"With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015". Those were the words of US president Barack Obama during his state of the Union speech in January of this year (2011). But is this a modest or ambitious goal? This week I set out to find out more about electric vehicles; their past, their present and their future with a specific fleet focus.
Electric cars have - despite what you may think - been around for a very long time. Electric motors date back as far as the early 19th century and prior to the age of the internal combustion engine electric cars held most land speed records. Things started to go pear shaped when the internal combustion engine was introduced and electric vehicles could no longer compete in terms of range, speed or refuelling. Then in the late 2000’s after the relative success of the Toyota’s Prius and the resurgence of fuel efficient diesel and petrol engines it seemed natural that major manufacturers like Nissan and Mitsubishi would go the extra step and go fully electric.
Whilst still a topic of debate, speculation and conspiracy, petrol’s dominance over electric does remain, and despite some signs of a electric rebirth most reports are very modest about the growth of electric cars (Accenture expect a little more than Obama with their forecasts estimating 1.5 million on US highways by 2015; think of this in the context of a country with a population of over 300 million). The current guiding principle for electric car manufacturers seems to be short haul driving with city drivers and inner city transport being targeted specifically. The most interesting developments currently are the use of these vehicles as inner city share cars (The Autolib project is the largest; set to be launched in Paris in September) and short hop fleet vehicles (the British Gas and Hitachi Capital scheme in the UK).
Like most developments in the automotive industry this one offers yet more options to fleet managers. Electric cars and other electric vehicles will open yet another area for cost control; electric cars, along with highly efficient (more importantly highly cost effective) LPG, Hybrid and diesel engines will now give fleet managers real alternatives to higher consumption models. In conclusion Obama’s proclamation is most probably accurate but unfortunately it gives me the impression that Australian fleet managers will have to wait a little bit longer to get their hands on the most cost effective electric vehicles.
*References and citations available by request.