Automotive > Powertrain, Body, Chassis & Safety Blog

Do Not Rely on Infrastructure to Drive Electric Vehicle Demand

by Ian Riches | Feb 02, 2011

There has been some surprise expressed at the news that the Ford Focus EV will likely launch without a DC fast-charge capability.  I’m not surprised.  Although such a capability looks good on the spec sheet – its real world use will be limited.

The development of a widespread public EV recharge infrastructure is problematic in the extreme, and will mean that recharge-at-home will be the default option for most EV owners.

The key issue is business model.  Electricity is – in the scheme of things – cheap.  Putting in the recharge infrastructure is not.  Relying on selling enough electricity to recoup your costs is not viable.  A “full tank” of electrons typically costs less than $3.  In a city, $3 will typically buy you only an hour or so of parking.  The ground under your wheels costs more to rent that than the electricity you are buying.

The only current viable business models for EV infrastructure are thus public finance and private philanthropism, and each of these has its problems:

  • Public budgets are facing intense pressure across the globe.  The likelihood is that the governments will invest just enough to be seen to be doing something rather than drive change. 
  • Renault understands this limit.  It has repeatedly stated at conferences that it favours AC charging with an on-board AC/DC converter.  Although this adds cost to the car Renault sees OEMs as having to take this cost in order to make the infrastructure cheaper.

Daimler – although developing EVs – is still very keen on hydrogen.  It has pointed out (in a presentation at Ludwigsburg last year) that its calculations show that a hydrogen infrastructure in Germany would be cheaper to implement than an EV charging one.

Even power companies are not keen on widespread fast charging.  At the CESA Automotive Electronics and Systems Congress in Paris last December, EDF clearly stated that “we should prevent pointless technology escalation” and that fast charging should be discouraged by pricing.  Its vision for the French infrastructure in 2020 is that 95% will remain slow charging.

Ford – while perhaps disappointing technophiles – is thus absolutely correct to ignore DC fast charging on the Focus.

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