Are We Ready For Electric Cars Yet?

Electric vehicles, though still only a fraction of the larger car market, continue to grow in 2013. Recent numbers from flagship vehicles like the Leaf and the Volt have shown that there is a steadily increasing demand for this technology. Proponents know that one of the keys to the long term success of the EV market is improved battery technology. Opponents see battery technology as “not there yet” or decry the environmental impact of lithium ion when it’s disposed of.

Regardless of the stance on the current status or eco impact of the batteries, one element the success of EVs in general will depend upon is the market’s capability to simply produce the batteries. In 2012 the lithium battery market grew by 30 percent, though most of that (88 percent) was eaten up by consumer electronics. That market grew 23 percent year over year while the EV market hit a staggering 163 percent. Obviously, manufacturers will continue to skate to where the money is, but there may be some fear at some point demand may outstrip supply at the current growth rate.

Increasing fears of supporting providers failing the market is recent news that flagship companies like Ecotality admitting recently that they may be forced to file bankruptcy. Ecotality was focused on developing charging stations for electric vehicles but failed in terms of adequately developing the technology to be market ready. This failure comes despite receiving nearly $100 million in stimulus funds from the Obama administration. If the infrastructure is failing already, one wonders if these supporting technologies can ever find footing to keep up with the growing fleet of electric vehicles on the road.

In many ways the automotive industries failures in the 1990s when General Motors rolled out the EV1 to great fanfare (only to have the project go down in flames) largely mirrors the situation of today. The one major difference at this point is that the car manufacturers have been able to drastically reduce the costs associated with production of the vehicles. However, as we all know, these are established companies that still have deep pockets in 2013, whereas many of these providers are propped up on investor money and/or one time government funding. This disparity was as true then as it is today, and the Ecotality situation is a great example of it.

So this begs the question why the public should invest in high priced electric vehicles as early adopters when there’s still ample evidence that the infrastructure is still struggling so mightily. While the car companies seem to have made a substantially greater effort in this their second go around (after the previously mentioned early 90s disaster) the general public may still not be there to ride with them. While some industries like energy companies, used car warranties and others stand to benefit greatly from the growth of the EV industry, there are still a lot of moving parts that need to align before electric vehicles truly grab a significant slice of the market.

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