The age of the electric vehicle is dawning

China is investing heavily in electric vehicles as part of a government drive to reduce air pollution

After being massively over-hyped and then written off as wishful thinking, electric vehicles (EVs) are now coming of age

2013 could well be remembered as the year when EVs turned the corner. With the Netherlands about to install a nationwide fast-charging network, the number of charging stations is starting to approach critical mass in several EU countries, as well as in Japan and the United States. China is also making substantial investments with around a dozen new EV models being introduced in a government-driven program to reduce air pollution.

At the same time, common standards in EV charging infrastructure are emerging – the fast-chargers being installed by ABB in the Netherlands are compatible with EVs offered by all the major car brands. Even Elon Musk of Tesla, which has its own proprietary connection standard, is promising to bring an adapter unit to market that would allow the new Tesla Model S to be compatible with other standards.

2013 is also shaping up to be a symbolic year for EVs. With 17 million people, the Netherlands is the most populous country to date to build a nationwide network of fast-charging stations and it is also going to equip its charging stations with solar canopies, enabling them to generate much of their own energy.

For potential buyers concerned with so-called “range anxiety”, expected increases in range are likely to boost sales of EVs considerably. BMW, which recently unveiled its soon-to-be released “i3” EV, predicts that EVs will double their range within five years. Brands without a legacy to protect, such as Tesla and the Chinese manufacturers, are likely to forge ahead here, bypassing intermediate improvements, to long-range EVs, with larger batteries and higher charging power.

On the cost side, the price of EVs and especially their batteries has also been falling and, according to some estimates, the total ownership cost for some drivers is already less than gasoline vehicles. If developments in the market for solar panels are anything to go by, prices for EV batteries can be expected to plunge within the next few years.

The financial markets also seem to have regained their faith in EVs. Shares in Tesla have risen by 250 percent this year and the company’s market capitalization is now worth almost a third that of General Motors or Nissan and exceeds the market value of Fiat, for example.

Perhaps the most telling change in the EV market is the less remarked upon – but never to be underestimated – value of electric vehicles as a status symbol. If the pictures are anything to go by, the new BMW i3 is going to be as much a draw for its appearance as for the fact that its engine produces zero emissions. The same applies to the Tesla Model S, which has managed to combine the coolness of being green with the suave sophistication of a luxury motor.

One driver of the Model S, writing on Tesla’s forum for aficionados put it thus: “…owning the Model S has made me dislike my Ferrari and every other car I once loved…. In the Tesla, I am driving the future. In the Ferrari (or any other car), I am still stuck in the Industrial Age.”

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About the author

Jonas Hughes

I am a writer and editor in the Corporate Communications department of ABB. I have worked as a journalist and communicator in Switzerland, Britain, North America and South Africa, and am interested in how technology affects the lives of ordinary people.
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