Gartner Forecasts 100,000 Electric Car Sales for 2012

from original post at Clean Fleet Report

Gartner, the largest technology market research firm, is forecasting 100,000 electric car sales in 2012 in the United States. Yesterday, I took in the presentation at the SV Forum and then talked with Thilo Koslowski, Vice President of Gartner’s Automotive and Vehicle Practice. He acknowledged that 100,000 is quite a jump from the 18,000 sold in 2011 which included 9,674 Nissan LEAFs, 7,671 Chevrolet Volts, and 655 other plug-in cars.

In 2011, Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown affected everyone’s supply chain. The recession left most cautious about spending $30,000, $40,000, or more for unproven vehicles. Although some 280,000-gasoline cars catch fire in the U.S. annually, fires in some Volt test crashes lead to safety concerns. It was only mid-year that the Nissan Leaf received the top five-star safety rating from NHTSA.

I agree with Gartner that 100,000 is a good forecast for U.S. EV sales. Nissan is manufacturing 50,000 LEAFs this year, then greatly expanding production next year with a new Tennessee plant. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is betting billions on electric vehicles and lithium batteries. GM has expanded manufacturing for global sales of 65,000 electric cars including two plug-in hybrids in 2012 – the Chevrolet Volt and the Opel Ampera in Europe and GM 2012 sales of a pure battery-electric Chevrolet Spark. The new Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid has also been on display at auto shows.

Electric Cars with Lowest Prices

Electric city cars will also fuel sales in 2012. The Mitsubishi i has a starting price of only $29,120 – $6,000 less than the LEAF. Toyota will enter the electric city car competition with the Scion IQ Electric. The Honda Fit Electric is no for sale. Car rental and car sharing providers are adding over 1,000 electric cars to their fleet. Car2Go already has 300 Smart Electric Drive Cars on the streets of San Diego in daily use.

Ford’s customer choice strategy will also attract more mainstream car buyers. The new Ford Fusion is available as an efficient EcoBoost engine or as a hybrid with better mileage than any midsized sedan or as a plug-in hybrid that allows many trips to use zero gasoline. The Ford Focus is also available as a pure battery-electric. The new crossover SUV Ford C-MAX is also available as a plug-in hybrid.

Toyota knows how to sell millions of hybrids. The new Prius Plug-in Hybrid looks and drives just like the best selling Prius. The new Toyota RAV4 EV is a pure battery-electric that looks like the popular RAV4 SUV. In 2012 and 2013, Toyota leverage its hybrid brand into plug-in cars.

One hundred thousand electric car sales in 2012 is less than one percent of the 13.4 million U.S. vehicle sales forecasted by Gartner.

In talking with Mr. Koslowski, we agreed that it is tough to forecast which will have greater sales, pure battery electric or plug-in hybrid. With early enthusiasts, the battery-electric LEAF is the winner. The SV Forum was hosted at SAP that has 16 charge points and at least 20 employees EV drivers at its Silicon Valley office. LEAFs outnumbered Volts in visitor parking for the forum. The typical U.S. household has two cars. My wife and I share a Nissan LEAF and a hybrid. In 8 months, range has never been an issue. If one of us is driving over 60 miles we take the hybrid. As we progress from early enthusiasts to early adopters, however, the plug-in hybrid may win by eliminating range anxiety. Most compacts and city cars may be electric; most larger cars, crossovers, and SUVs may be plug-in hybrid.

Challenges for 1,000,000 Electric Cars by 2015

Manufactures will certainly have the capacity to build a million electric cars by 2015. Renault-Nissan and GM are investing billions in plants in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Battery giants like LG Chem, Panasonic, and Samsung are also investing billions. The real question is will U.S. buyers have purchased or leased a million battery-electric and plug-in hybrids by the end of 2015.

Gartner’s Koslowski sees two big challenges. First, can the automakers create brands and marketing campaigns that make these vehicles compelling buys. Second, can automakers and battery giants continue to drive down the cost of lithium batteries or storage alternatives? Most buyers will not pay a premium for a hybrid or electric. Then again, millions each year buy premium cars, SUVs and trucks.  When drivers want a vehicle, millions convince themselves that one over $30K is right for them.

Thilo Koslowski sees 5 to 8 percent of all vehicles being battery-powered by 2020 and 20 to 30 percent by 2030. Urban markets are most promising, but many city dwellers do not have access to garages for charging. The political and media influence of oil giants could slow adoption in some countries. High oil prices could speed adoption. Since Europe and Asia have less appetite to subsidize gasoline prices, they could soon be bigger markets for EVs.

By the end of the decade, millions of electric cars are likely to be on the road. Exciting customer experiences, falling cost of ownership, and the price of alternatives will determine how many millions.

Chevrolet Spark EV with A123 Nanophosphate Lithium-ion Batteries

The 2013 Spark EV is Chevrolet’s new 100% battery-electric car. It is GM’s fourth electric car model that includes the Chevrolet Volt, the Opel Ampera, and the Cadillac ELR. GM needs a pure-electric offering; Nissan Leaf is dominating the early adopter market.

Reuters reports that Nissan LEAF’s U.S. sales through September were about 27,500 — seven times higher than the Volt. Electric utility PG&E confirms that ratio reporting 1,200 LEAFs and only 250 Volts delivered in its service area – 10,000 electric cars for SF Region in 2012. GM is expanding electric car production from 10,000 this year to 65,000 in 2012 as it plays catch-up with Nissan and prepares for market share battle with Ford, Toyota, Honda, and others.

Now GM fights back with the Spark EV. A gasoline powered Spark is currently offered in some foreign markets as a 2-door, 4-seat, subcompact. Small cars are now popular in American cities as drivers fight for expensive parking spaces. In 2012, the Mitsubishi i will lead the battle for electric city cars with a starting price of $29,195.

By the time that Chevrolet can start dealer deliveries of the 2013 Spark EV, it will face tough competition from at least 10 electric cars in the U.S. selling for under $40,000.  The field will include other impressive electric cars such as the Nissan LEAF, which I own, the Mitsubishi I, the Ford Focus Electric, the Honda Fit Electric, the Scion IQ EV and others. Chevrolet only plans on limited sales in California and other select U.S. and global markets in 2013. GM has yet to announce battery size, range, fast charge capability or lack thereof and vehicle price. Electric car ranges of 80 to 100 miles are common.

Both the Chevrolet Spark EV and the Chevrolet Volt will be successful. Many people prefer the plug-in hybrid range of the Volt; others want a zero gasoline pure electric like the Spark and will count on the 25,000-plus public charging stations that will be available when the Spark EV is delivered. I have interviewed dozens of Volt drivers from music stars like Jackson Brown to regular commuters. They uniformly love their cars performance, reliability, and electric range.

Lithium Battery Competition – A123 Wins this Time

The Chevy Spark is a major win for the nanophosphate lithium-ion battery pack supplier A123, an American innovator that has lost most automotive design-wins to giants like Korea’s LG Chem and Samsung and Japan’s Panasonic and NEC. (Disclosure: author holds modest stock ownership in A123.)

As electric and hybrid car competition intensifies, Nissan, GM, Toyota, and Ford are in a race to sell the most vehicles with lithium batteries. I have driven cars from each of these automakers that use lithium batteries. The cars performed beautifully and delivered great fuel economy.

By the end of 2012, Nissan will have delivered 100,000 LEAFs. Renault is trying to match that number in Europe and Israel. Both automakers use AESC lithium-nickel-manganese polymer batteries. AESC is a joint venture between NEC and Nissan.

Ford may be the first carmaker to sell 100,000 cars annually that includes lithium batteries. When I lasted interviewed Nancy Gioia, Director Ford Global Electrification, she said that Ford has a 2020 goal of 10 to 25 percent of its vehicle sales including lithium batteries. Her best guess is that 70% would be hybrids, 20 to 25% plug-in hybrids, and 5 to 10% battery-electric. Everything from technology innovation to oil prices will affect the future mix.

Toyota Motor Corp is bringing to market three vehicles with lithium batteries – the Prius PHV, the RAV4 EV, and the Scion IQ EV.

Frost and Sullivan forecasts that the lithium transportation market will expand from $1.2 billion in 2011 to $14 billion in 2016.  Automotive Lithium Battery Competition Report