2020 electric vehicle targets – fantasy or reality?
Is the Government’s goal of achieving 10% electric vehicle usage or 230,000 vehicles by 2020 achievable? Let’s start by looking at recent purchasing patterns, then we’ll consider both the benefits and barriers inhibiting the transition to electric power, before considering what the future holds in store.
First, some recent trendsSo how many electric vehicles (EVs) were registered on Irish roads with a 131 plate? 32 , or 0.05% of total vehicle registrations over this period. Of this number, 23 were registered in either February or April – a concentration of sales in these two months, and not in the traditional January peak, indicating a predominance of fleet vehicle purchases. Despite the low number of EVs registrations to date in 2013, all may not be lost. Analysis of registrations over the fifteen year period from 1998 to 2012, and illustrated in Figure 1, indicates a clear upward trend in numbers of registrations for ‘Other Fuel Types ’, the majority of which are likely to be EVs . Registration patterns for 2011 and 2012 indicate (as in 2013), however, that overall EV registrations have been bolstered by fleet sales. Despite the upward trend, there is obviously a long way to go!
What are the benefits of EVs?As key environmental benefits are linked to local electricity production sources, information from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) ‘A Guide to Electric Vehicles’ has been used in summarising EV benefits:
- low operating costs including 70% saving on fuel costs, and reduced maintenance requirements
- vehicle performance – strong acceleration, smoother and quieter than other vehicle types, albeit with a reduced top speed
- no tail pipe emissions, particularly beneficial in urban areas where emissions from road traffic contributes to poor air quality
- reductions in carbon emissions of 30% compared with diesel (based on the current electricity mix).
What are the barriers to achieving Government’s EV goals?Amongst the extensive international research in the field, one excellent paper by RAND Europe, ‘Bringing the electric vehicle to the mass market, a review of barriers, facilitators and policy interventions’, February 2012 encapsulates the barriers as follows (supplemented with some contextualised local information):
- Limited range, long recharge time and high cost:
- Range – varies by vehicle, but typically 120 – 185 kms, although over 400 km achievable from the most advanced cars such as Tesla Model S.
- Recharge time – full charge in 3.5 to 8 hours depending on the battery type, with a fast charge (80% charge from zero) achievable in 25 minutes.
- High battery cost, which can make up to 50% of vehicle production cost, and translates through to high purchase cost for consumers. Government grants of up to €5,000 and zero or reduced vehicle registration tax helps alleviate the pain.
- Limited recharging availability, although considerable investment by ESB in rolling out a network of charge points throughout Ireland aims to address this barrier.
- Safety concerns, namely collision safety, electrical hazards and absence of engine noise.
- Consumers’ negative perception and understanding of future savings: – key aspects are the value placed by consumers on future savings, misunderstanding fuel economy benefits, and the value placed by many car drivers on top speed and acceleration characteristics.
- Consumers’ attitude-action gap: – while consumers may be concerned about their car’s impact on the environment, it does not necessarily translate through to purchasing decisions with other factors such as price, fuel consumption costs, vehicle size reliability and comfort representing much more important considerations.
- Customers’ unfamiliarity with EVs: – poor awareness amongst EV users of the relationships between driving patterns and car performance.
- Institutional barriers, whereby big businesses aim to protect their commercial interests, by lobbying against measures to promote roll out of new technology if it is deemed likely to devalue existing investments.
What other technologies are possible?Hydrogen fuel cell powered cars represent the most likely alternative, and Honda has been leading development of this technology for a number of years. More recently, Ford, Daimler and Renault-Nissan have joined forces to develop a fuel cell system, with the aim of launching “the world’s first affordable, mass-market, fuel cell car” by 2017. Although fuel cell technology is not new, according to Dr. Anthony Baxendale, manager of Future Transport Technologies & Research at Mira Ltd, “the production cost until now has been prohibitive, so by collaborating and joining forces they will be hoping to accelerate development.”
So is the 2020 target of 230,000 EVs achievable?Sales of EVs are likely to follow the technology adoption lifecycle described in the Diffusion Process , and subsequently in Diffusion of Innovations , in which those that adopt new technology can be classified into five groups:
- innovators – the first people to adopt to an innovation, sometimes described as ‘visionary or imaginative’
- early adopters – those that adopt after the benefits start to become apparent, these represent the second fastest group of individuals to adopt
- early majority – assuming the technology is accepted by society, these people are sometimes described as ‘pragmatists’, or ‘the followers of fashion’
- late majority – those that adopt after over half the population have chosen to do so, these are often described as ‘conservative pragmatists’
- laggards – those that hold out to the bitter end.
What are the opportunities to influence consumers’ future purchasing decisions?If the 2020 EV target is to remain more than just a pipe dream, consumers need much greater clarity and a higher degree of certainty about future direction of technological evolution. For this to be achieved, governments need to join forces with industry to share the efforts, costs and risks of technological development, and the not so easy task of influencing consumer purchasing decisions.
 Source: – CSO  Defined by CSO as vehicles powered by one of electric, gas, steam, petrol and gas, ethanol, biodiesel, liquefied petroleum  CSO has confirmed that all 215 vehicles registered in 2012 as ‘Other Fuel Types’ were EVs.  21% (transport’s GHG contributions) * 10% (% EV use) * 51% (emissions saving per vehicle)  The Diffusion Process, Special Report No. 18; Bohlen, Joe M; Beal, George M (May 1957)  Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers (1962)  Derived from: Traffic Research & Information Note, Potential Penetration of Electric Vehicles in Irelands Road Vehicle Fleet, NRA (February 2011); and New Passenger Vehicle Registrations EU27 1991 to 2012, All Ireland Research Observatory