The Western media obsess about electric cars to be made in the West, many of them being both overpriced and underperforming in global terms. This misses the fact that 56% of the value of sales of electric vehicles is and will remain in East Asia and cars only account for about half of the value of the electric vehicle business worldwide.
China buys over 90% of the e-bikes in the world and Japan buys the most hybrid cars. Indeed the best selling electric car in the world, the Toyota Prius, sells in Japan at twice the volume taken by the whole of the USA. All this will have changed by 2021 because China will have installed adequate charging infrastructure for electric cars by then and they will be more affordable, the result being that sales of electric cars in China will have a much larger value than the huge and growing sales of e-bikes in China.
It is fortunate that the takeoff in sales of electric cars is delayed in China by lack of affordable plug in hybrids and places to plug in pure electric cars. If Chinese people purchased a large number of plug in electric cars over the next five years it would significantly increase global warming because today, most of the power stations in China are inefficient and coal fired.
The large numbers
The South Koreans are setting up to make large numbers of pure electric cars across the world and China is going to do that locally. The number of manufacturers of electric vehicles in China is just about to pass 3000, dwarfing the number in the rest of the world combined. This will happen at about the time when China becomes the first country in the world where the majority of commuters driving to work do so electrically. That will be thanks to those ubiquitous e-bikes.
Japan files the most EV patents in the world followed by China then South Korea. 70% of the world's mobility vehicles for the disabled are made in Taiwan but China will probably hold that accolade before the decade is over. Japan is the only country where mobile home robots are popular. Singapore is designing and making military EVs. Like China, Thailand makes electric boats cars and other EVs. India makes and uses the most electric rickshaws and its manufacture of electric bikes, buses and cars is rocketing. Indeed, KPIT Cummins in India has just announced the world's first affordable hybrid retrofit.
For the next ten years, hybrid cars will be sold in larger volumes than pure electric cars because hybrids need no plug in infrastructure and they do not involve range anxiety. Indeed, given the occasional plug in at home, the next generation plug in hybrids will have longer range than conventional cars. KPITCummins of India will launch an affordable hybrid retrofit kit in late 2010.
Toyota is world leader in hybrid cars and Honda is number two. Both are in the powerful position of making many other types of electric vehicle as well such as forklifts, buses and motorcycles - lots of cross fertilisation here. Number three is Ford in the West but it will be very strongly challenged by East Asian companies that are globally launching many formidable hybrid cars, such as Hyundai of South Korea and later Geely and BYD Auto in China.
Global and technical reach
East Asian companies will also own a significant number of the businesses in the West that make electric vehicles and their components. Toyota has the broadest range of electric vehicles, including pure electric forklifts, pure electric buses, pure electric vehicles for the disabled and hybrid cars - with about 30% global market share by value.
Styling and innovation
International standards of styling are achieved by a many of the leading East Asian manufacturers of two wheelers, mobility vehicles for the disabled, buses and cars, this being most common with those made in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. There are attempts to be ultra modern with new forms of gull wing door, sliding door and so on and a new approach to some ideas that have been largely abandoned in the West such as inductive power pickup from the road and power from fuel cells.
Profits have long been the norm for the leaders in niche electric vehicles such as forklifts and mobility for the disabled and indeed in electric bicycles, from Chinese leaders such as Jinangsu Xinri down to the smaller e-bike manufacturers.
Hero Ultra electric scooter made in India
Toyota in Japan probably had a profitable business in the Prius hybrid car - the global leader - in 2009 before the quality problems hit. In 2009, Mitsubishi expected to make its electric car business profitable by 2013 but then Nissan warned that governments may cut back subsidies for electric cars due to the ongoing global financial meltdown and profits may slip far into the future. Certainly, most of the profits in electric vehicles in East Asia and indeed in the world as a whole will remain beyond mainstream electric cars for the next ten years. In 2020, the car manufacturers will still be slogging it out to see which three end up with secure, profitable growing electric car businesses of tens of billions of dollars in the decade after that, when growth eases.
Global leadership in traction batteries
Panasonic, now including acquisition Sanyo, sits astride the traction battery market mainly with first generation nickel cobalt wet lithium batteries and, for hybrids, nickel metal hydride batteries. However, it is now clear that chemically safer second generation traction batteries will be favoured over the next decade as they are being designed into everything from Autonomous Underwater Vehicles in India and China, the world's first civil manned electric planes in China and the new sea going hybrid yachts and motorboats to cars.
Yuneec e430 manned electric aircraft designed and made in China
These new batteries have nickelate, titanate or iron phosphate cathodes and pressure resistant, non-leaking polymer electrolyte. Currently, LGChem is getting the most design wins with these but Samsung are coming up fast and both are in South Korea. LG and Samsung took the electronic display business from the Japanese. Will they do the same with the traction battery business?
On the other hand, East Asia may have a problem with Western companies such as Oxis Energy Ltd, Polyplus and IBM leapfrogging with new battery chemistries of even higher power and energy density such as lithium sulfur, zinc air and lithium air.
The bottom line is that you start with East Asia if you want to understand the electric vehicle business and that applies to both production and consumption. IDTechEx is doing two things to redress the balance. It has just issued a report, "Electric Vehicles in East Asia 2011-2021" looking at the market demand by country and vehicle type over the next ten years. This has detailed coverage of what is being made and sold throughout the region with many profiles of the companies involved, discussion of government support and research programmes.
Secondly, IDTechEx will stage an event "Future of Electric Vehicles" in San Jose California 7-8 December. This two day conference and exhibition will have optional Masterclasses on the days before and after and visits to local centers of excellence in EVs. Focus is global, covering all EVs and the breakthroughs to come. Future of Electric Vehicles.
Top image: Geely IG Hybrid Car with solar panelling