If you have been following this blog for the last six months, you will have seen a number of entries about electric cars and plug-in hybrids.
Last week’s post referred to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) new report which called for sharply lowering the carbon footprint of electricity generation, transportation, buildings, and Industry as an urgent necessity if we, as a planet, still have any hope of limiting the effect of climate change in the next 50 to 100 years.
While a number of steps can be taken to generate electricity with a lower carbon footprint, only electric and plug-in hybrid cars offer the possibility of translating these improvements to the transportation sector.
So whats new?
For me the most surprising development has been BMW’s entry into the electric vehicle market. BMW had shown the i8 concept car back in 2008 but I have always thought that BMW’s brand, which is all about engines and driving pleasure was inconsistent with electric vehicles and did not expect them to develop the car.
Instead, BMW has launched two vehicles in the space, the almost all electric i3 and the plug-in hybrid i8! The i3 is $42,000 electric vehicle but for about $4,000 more you can get a range extender package which adds a small engine which doubles the range of the car making it a series hybrid.
Also this week a number of electrics were launched at the Beijing Car Show including the Tang, an SUV from BYD; the V60 plug-in hybrid from Volvo cars which is owned by China’s Geely; and the Nissan Leaf.
At the show, Daimler announced a new joint venture with China’s BYD to launch the all electric Denza, despite the fact that their main play in China is with another partner (BAIC) and Rover AG announced the Dynamo, an all electric concept car designed by its parent company SAIC in China. Tesla Motors, whose stock climbed above $250 last month, has also announced that the Tesla S will be available in China this year.
An interesting counterpoint to the trend appears to be General Motors which despite announcing a joint venture with SAIC to do just that in 2012, spoke this week about a $12 Billion investment to boost capacity and to push the Cadillac brand!
All of this activity might be an indication that the combination of advances in lithium-ion battery technology with genuine concerns of both local pollution and climate change are finally pushing electric cars over the tipping point.
More likely is that many carmakers are doing what they always do which is to hedge their bets on electric vehicle technology and be ready in case the market ever gets going.
In China, the FT questions to what degree the Chinese government is serious about its pledge to get half a million electric cars and/or plug-ins on the road by 2015.
In my view, the combination of low cost electric cars for China with high end Teslas and BMWs could finally get things charged up!