GE examines real state of electric vehicles in a billion-car world

General Electric

With the Chevy Volt hitting the market soon, the buzz on electric vehicles (“EVs”) is reaching a media fever pitch. Environmental and energy blogs are understandably excited and the business press is kicking the tires to see if an EV world could really be possible.

The biggest hammer used against EVs is the argument over costs – specifically, will it be prohibitively expensive to build the cars, charging stations, and make the power grid upgrades needed. But even the major criticisms have another side, and for every skeptic, there’s a pumped-up EV advocate.

In their story, “Innovation Lessons From Electric Cars,” the Harvard Business Review asks, what do innovators do when no one “knows for sure what customers will do with an innovation because they haven’t seen it before? The quickest approach is to look at what customers currently do, or look at historical case studies that bear some similarity to your idea. This may provide a general sense of what might happen, but it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. After all, the whole point of an innovation is to change something in a meaningful enough way to render past patterns meaningless.”

Road rave: MotorTrend’s blog took on EV critics in the media, writing: “Here’s why I’m so geeked on the Chevy Volt and why you should be, too. In normal, everyday driving we got 127 miles per gallon (fine, 126.7 mpg). Which is pretty amazing. Broken down, over the course of 299 miles on Los Angeles highways, byways and freeways, the Volt burned 2.36 gallons of gasoline (fine, 2.359 gallons — we rounded up). Most other cars use up a tank of gas going 299 miles. The Volt, to reiterate, used 2.36 gallons over 299 miles. That’s freaking amazing!” Photo: GM.

Likewise, the blog points out that critics who say the EV market will be very small — despite about 20 models being introduced by a range of carmakers — are missing how big the numbers are. Most industry analysts expect pure EVs to represent about 2 percent of global production by 2020 — which will be a substantial number as the world is expected to have 1 billion cars on the road: “Even 1 percent of the global market in 2020 might represent 1 million electric cars. And, in that same year, those same analysts expect hybrids to be more than 10 percent.”

As to the argument that consumers won’t buy EVs because of “range anxiety” — the fear that an EV will run out of batteries and leave them stranded — VentureBeat points out that “the average U.S household has more than 2 cars, and no one will make all three battery electrics with limited range. There will likely always be one car with gasoline power for long trips or emergencies. Day to day, families will plan around an EV’s range just as they now plan around their cars’ carrying capacity and number of seats.”

And as HBR added about the skeptical headlines of late: “Many great innovators had serious doubts cast on their ultimately successful ideas.” Thomas Edison might surely have a déjà vu moment if he were here today.

* Try out our interactive electric vehicle features, videos, and games

Learn more in these GE Reports stories:
* “GE unveils residential WattStation EV charger
* “GE & Better Place to partner on EV infrastructure
* “Unveiled: $200M challenge, EV charger, smart monitor
* “GE teams with Nissan on electric car smart charging
* “New York powers up with new GE battery plant
* “In 1900 Electric Vehicles Reigned and Edison Charged Them!

Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication