The Year That Was

Electric Car
Electric Car

The year was marked with major turmoil and the survival of the fittest in terms of the electric car revolution. The major companies include A123 Systems, Fisker Automotive and Better Place.

One of the most noted struggles were three major companies that are aiming to be on the forefront of the electric car revolution. A123 Systems is a battery maker, Better Place, is a battery replacement/recharging business and Fisker Automotive is a luxury electric car builder. These three alone represent billions of dollars of investments and unfortunately, they as individual businesses, are facing both commercial and financial issues moving forward.

While each company represents a different area of the electric car revolution, the slow rate of adoption by the general public is what is bogging down the success of these companies. The cost of creating the next generation batteries and electric cars still remains prohibitively expensive. Examples would be Better Place’s layoffs in Israel, as its commercial turnaround is much lower than initial projections. The total round of layoffs can reach as high as 350 employees by year’s end. It was only able to register double digit sales in the country where it boasts of close ties to the Israeli government and a major government subsidiary, Israel Corp.

Better Place was launched back in 2007 and its main product is a electric charging infrastructure and support battery swap stations. Its other businesses include selling electric car chargers and a government subsidized electric car. While initially it was able to raise money and lay the groundwork in Israel and Denmark through its partnership with Nissan, the company has since floundered with the high capital expenses needed to be disbursed to build its networks. It was able to raise nearly U.S. $100 million but the capitalists grew tired of losing money and thus their future in 2013 is quite grim.

Another superstar in 2012 was Fisker Automotive, with its ultraluxury vehicle the Karma. It is now on life support, seeking a partner, acquirer and/or investor so that it can continue onto its next model, the Atlantic. It has since stopped building the Karma, as recalls conducted in 2012 as well as the major losses during the last hurricane that hit New York has put the company on the ropes in terms of its future. Much of its fund raising activities with investors has been marred with charges of misrepresentation, leading to many angel investors wary of putting money in the company’s coffers.

The third major company making headlines this year, even making it an election issue was A123 Battery Systems, which recently declared bankruptcy. Much of its assets though has been subject to an auction between Johnson Controls and Wanxiang. Because of the large Energy Department grant received by A123 during its heyday, as well as its military contracts, allowing a Chinese company such as Wanxiang to seize control has made many nervous about the company and the industry’s future. A123 was hit hard by Fisker cutting back on its orders, creating a sort of domino effect that has cast a long shadow on the future of the electric revolution in 2012.

The Largest Electric Car Maker


The unanimous choice of carmaker having the largest range of electric vehicles is French automaker Renault. This lead though by the company may be for just a short time, as many other carmakers are increasing capacity to topple Renault from the top of the list.

Renault is just a symptom of the focus of France's on investments in renewable energy sources. The creative programs instituted by both the French public and private sectors include electric car use, increased spending for infrastructure for electric vehicles and electric car sharing schemes for the public. Aside from the current programs, France has committed to an increase in the charging infrastructure of the country.

The money allocation though is still quite minimal at a measly U.S.$65 million, the programs are well dispersed. These include subsidies to charging stations in public areas as well as those on private properties that serve as places of business. The government is also encouraging the private sector in supporting these programs through the installation of charging points. The impetus is encourage and not draconian requirements to comply with existing clean energy programs of the country.

Another major spending area is the increase in the bonus incentive to EV purchasers, which now stands at U.S.$9000. Governmental transport is also set to target twenty five percent to be either hybrids and EVs within the next year alone.

One major reason for such aggressive EV programs is the partnership between Nissan, the Japanese auto giant and Renault. This is showcased in the unveiling of four vehicles that is expected to take off under the current thrust for electric vehicle use in the country. These include the Twizy, a two seater city car, the Zoe subcompact, the Fluence compact sedan and the Kangoo ZE delivery van.

The Twizy is expected to sell especially in crowded roads of Europe’s cities while the Fluence is the flagship of the Better Place battery swap service. The Zoe on the other hand would cost only U.S.$21,000 after benefits, thus making it nearly affordable as conventional vehicles in the market.

Many of the program proponents are convinced that many car owners would opt for electric car vehicles once they are given the opportunity to drive one. This together with France’s subsidies and infrastructure developments can surely make France the biggest electric car center in Europe and the world in no time at all.

Charging Standards Soon to be a Reality


Eight of the world’s leading automakers would be meeting at the EVS26 event in Los Angeles to work together in finding a single-port DC fast charging mechanism meant to make the system easier and faster for electric vehicle charging of the future.

These automakers include Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen, and are moving to support a standardized single port fast charging system known as DC-fast charging with a Combined Charging System in both the United States and the European Union.

This system utilizes a one-phase AC charging together with a fast three phase AC charging set up. At home, it would be using DC charging and an ultra-fast DC charging system for public chargers. This would allow EV owners to charge at most existing charging stations regardless of the power source.

The design came after review, analysis and collaboration from a number of current charging systems together with the preferences of U.S. and European customers. This charging system would be developed for all vehicle markets in an effort to create a uniform standard for all the participating automaker vehicle platforms. This was also chosen by the Society of International Engineers due to its harmony and fast charging capacity. Furthermore, the International Society of Automotive Engineers picked the Combined Charging System as the standard to exponentially extend type-one AC charging platforms.

On the other side of the Pond, the European Association of Vehicle Manufacturers also chose the system as an AC/DC charging interface to be implemented for all new electric vehicle types starting from 2017.

It is expected that the harmonized fast-charging system would help accelerate the development of EV infrastructures for the market, as well as able to reduce the overall costs for owners. This would hit the market later this year and the first vehicles that would use this technology would become available starting 2013.

The Opportunity for GE in Electric Cars

Electric car made from batteries
Electric car made from batteries

General Electric, particularly Jeffrey Immelt, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, has created a massive ripple in the electric car market when he announced that the power company has placed an order to General Motors, the makers of the Chevy Volt, totaling 12,000 units. This he said was in accordance with the company’s aim to have a full electric vehicle fleet of 25,000.

The company is vigorously pushing for the electric vehicle program for its fleet and now new electric vehicles, not just from GM are starting to fill the company’s parking lots. A new internal memo sent out said that employees who opt out of the electric vehicle fleet program and instead use a personal vehicle, GE would not be reimbursing the cost for the vehicle being used for business purposes.

The company would reward those participating in the program, allowing them to charge into the company account for charging station costs and the Volt recharging portion of their monthly electricity bills.

This begs the question on why the company is so vigorous in pushing electric cars to its employees. One reason and probably the most important one is that GE would be able to save money in the long run. It has been proven time and again that electric car fleets would be more economically efficient compared to internal combustion engine vehicles. Current figures put running costs of plug in cars at one fifth to one third the running costs of gasoline powered vehicles.

Another major factor though, why it is still money, it serves the benefit of the company’s investors. This is because GE has a major stake in the market of electric vehicles and not just the electric cars per se. The first play that the company makes is in the construction of electric vehicle charging stations, with its flagship GE WattStation that can fully recharge vehicles in as low as four hours. The company is also one of the largest shareholders of battery maker A123 Systems and the company is finding many other ways to promote the electric car and its attendant infrastructure.

It is entering into many partnerships, such as Nissan on how to promote adoption of electric cars and with EV company Better Place to allow GE charging stations to become compatible with Better Place’s infrastructure. Clearly, the market is on the upswing and GE wants to have a bigger slice of the pie not as a direct participant in producing electric cars but in the support systems that makes this vehicle a success in the long run.

City Builders Revise Electrical Infrastructure


When the Yons, Kinne and Neal were making plans for an environmentally aware rental tower on 1510 Lexington, they placed a charging station for electric cars. This input was done even before electric cars were even available commercially. Now this small infrastructure input has reaped dividends for their property value.

According to Ms. Yon, “We don’t get paid anything extra to have it in the garage but we think it’s kind of in keeping with going green, and in the future, more cars will be electric cars.” The garage at 1510 Lex also has priority parking spaces for hybrids and all electrics.

Overall, Manhattan has had an explosion of public charging stations for electric vehicles, which now numbers to fifty within the city according to Con Edison. The charging stations are found in parking garages in the Midtown area, Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side.

The infrastructure is there but there are only a few users of the charging stations in New York City. Yet property developers such as the Albanese Organization continues to include charging stations in its properties, such as rental towers Solaire and Verdesian, the condominium building Visionaire, which are all located in Battery Park, NYC.

According to the VP for Residential Management for the developer, “They’re not frequently used, to be honest with you. And it’s more transient users than your New York-based residents.” This is projected though to change in the next few years.

According to estimates, the number of electric cars would increase significantly in 2012 because of the many automakers and builders that are introducing their version of the electric plug-in vehicles and hybrids. Furthermore, the charging station infrastructure would also become more prevalent, according to Coulomb Technologies CEO Pat Romano. This company builds charging stations with a networking software.

This networking software from Coloumb provides a real-time map of charging stations available online or through mobile phone applications. The information can also be accessed through navigation systems of some car models. The company is working with Albanese to create charging stations for newer electric cars such as the Volt, the Leaf and the BMW ActiveE. The company is also changing the 120-volt chargers to 240 volt Level 2 chargers.

Overall, the bulk of the public charging stations have been built by companies such as Bearn Charging and Car Charging Inc, who specialize in parking garages and other car centered franchises such as rental companies to facilitate construction of the charging stations and provide monthly car charging payment plans for its users. It is projected that the charge up costs would only $98 a month, which is a large savings compared to daily pump prices for gasoline and oil products.