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4 reasons why EVs are only going to get better

<p>The hot electric vehicle models from BMW and Tesla are just the start of why EVs are here to stay.</p>

A little over a year ago, BMW delivered my 100 percent electric ActiveE. I had no idea this car would slap any trace of a midlife crisis approaching me out the door. Even my wife, who at the outset was quite skeptical, is now aggressively pushing EVs to unsuspecting soccer moms here in Marin County and protests driving a petrol car whenever she has to.

Yet, I keep coming across downbeat articles from writers who've never driven a Tesla or BMW ActiveE. That's about as good as me criticizing national health policy in Botswana from my office in San Francisco.

Granted, a lot has happened in the electric vehicle space since Tesla introduced the Roadster in 2008. As with all emerging technologies -- especially one as significant as transportation -- there have been a fair amount of thermobaric explosions along the way.

I'm not going to make excuses for companies like Better Place, which swallowed $850 million with very little to show for it; or Coda Automotive, which tried marketing a Chinese sedan here in the US with the jaw-dropping "largest trunk in its class." Most of us in the industry saw these disasters coming from a mile away and I guess the one upside of this hubris is in clearly demonstrating what technologies and business models not to focus on.

Despite some of the rubble, it's time we pay our respects and move on. There is a lot to be excited about with EVs, and the rewards for those who finish the marathon are only getting larger. Here's what I'm optimistic about:

More Hot Models

Tesla has set the bar really high on performance. Elon Musk is not selling green cars. The Model S is a better-than-petrol performing rocket. The control, ease of driving, and of course torque are unreal. Once you drive a Model S, you'll get what I'm talking about and appreciate that all of the petrol cars you see on the road are so 1985. Before then, please don't judge EVs based on a Prius misconception (love the Prius, but it's obviously not targeting performance car drivers).

BMW ActiveE photo by Kosarev Alexander /

In raising the bar for all OEMs, you're seeing groups like BMW come out with really cool models: Can anyone seriously not like the i8? The i3 looks killer as well, and at that mid-luxury price point coupled with the BMW driving experience, there is no doubt that the i3 will help accelerate EV adoption. I understand BMW is also working on plug-in hybrids of their traditional models, which in itself is a big statement. Most major OEMs now have models in the market, or like Volkswagen and Volvo will be soon releasing commercial models.

As more models enter the market, consumers not only get more choice, but also prices are getting much more attractive. Last January I looked at getting a 2012 Nissan Leaf, which at the time was around $2,600 down and $450 per month. A friend just leased an entry-level 2013 Nissan Leaf for $3,100 down and $89 a month!

We just hit over 100,000 EVs on the road in the US and 2.5 percent of new car sales in California are now EVs. With more drivers able to experience EVs, we'll see this adoption continue - it's all about getting consumers more comfortable and educated.

Getting Smarter

As smart grid standards such as Smart Energy Profile and OpenADR take hold in the market, using the battery capacity of an electric vehicle to improve grid efficiency and stability will help to make EVs more cost effective.

Other incentives for low carbon emissions, such as Low Carbon Fuel Standards credits in California, are emerging which also will help to reduce costs of EV driving. We're now moving into more of the implementation phase of smart grid technologies, and EVs are an important piece of this.

Open, Easy Access

So far, we've mostly been limited to the membership model for accessing charging networks. I'm not that happy carrying around 5 RFID cards for various networks here in California, but with pending legislation in California (SB 454) sponsored by Plug-in America, open access will likely become the standard. Drivers will soon be able to access all public chargers using a smartphone or credit card, no different than pay-per-use with your credit card at the gas station.

BMW i8 photo by Patrick Poendl /

Open Charging Networks

Most charging infrastructure installed here in North America involves proprietary networks (i.e., ChargePoint, ECOtality). This is also changing as site hosts have realized that being tied into a proprietary solution doesn't allow them flexibility in switching charging station hardware and backend software vendors. Additionally, site hosts typically aren't allowed to own their respective charging station data.

With the arrival of Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), the largest global standard for open standards-based communication between charging stations and the backend management platform, companies such as ABB and Eaton are offering OCPP-enabled charging station hardware which allow site hosts to purchase open charging networks and often own their charging station data.

Open standards in Europe have helped drive down costs of charging station infrastructure and encouraged innovation in the sector. I'm mystified how Europe was ahead of us on this one, but it's now coming and we are seeing the first tenders and large installations here in North America based on OCPP. Open standards are essential for the industry to succeed.

A good amount of wild research projections and political posturing set the sector up for disappointment. There's no doubt though that the adoption of electric vehicles will be a marathon, and we shouldn't think otherwise. But, that's true for most major infrastructure changes -- it just takes time. There is the unlikely scenario where we spike back to $150 oil which would accelerate things, but this is probably not likely given the global economic malaise.

With well over 1 billion cars globally, there is no doubt that we need immediate and significant alternatives to liquid transport fuels (oil). We just need to continue to work together on open standards for vehicles, charging infrastructure and energy efficiency. And, please test-drive that Model S… it'll make you believe.

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