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Posted on February 5, 2010 by  & 

Electric Vehicles - Second Time Lucky

From 1880 to 1920 there was a boom in electric cars before a shakeout all but eliminated them until they crept back as golf cars seventy years later, a modest niche of the automotive market. Now we see many more vehicles becoming electric in either hybrid or pure electric (battery only) form. Below we show approximate dates of the volume rollout of electric vehicles all over again.

Resonance with the past

The resonance with the past is remarkable because there were hybrid cars not just pure electric cars over one hundred years ago. Electric car manufacturers that were famous over one hundred years ago such as Detroit Electric and Frazer Nash have returned under new ownership to make electric cars once again. However, the all electric range of many of the new cars is still 30 miles or less, no better than some vehicles from 1890 and once again the suppliers are often financially fragile. So is this a sort of Groundhog Day with history doomed to repeat itself, always ending in tears?
There are many reasons for believing that the new wave of electric vehicles will be enduring but there are no guarantees. In 2008/9 the world's governments committed an unprecedented $60 billion to electric vehicles and their key components and subsystems. This time the world is all too aware of the need to save the planet, the car industry and the dependence on oil from risky places. There were over one hundred electric vehicle manufacturers about one hundred years ago, before they collapsed, but now there are over 4400 electric vehicle manufacturers and rising. Whereas it was nearly all cars one hundred years ago, what the new wave of manufacturers make is extremely varied making it less likely that they have all got it wrong. The size of the industry is usually underestimated in the West because, so far, most of the EV manufacturers of the world are in China and only selling locally.

There will be another shakeout

Obviously there will be another vicious shakeout at some stage just as there was in the early twentieth century but this time round it will not simply revolve around whether electric cars are a success. Presently cars are only about half of the value of sales in the EV market. Will everything fail from military, industrial, two wheel and marine EVs to exotica such as robot jellyfish, insects and bats? That seems unlikely.

Many market drivers

The electric car is on a much firmer footing this time round and this is based on a market underpinned by new laws, far better batteries and technology that makes the car outperform in an increasing number of respects including electric sports cars such as Tesla and Lightning that accelerate faster than anything conventional. Designer performance car makers know they have to pay attention.
Huge variety of benefits
One of the main arguments for being much more optimistic this time round is the huge number of benefits now offered. Think of vehicles with minimal heat and sound signature and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) that can harvest energy to remain operational for years at sea. Indeed, one of the most ubiquitous benefits not exploited last time round is the ability to have everything from cranes to forklifts and vehicles for the disabled that are acceptable indoors. Another is tolerance of frequent stopping and starting.
In China, very affordable electric bicycles are a huge success because commuters pedal far less, not because any internal combustion engine is being replaced. At the other extreme, we have motorcycles with record breaking performance. For example, the all electric Mission Motors Mission One from the USA achieves 150mph and 150 miles range.
Julius Caesar brought tolling and laws to Rome partly to prevent road vehicles causing unacceptable noise when people wished to sleep. In later years, noise pollution was of little interest. However, for what is now a chronically crowded planet, it has returned with electric vehicles being favoured as a solution.


Cars are very much a part of this. Operational costs are plummeting. Plug in hybrids and affordable pure electric cars are arriving with useful electric ranges. That means appreciable use of electricity at no more than one quarter of the cost of gasoline. The flood of new models embraces everything from microcars, family and luxury cars to hybrid golf cars that cope better with hilly terrain and all electric cars that accept wheelchairs. Of course there is work to be done to improve up-front cost and range but, even here, progress is rapid. All electric family cars with 250 miles range have now appeared. There is even a clear development path to merging hybrid and pure electric technology in cars that have longer range than today's conventional cars. Think of series hybrids with very powerful batteries and tiny gas turbines as range extenders, for example.

Heavy industrial

Heavy Industrial is a term used to describe vehicles for heavy lifting in the main and the archetypal all-electric indoor forklift has already been a success for twenty years. The heavy industrial EV sector will now get a huge boost from hybrid technology being adopted for outdoor applications such as lifters and earthmovers because it will save cost over life and improve functionality. Hybrids thrive on punishing intermittent duty cycles: conventional drive trains do not.

Light industrial/ commercial

The light industrial/ commercial EV sector is one of the least reported yet it is considerable. In the past it was dominated by off-road vehicles such Ground Support Equipment (GSE) at airports. Now the on- road sector has overtaken, particularly in the form of buses as we show below.
Examples of vehicles in the light industrial/ commercial sector are as follows:
On road light industrial/ commercial
  • Taxis, buses, trams, road trains
  • Vans, pickup trucks and larger on-road trucks.
  • Trash bin collectors.
Off road light industrial/ commercial
  • Pedestrian-operated stair climbers and light load carriers such as those used for postal delivery on foot.
  • Automatic guided vehicles (e.g. serving production lines and airport car parks).
  • Light duty tugs.
  • Mobile powered access platforms, light cranes etc.
  • Workmen's vehicles indoor and outdoor.
  • Floor cleaners, wet scrubbers, polishers, ice rink preparation machines.
  • Airport Ground Support Equipment (GSE) such as aircraft pushback tugs, mobile weather protection, steps, bridges, liquid removal/replacement, people movers, baggage trains etc.
Unique new report with the big picture
Uniquely, the new IDTechEx report Electric Vehicles 2010-2020 covers the whole EV market revealing how many manufacturers now have the robust strategy of making EVs for many sectors, sometimes with common parts and some marketing synergies. Some of the most ambitious suppliers also control manufacture of key component such as batteries. The report gives detailed ten year forecasts for all applicational sectors in numbers, unit value and market value and for the main components and subsystems. 420 manufacturers are covered with emphasis on what comes next and lessons of successes and failures. China is given appropriate emphasis in the many sector analyses, as befits its position as a leading maker and user of EVs.

History will not repeat itself

So will EVs be successful this time round? IDTechEx gives a resounding Yes to that one. The largest sectors likely over the next ten years are now clear as is the relative success of hybrids vs pure electric vehicles. However, predicting the winning manufacturers is a more thorny issue. Certainly their strategies are healthily different and there will be survival of the fittest. This time round, they will not all bite the dust and an extremely large new industry is in the making.

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Posted on: February 5, 2010

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