Eight hurdles plug-in electric cars need to jump to get consumers charged

BMW recently concluded a pilot program with electric versions of its Mini Cooper with a few surprises. Here are eight reasons why consumers haven't gotten charged up about electric vehicles.

Most people like the idea of an electric car, once they get over the idea that it won't die on them 10 feet down the road. But BMW researchers have found that there are many unexpected hurdles still blocking their path.

In recent field tests (.pdf) of BMW's electric Mini Cooper, Rich Steinberg, BMW North America manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy, noted that the rollout of several hundred Mini E cars in Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York was more difficult than expected.

The biggest problem? Infrastructure.

Steinberg said installing the chargers in homes and buildings was more difficult and took longer than the company expected, and drivers still worried about the battery dying, even knowing that the Mini E could go 100 miles on a charge.

But "range anxiety" wasn't the only problem. Here are Steinberg's eight reasons why consumers haven't gotten charged up about electric vehicles:

  • Plug design. There exists no global universal standard for plug connectors right now. The Society of Automotive Engineers is expected to adopt a universal plug (SAE J1772) sometime next year.
  • Customer expectations. Mini E field testers underestimated the construction and permit challenges of installing a charger.
  • Local utility inconsistencies. Electric meters vary from town to town, but meters have to be "smart" enough to charge a car. A secondary meter for off-peak charging is an option, but it's hardly a blanket solution.
  • Inspections and permits. Inspection and permit approval processes are a hassle in some areas.
  • Installation delays. BMW had to waive lease payments for some field testers “pending the installation of a fully operational wallbox.” Some fleet customers weren't quick to install chargers for their vehicles.
  • Customer support. What happens when the car won't charge? Could be the car, charger, outlet, circuit breaker or local utility. Who gets to troubleshoot? Who's supposed to fix the problem?
  • Infrastructure. There exists no public charging stations right now. Customers don't like being required to charge only at home, and such stations would have to be compatible with electric cars from several manufacturers (and utilities).
  • The smart grid. Vehicle-to-smart grid communication would help in figuring out how people can "pay" for a charge and other basic monitoring features.

There is one good statistic driving through these hurdles: the environmental impact of electric cars will not just move CO2 emissions to power plants, and BMW said in a presentation that the electric Mini generated 45 percent as much CO2 per mile as the gasoline-powered version, despite being 573 lbs. heavier due to a heavier battery.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com


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