Electric Vehicle Update

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and pure electric vehicles (EVs) are slow out of the starting gate.

Through October, total PHEV and EV sales are less than 15,000 vehicles: reportedly 5,003 Volts and 8,048 Leafs.

It’s still early, and it’s anticipated there will be around 40 additional PHEV and EV models introduced in 2012, which could stimulate sales.


Fires have also been in the news.

The latest involved a Volt after it had undergone testing at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing site. The fire occurred three weeks after the test. It’s believed the test damaged the battery pack which wasn’t properly discharged after the test. Two subsequent tests of the Volt also resulted in fires at least a week after the test.

This has brought into focus the need to train first responders on how to safely handle car accidents involving PHEVs and EVs.

The most recent house fire in Mooresville, N.C., involved a Volt, but it’s believed the fire started external to the Volt. The other house fire earlier this year in Connecticut was also not started by the Volt.

In the Mooresville fire, there is a question as to whether the external battery charger started the fire.

Resale Value

A new concern has emerged, especially in Israel, concerning the resale value of EVs. It’s believed the resale value after four years of an EV will be 70% below its original value, compared to typical gasoline powered vehicles, where the resale value is 40% below the original value.

This has become a critical issue in Israel where Better Place is launching its new EV concept and has targeted sales to rental and leasing agencies. Better Place intends to lease the batteries to car owners and charge a monthly fee for using and recharging the battery, as well as replacing batteries in ten minutes at special changing stations to alleviate the need for recharging by the owner. Discharged batteries would be replaced with fully charged batteries at these changing stations.

Israel was chosen as the test market for the concept due to its insular location and small geographic footprint. Denmark was to be Better Place’s next target market.

The resale value issue now hangs over the entire PHEV and EV market. Underlying this issue is how to determine the value of a $10,000 used battery, as well as the remaining life of the battery.


Utilities are still struggling with how to handle battery recharging of large numbers of PHEVs and EVs. It’s important for batteries to be recharged during off-peak hours, unless the utility can control the battery charging process. For example, stopping charging during peak periods when charging requires bringing additional generating capacity on-line.

San Diego Gas & Electric has been exploring this issue. It has also said it would prefer that battery charging be kept separate from other uses of electricity.

(See earlier three part series on The Hidden Cost of PHEVs Part I, Part II and Part IIIfor a full analysis of this subject.)

The electric utility industry is promoting PHEVs and EVs. This is logical since electric utilities could increase their sales and profits by selling electricity for charging batteries during off-peak hours.

The Edison Electric Institute has issued a slick brochure advising utilities, under the guise of being ready for PHEVs and EVs, on how to establish a friendly interface with the public.  Its advice includes a section on “Very Important Passengers” which explains how to create allies of State and Federal Regulators and local legislators.

The brochure encourages the use of federal and state grants and tax credits for stimulating the purchase of PHEVs, EVs and charging stations.


Overall, the evidence to-date indicates very slow growth in sales of PHEVs and EVs, and the continuing emergence of new issues, such as resale value.

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