids. BMW (ETR:BMW) will also unveil its new i3, a BEV. With all of these vehicles on the market, the Western European PEV market is expecting to grow to nearly 70,000 vehicles sold next year, with Germany obviously the continent's single largest market.

7. Coasting technology will push internal combustion engine vehicles closer to hybrids.
The aforementioned "stop-start technology" (see No. 3) is expected to expand to standard internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. In hybrids, such a system turns off the engine when the brake is depressed or the car slows to a stop. There is talk of bringing this system to ICEs to turn off the engine and immediately turn it back on when the car is moving again. Audi and BMW have done early research that found such a change could reduce fuel consumption by up to 10%. Problems still surround this system, though, as issues of liability are at play. (What happens if the engine is off and power brakes or steering are needed immediately?)

8. Slow-charging versus fast-charging debate will intensify.

There are different levels of charging rates for electric vehicles charging stations. Most stations built last year used faster Level 2 chargers (up to 7.2 kw of charge). Next year, however, may see more development in slower, Level 1 chargers as drivers learn how to most effectively use their electric cars. At the home or work place, for example, a car can charge for up to eight hours and therefore does not need the super quick charge times that, say, a 43 kw allows. Many people speculate that electric cars won't fully catch on until a system of high-speed recharge stations is in place. However, with more electric vehicle drivers learning how to charge with low kw outputs, maybe high speed recharge stations won't be so vital.

9. Europe will enable driving without borders.
Ideally there is a communications infrastructure for electric vehicle drivers that provides a guide to all available recharge stations and a seamless, simple payment system. Europe is on the way to realizing such a system; the goal is to have the billing and communications system operational by 2015 for travel across all of the European Union. The funding is coming from the EU's Green eMotion Project. Nothing like this is happening in the US, but if it works in Europe, it will definitely be considered.

10. The natural gas glut will temper interest in plug-in electric trucks.
Natural gas had a really good year, with shale gas reserves discovered across the world, and with hydraulic fracturing allowing relatively easy (but potentially very hazardous to the environment) access to them. This has resulted in increased interest in making trucks that run on natural gas (sales of natural gas trucks will grow more by more than 47,000 vehicles in 2013, Pike Research expects). However, there are actually fewer natural gas refill stations than there are electric recharge stations for plug-in electric trucks. That being said, natural gas will trump gasoline and diesel in both costs and emissions, so growth in vehicles and refill stations will grow in 2013.
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