What is a ZEV? And Will YOU Soon Drive One?

The world is changing and there are new acronyms to learn.   In recent years, sales of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) including plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have begun to accelerate.  BEVs are also ZEVs—Zero-emission vehicles.  Traditional, or internal combustion engines, are now being referred to as ICE vehicles.

Public interest in PEVs has increased considerably in recent years as demonstrated by sales trends.  In fact, 14 BEV models from 13 manufacturers and 22 PHEVs from 12 different auto manufactures are offered for sale so far in 2017, according to a June 2017 report issued by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.  Mainstream BEV choices now include Hyundai Ioniq Electric, Chevrolet Bolt, BMW i3, Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV, and Nissan Leaf.  Popular PHEVs include the BMW i8, Chevy Volt, Ford C-Max and Fusion Energi models and Toyota Prius.  The Audi e-tron will introduce Audi into both the BEV and PHEV segments.

Volvo XC90, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Chrysler Pacifica also offer plug-in hybrid variants while Ford Focus Electric, EV Kia Soul and Niro variants, the Fiat 500 e, and Volkswagen e-Golf may be on to the real key to acceptance; users of most vehicle types would be more willing to consider a PEV if it were offered in the specific make and model of their current vehicle.

What about hybrid technology for your pickup?  Mild-hybrid trucks promise to be coming across the segment, and a few plug-ins appear to be on the drawing board. Ford promises a 2020 year model F-150 Hybrid; both diesel and gas hybrids appear to be on the drawing board, and a plug-in is also on its test track.  According to FCA’s product plan, the 2018 Ram 1500 will offer a 48-volt mild-hybrid system.  GM has experimented with a Silverado 1500 1LT and a Sierra 1500 mild-hybrid, and built a Chevy Watt protype with the Chevy Volt electric powertrain in a Chevy Colorado. 

The mainstay truck makers know they have to hurry or lose market share.  Workhorse, a company that thusfar has been only a commercial truck-maker, has announced it is now considering a consumer version of its W-15 plug-in hybrid pickup.  The W-15 is capable of producing 460 horsepower and driving 80 miles electric-only on a full charge. It rates 28 city and 32 highway mpg when the gasoline range extender is running. The W-15 meets the mark capability in the form of a 2,200-pound payload capacity, 5,000-pound towing rating, and adds convenience with the ability to run power tools off of the battery when parked.

We have already seen the age of electric vehicles usher in newcomers to the automotive world.  The Tesla Model S and Model X set a number of new benchmarks—style, driving range and overall cool factor of PEVs.  Their price tags would certainly add to the idea that vehicle price differential remains a hindrance to large-scale adoption of PEVs.   Yes, the median cost of PEVs relative to the average cost of all new vehicles has begun to drop; the differential between vehicle costs is now less than $10,000 with the expectation of evening out even more over the next several years.  For now, tax incentives up to $7,500 bridge the gap, but you’ll still need to ask yourself how many years you’ll have to drive your vehicle to earn back the $2,500 in higher cost when comparing any PEV head-to-head with an ICE equivalent. Tesla’s more affordable Model 3, offered at $35K MSRP, poses to be a major advancement.

PEVs must be able to go longer-range and charge faster before they will ever truly make their impact against ICE vehicles. It has taken time, but developing infrastructure to enable PEV charging across the nation is becoming a reality and new rapid charge technology charges up to 80% of the battery in 20 minutes—but that’s still about 15 minutes longer than we are used to spending to fill up our cars.  Furthermore, most people don’t have the rapid charging ability yet at home.  Just as it took an automotive newcomer to shake things up, that same newcomer may lead the way in solving these obstacles as well.  The Tesla vehicles are only part of what Tesla is up to these days.  They are demonstrating that combining solar panels and a Powerwall battery can not only power homes, but also enable vehicle-to-grid (V@G) capabilities so that vehicle users are potentially able to supply electricity back to the grid as needed.  We predict that the Powerwall will also have the capability to charge the vehicle in the garage quickly, not to mention all of its other capabilities. 

Builders may soon build Zero-Energy Homes with ZEVs in their garages!  Until then, think ahead and make sure to put outlets in the garages and prewire for more advanced charging options.  Both builders and traditional automakers must adapt to a changing world or risk being replaced by newcomers.

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