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Understanding the Electric Vehicle Market: Are Two Heads Required?

by Ian Riches | 7月 04, 2011

Electric vehicle studies seem more prevalent that electric vehicles themselves at present. One of the more recent ones to cross my desk was from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), entitled "Powering Autos to 2020: The Era of the Electric Car?".

A Reuters article covering the report was titled “Consultant cuts growth outlook for electric cars”, highlighting the fact that the EV market is incredibly easy to over-forecast.  As detailed in my Insight of December last year “Electric Vehicles: What Is Different This Time?”, we have been here before.  The mid-1990s saw a huge hype-cycle, with EV concepts dominating car shows.  GM’s EV1 was gaining the sort of media coverage that most PR managers only get to dream about.  And then everything went quiet.

I’ve yet to find a single EV study authored in the last 20 years which proved to be too pessimistic.  It would seem that the statistics are not on the side of EV-optimists.

The BCG study sets its stake in the ground at a global penetration for pure, plug-in and range-extended EVs at around 6-8% of global passenger car sales in 2020, depending upon oil prices.  This equates, by my calculations, to likely volumes of 6 to 7 million vehicles.  One of the assumptions behind their data is that battery pack costs fall to around $400/kWh by 2020.  This would mean that a typical 20kW electric vehicle battery would STILL cost around $8000 in 2020.  And therein lies the problem.  All of the consumer research that we have carried out shows that car buyers have significant interest in EVs right up until the point that you ask them to pay more than they would for a conventional car.  Sure, there are some eco-motivated buyers who are willing to pay more for an EV, but I’m yet to be convinced that 7% of global car buyers fall into this category.

Strategy Analytics projections for 2020 would suggest that a pure/plug-in/range extended market of 2 to 3 million units would seem more likely.  Costs aren’t coming down fast enough and government budgets (and thus the subsidies that they can offer) are under pressure in many parts of the world.  In addition, as the BCG study rightly points out, conventional gasoline and diesel cars will become ever more fuel efficient, thus continually raising the bar for EV cost-effectiveness.

It’s at this point that you need your two heads to understand the EV market.

  • Head #1 needs to see the fast growth rates.  My latest forecasts show compound average annual growth rates for pure EVs of almost 80% over the period 2010 to 2018.  That’s amazing growth.
  • However, head #2 needs to understand that even these fantastic growth rates lead us to only 1 million pure EVs manufactured in 2018.

If you only have head #1, you’ll be sorely disappointed at the time it takes you to recoup your EV market investments.  If you only have head #2, you risk missing the fact that, even though we are towards the pessimistic end of the forecasting range, Strategy Analytics does believe that increased electrification of the vehicle fleet is inevitable.  It’s not a question “if”, but rather one of “how fast”.  

Remember, as the saying goes: two heads are always better than one.

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