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Electric vehicles (EV) have improved considerably since they first hit the market. New and improved models were on display at the auto shows in Detroit in January and in Toronto in February.

Many electric cars feature slick, beautiful designs (e.g. the Fisker Karma) and speedier charging batteries that last longer and help cars go farther. 

Proponents of these vehicles point to the benefits of annual fuel cost savings, reduced maintenance costs and zero emissions.

And yet sales of electric cars have been sluggish and industry pundits predict sales will remain low for the next decade. As Toyota’s vice chairman and development chief Takeshi Uchiyamada stated last September, “the current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it’s the distance cars can run, or the costs, or how long it takes to charge.” 

Toyota slashed its plans for the sale of its eQ electric vehicle, which had been expected to be a mass-market EV, to just 100 in Japan and the US from previous forecasts of several thousands.

Auomotive OEMs are trying to address the issues: Hyundai announced last fall its plan to roll out its first production fuel-cell EV. Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into water to generate power to drive the electric motor. Fuel cells reportedly run five times longer than battery electric cars on a single power-up and it take just minutes to fill a tank with hydrogen compared to the up to eight hours it can take to recharge a battery. Sounds great, but it’s also expensive. It’s estimated the EV equipped with this technology would cost approximately $88,000. Even if Toyota could halve the cost, which it said it was aiming to do, the base model would still start at $44,000.

Cost is an obvious deterrent for many, particularly when comparable gasoline-fueled models are anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent less to purchase than their EV counterparts.

Even if EV manufacturers could overcome all the obstacles stymieing current growth, the current electricity infrastructure likely could not support the added energy requirements from millions of EVs on the road. The infrastructure could expand, but the cost to do this would also drive up the cost of operating an EV and the cost of electricity. 

EVs are a great idea and one of the best shorter-term automotive options we have to improve our environment. Yet if EVs are to become the car of choice for consumers, automotive OEMs will have to overcome the challenges. SMT

Mary Scianna, Editor, Shop Metalworking Technology Magazine

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