Sunday, 21 July 2013

Electric Vehicles 2 - Thanks for the Feedback

It is some time since  I  looked into what the automotive industry is doing with tech startups. But now that Startupbootcamp HightechXL is on a global hunt for high-tech startups, it is time to revisit the business and catch up. Thanks for the feedback to my article yesterday about Renault. I see that there are crossovers between robotics, sensors and energy storage that I wasn't aware of. 

US kids not eager to get a drivers licence.

It appears that drivers licences rates among US citizens between 16 and 39 years old has been falling consistently since 1983. In a recent article about this in the New York Times, Mimi Sheller, Drexel University's Director of Mobilities Research, noted that Millennials don't value cars or car ownership. It may well have a lot to do with the enormous cost of running a car, especially in Europe, as well as crazy parking charges in cities like Amsterdam (35 Euro a day!).

As Adam Lesser of GigaOm pointed out a few days ago, the last few months have seen the expected demises of a few major VC-backed startups in the electric vehicle game, including Coda and Better Place, not to mention the seemingly unending saga that has become Fisker’s fate.  Bloomberg reported that Coda, for instance, listed assets of as much as $50 million and debt of as much as $100 million in the Chapter 11 filing. The reasons for each of these companies’ hard times varies. But seen in a helicopter view mode, they tell us a lot about what does and does not work in the EV market.

Range is still a concern

The Nissan Leaf’s less than spectacular sales and Coda’s failure probably had to do with the elephant in the room - customers are still concerned that they won't have the required range. Even though most of us don't  drive more than 40 kms a day, there is always that nagging thought about holidays or perhaps a longer trip to visit relatives. Tesla has always pushed the fact that their cars have a range of 200 miles and, in the US at least, now has a battery swapping program for really long trips. Not sure that works in Europe though. And like DAB radios, the electric car won't take off until the price comes down, let's say to around €23,000.

In Munich Germany, BMW is currently preparing the market for the introduction of the “i” EV models based on the 3 and 5 series. We will know more on July 29th when the finally reveal the production version of the BMW i3. UK car magazines are reporting that the 167 hp electric motor will have a driving range of 80 miles between charges. There will also be a range extender version with a small petrol motor to fast charge the battery. I guess the price will be more like €35,000. We're already seeing that BMW is well ahead in integrating apps into the driving experience.

Apparently, there is heated discussion  inside the company because so many resources were withdrawn from the other projects to focus on the electric cars. BMW has placed a huge bet on their technology including the  ultra-light frame made of carbon fibre.

Meantime, Honda is boasting about it's deal with the Google complex in Mountain View fr the Fit EV. 

Brian Taylor in the UK forwarded me this video of a series of sensors developed by TRW of Koblenz - Traffic Jam Assist. They use video and radar sensors to understand the vehicles surroundings, assisting the driver with things like keeping a safe distance or keeping in lane. (no sound on the video). 

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