Recent Moves Sign of EV Death Knell Again?

electric motor
electric motor

Many pundits of the electric car revolution are singing the blues again as major moves from supporters seem to undertake measures to back away from fully realizing the revolution.

In similar moves, two of the largest electric car makers are taking what is called pragmatic decisions regarding the future of their respective electric car fleets. These carmakers are Nissan and Toyota respectively and their recent moves are being describes as the death knell again for the electric car.

Nissan, through its chairperson Charles Ghosn has invested billions of dollars into the electric car revolution. These include providing models such as the Altra and the Hypermini and its flagship vehicle the Nissan Leaf, which is fully battery powered. Now, the Japanese car giant is shifting its gears towards the model followed by Toyota, which is the promotion of gasoline powered hybrid cars. Toyota for its part, shunned developing fully electric vehicles for a variety of reasons and this has proven very successful for them, retaining the market lead with its powerhouse Prius line.

Part of the disenchantment with electric cars is range anxiety. At its peak, the best electric cars can only run just a fraction of an internal combustion engine’s ability. This is compounded by the fact that it takes five times longer to fully charge an electric vehicle and the lack of infrastructure to support electric cars, such as repair shops, charging stations and other services. Another major factor is the higher front end cost of the electric vehicle compared to a regular gasoline powered vehicle, even with the benefits and other incentives, still makes it an expensive option.

All these put together has created a very lukewarm response by the buying market. For Nissan, 9,819 Leaf electric cars were sold in the market, with under 50,000 already on the road now. Since its unveiling, the Leaf has successively failed to meet its sales projections, even with all the add-ons and improvements added on to the vehicle.

Toyota on the other hand with its hybrid formula, already has twelve models under its wing, four of them just for the Prius line alone. In 2012, a total of 327,413 hybrids were sold in the United States alone, while 1.2 million were sold worldwide. Total worldwide sales have reached five million for the Prius.

As Nissan cuts back on its EV investments and Toyota refuses to go all electric, it is clear that the electric car is having issues with the market. Does this mean that the electric car revolution is in its death throes again?

Electric Car Future in New Zealand

movingtonewzealandIMAGE200
movingtonewzealandIMAGE200

According to an expert, the rewards to be reaped from the use of electric vehicles for New Zealand would be much greater compared to other countries. This was the statement given by Ex-pat Aucklander Ed Kjaer. Kjaer is an expert on electric vehicles and is currently working in one of the biggest American utility vehicles, Southern California Edison.

It is acknowledged that California is the electric vehicle capital in the United States and Kjaer has seen the potential that electric vehicles have in transforming motor vehicles and eventually wean economies from their continued dependence on motor oil.

Kjaer made these remarks during the Electric Vehicle Symposia held in Auckland and Wellington last week. He added that New Zealand suits EVs well as like the United States, there is an excess electricity capacity in the evenings when people are asleep. This is the best time to recharge the battery packs of electric vehicles.

He said, “Urbanites in our main centers tend to have garages where EVs can be charged, whereas half of city-dwellers in the US don’t. New Zealand’s electricity supply is particularly clean, which offers the possibility of cleaner air and a big dent in the country’s carbon emissions. Also, the New Zealand economy is hostage to volatile oil prices as it has to import nearly all its oil compared to the US which is a big oil producer and is ramping up extraction rapidly.”

Kjaer observed that the New Zealand economy is a slave to the volatility of gasoline. Furthermore, New Zealand imposes taxes on petrol more heavily than the United States and a reduction in the consumption would be worthwhile.

Kjaer lives the EV lifestyle, as the lifetime costs of electric vehicles would beat the costs of a the gasoline powered. He only operates EVs in his own household, as he charges them during the evenings in his garage. He claims he gets the equivalent of 100 kilometers from using just 1.3 liters of petrol. This in turn would result in lower overall lifetime costs compared to his use of gasoline powered cars.

Even with the lower long term costs, the electric car revolution is going at a snail’s pace and a major part of the problem is the front loaded aspects of the cost, making electric vehicles more expensive to purchase gasoline powered cars.

This has become a come on for businesses, such as taxis in Auckland. Many have opted to purchase Priuses since they can reap the benefits of being environmentally friendly, which in turn entices customers to use them or their overall cost efficiency. This though is the exception rather than the norm, not just in New Zealand, but the world over.

Until and unless the initial overall costs are lowered, this would remain the major stumbling block that would limit the advancement of the electric vehicle revolution.

Toyota Issues Prius Recall

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

In an unprecedented move, the biggest Japanese automaker Toyota is recalling 670,000 units of its Prius hybrids it produced between 2004 and 2009. The focus would be the U.S. market, where reports of loss of steering and hybrid powertrain issues have been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This is just part of the total recall of 2.77 million units, which include not just the Prius but also the Corolla and the Wish worldwide. These vehicles distributed worldwide are being recalled because a specific metal in the steering mechanism is not able to withstand the stresses involved in its operation. According to a statement from the company, “the part could wear out of the steering wheel is frequently and forcefully turned to the full left or full right position while driving at low speeds and that could result in the loss of steering ability.”

The first reports on the metal failure came to the attention of the carmaker back in February 2010, but the results were inconclusive. This year, specifically last February, Toyota was first notified of the steering loss of a unit in the United States. After a thorough investigation, the Japanese automaker finally identified the cause of the issue and decided on issuing a recall to correct the mechanical problem.

A second recall would cover 350,000 units and would involve the replacement of an electric water pump that may fail and shut down the hybrid powertrain system. This though would not affect the gas engine’s operation, according to an email from Toyota spokesman Bryan Lyons.

Toyota reported to the NHTSA the water pump issue back in 2009 and was redesigned for 2010. However, pump failures continued and Toyota was finally able to identify the problem as a coil wire that once scratched would corrode and break leading to the water pump failure. This is the second time that the Prius hybrid system had a problem with its cooling system. Back in 2010, the company undertook a customer satisfaction campaign that covered 390,000 model 2004 to 2007 Priuses sold in North America. The company promised to replace the coolant pump as it could result in malfunction leading to stoppage in the operation of the hybrid system.

Also covered in the email from Mr. Lyons, the service campaign dealt with a “different problem than the new recall.” It reiterated that the customer satisfaction program was sufficient as the vehicle can still run on the gasoline engine alone. It further reiterated that there have been no reports on any accidents in the United States related to the recall issued. The recalls though is deemed voluntary but once a safety problem has been identified, the company is required to inform the NHTSA within five (5) business days its recall plan and failure would result in fines and penalties.