How telematics can help overcome barriers to EV adoption

How telematics can help overcome barriers to EV adoption

Many in the automobile industry are hoping that sales of all-electric cars, or EVs, will rejuvenate auto sales. But consumers have high expectations for EVs. They demand a range of 100 miles or more, convenient recharging, and inexpensive installation of home charging stations, according to a recent IBM survey. The study, by the IBM Institute for Business Value, surveyed 1,716 US drivers on the likelihood that they would purchase an electric vehicle and the factors that might motivate them to do so.

IBM found that 19 percent of drivers surveyed said that they were either “very likely” or “likely” to consider purchasing an electric-only vehicle when shopping for a new car. “Consumers said the convenience and usage factors were most important,” says Kal Gyimesi, automotive leader for the IBM Institute for Business Value and author of the study. “They really want to be comfortable with the range, and they want to know that they’ll be able to find a charging station comfortably nearby.”

A smarter dashboard

Several companies are rolling out national or regional networks of public charging stations. But how easily in-car telematics systems will be able to locate them is unclear, while the ability of a driver to reserve a spot in advance is still a dream. Charging station operators will need to work together to develop a national network that lets EV drivers get information about public charging stations, including what’s around them, as well as to book slots in advance. (For more on charging stations, see ‘Telematics and EVs: Reducing range anxiety’, ‘How to profit from telematics driver data’, and ‘Telematics and EVs: Things to do while charging ’.)

Another way to reduce range anxiety is to provide richer information to drivers as they drive. In-vehicle systems could do more to give drivers currently relevant information, says Emad Isaac, CTO of Morey Corp, an electronics manufacturing services company.

Smarter dashboards could also reduce the range anxiety barrier. “The dashboard on the vehicle is due for a change,” Isaac predicts. For example, sometimes information like how fast you’re going is useful, but other times information on how much energy the car is using is more important. There are already applications that tell you the rate of consumption; a better option, Isaac says, would be giving information on how much the current rate of consumption is costing.

Adding value at home

Another area in which telematics could push consumers over the tipping point is by adding value to the home charging station. “Price is always important, and it will be important to everybody,” Gyimesi says. IBM found that only 13 percent of drivers would consider spending more than $1,000 to retrofit their residence to support recharging of an electric vehicle, while industry estimates peg this cost as averaging between $1,000 and $2,000. Consumers may be willing to pay more for smart chargers that offer the kind of functionality they expect from 21st-century gadgets, says Colin Read, vice president of corporate development for ECOtality, an EV infrastructure and services provider. “Chargers that are real-time connected to the Internet will allow us to create rich data, communicate with the user, and provide a differentiated user experience,” he says. (For more on smart charging, see ‘M2M telematics: Turning the OEM development model on its head’ and ‘Telematics and smart grids: The business opportunity’.)

Smartphone apps that allow EV owners to take advantage of variable rates for electricity are another telematics offering that could mitigate price consciousness, Gyimesi says. “Maybe when you drive home and plug in, you don’t charge immediately,” he suggests. “There could be an app that schedules that later, when rates are lowest in the middle of the night.”

Another way to get homeowners to spring for a home charging outlet might be to pair the job with installation of a complete home energy management system, Read says. ECOTality has integrated its Blink Network charger interface with the Cisco Home Energy Management Solution, so that EV drivers can access the charger interface to optimize their charging and energy usage for home and car. If a certified electrician is already coming to the home to install the charger, installation of the complete energy management system goes way down because of the efficiencies, according to Read.

“If consumers are not aware of their utility bills now, they become really aware when they get an EV,” Read says. “Providing a turnkey solution to manage the load by looking at the entire home energy system is a very compelling solution. We see home energy management as the next wave for us.”

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on EVs, join the sector’s other key players at PHEV/EV Infrastructure and Business Japan 2011 on September 7-8 in Tokyo and Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Conference & Exhibition Europe 2011 on October 11-12 in Frankfurt and Telematics Munich 2011 on November 9-10 in Munich.


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