Leading analysts IDTechEx provide this view of the recent eCarTec event in Munich Germany. It was sharply down on last year and the exhibition had a narrower view. For example, it no longer had several electric boats and outboard motors and several forms of flywheel harvesting in vehicles.
However, there was still much to see and learn and the conference certainly had a broad view with alternative bus powertrains, for example, robustly defended by leading companies with opposite views and experience. Globally, hybrid and pure electric buses are a huge commercial success and there is more to come. On one assessment at the event, it will be 2021 before the cost per passenger kilometre of a lithium-ion hybrid bus with a fuel cell range extender reaches parity with a diesel hybrid electric bus. Nevertheless, in 2015 or thereabouts, many leading automotive companies including Daimler in Europe will launch fuel cell on-road vehicles, particularly at the heavy end. This is a huge investment. The first ones will cost around one million Euros each to produce.
Contrary to popular understanding, supercapacitors (ultracapacitors) are replacing lithium-ion batteries across some vehicle fuel cells and even in the new MAN Lion hybrid urban bus, which is truly world class, and has no traction battery - just a supercapacitor. The supercapacitor has much longer life and better power handling than a lithium-ion battery but there is no agreement concerning when they are better overall. Indeed, in one presentation, Hutchinson, a subsidiary of TOTAL, the French energy giant, calculated that, if the acetonitrile in one large supercapacitor leaked in the volume of a garage, it could kill. TOTAL Hutchinson is therefore joining the rapidly increasing minority of supercapacitor manufacturers that use aqueous electrolytes instead. Based on tests, it was previously concluded that acetonitrile is carcinogenic, flammable, sometimes creating poisonous cyanide-related gases and also creating birth defects. This is an industry that is not always as environmental as people presume.
Many of the component manufacturers in the exhibition expressed excitement at BMW and Volkswagen planning to sell pure electric cars soon. They argue that this will "legitimise" the market, particularly in Germany, and sales will take off. IDTechEx does not agree. Global sales of pure electric cars are tiny - less than one third of the sales of electric golf cars. The primary reasons are price, range and availability of charging stations. Arguments that you do not really need charging stations beyond home and work have fallen on deaf ears. They may be the lifeboats you never use but people want them in place until the range of pure electric cars is more acceptable.
The new BMW and Volkswagen pure electric cars do not appear to tackle any of these market blocks to any significant extent. IDTechEx believes that sales of pure electric cars will take off near the end of the decade, when range is greatly increased, the price premium is reduced and designs show more flair. This will be achieved by a lot of small improvements not just waiting for better batteries from East Asia where most of the know-how and production capability for lithium-ion traction batteries resides. (Europe is dangerously weak in certain other key components as well).
German car manufacturers plan to launch 15 new electric models by the end of 2014. There are only about 4,600 pure electric cars on German roads today and the government goal of one million by 2020 is looking unattainable. It is not helped by the German Government poorly supporting their purchase compared to other countries.
Of course it is not just dependent upon BMW and Volkswagen to get this industry going. Hybrid cars are already a great success with the Japanese outselling rivals by a big margin. IDTechEx estimates that Toyota is the leading electric vehicle company with EV sales of around $27 billion, many times more than any rival because it is the leader in electric forklifts and hybrid cars, selling over one million of these cars this year. We also include the successful Toyota electric buses as it is all one business with many components in common. However, even Toyota is impeded in pure electric cars by the approximately Euros 10,000 price of their batteries, cost being even higher. With two European partnerships in traction batteries with foreign leaders dissolving in the last year, the Europeans are now even weaker in this key component but now they are attempting to collaborate within Europe and some small European companies seek to leapfrog the technology. The French are announcing several supercapacitor startups to correct the paucity of supercapacitor supply in Europe. The weakness in appropriate research should be addressed by the European Commission and governments.
There will probably be an Apple of pure electric cars where a company uses insightful design to trigger huge public acceptance. In this respect, the eCarTec Awards revealed many imaginative ideas. They also graciously acknowledged that, so far, it is the French, not the Germans, that have been trying something different rather than shoehorning electrics into platforms not designed for the purpose.