Electric cars need battery and charging standards

Financial support for electric vehicle manufacturers and buyers is not enough - European governments also need to establish and enforce standards for batteries, infrastructure and safety, an analyst has claimed.

The European market for electric vehicles (EVs) could potentially grow to 480,000 units by 2015, said Anjan Hemanth Kumar, senior research analyst for automotive and transportation at Frost & Sullivan. However, take-up will depend heavily on purchase subsidies and the creation of Europe-wide supporting infrastructures.

Governments have offered some support to EV manufacturers and utilities through funding and other incentives, Kumar said. For example, the UK government has announced an EV buyer's subsidy of £5,000, Denmark waives its car purchase tax, France's president Nicolas Sarkozy pledged €400 million in support of electric and hybrid vehicle development, and the German and Spanish governments have also put money into EV projects.

However, Kumar added that Germany offers no incentives to EV buyers except for a five-year car tax exemption, and that while "countries such as France, Netherlands, Belgium and Austria offer subsidies on green vehicles but these are not clearly defined. In Italy, the tax exemptions and subsidies are limited to specific regions within the country."

The bigger problem is infrastructure, he said. "Although there has been some support in terms of building infrastructure, it has not been on a large scale. To make the EV dream a reality, governments need to ensure the availability of at least four charging points per EV in the first year, thereafter reducing to 2.5 charging points per EV by the 5th year.

"A fast charging infrastructure is also required, possibly including battery swapping stations at a ratio of one per 100 EVs sold during the first year, followed by one per 1000 EVs post the fifth year of sales. This density of charging station networks will be able to meet the majority of EV owners' charging needs, especially when battery technology is improved such that EVs can travel further on a single charge."

A key opportunity for European governments with EVs is to take the lead in developing battery technology, he continued. Incentives could be provided to local manufacturers to encourage them to create and keep jobs in Western Europe instead of moving them abroad, as is currently the case.

"Governments should influence the standardisation of batteries and EV infrastructure. Currently, no standard exists for the nominal voltage of batteries which has led to different manufacturers using different specifications. Battery manufacturers have to make different packs for different customers, resulting in the considerable wastage of effort and money," he said.

"Standardisation will have a major impact on significantly reducing battery prices. Governments should also legislate safety and crash norms for EVs. There exists a certain degree of ambiguity among consumers and OEs about the safety of EVs; a common standard mandated by governmental agencies will provide a clearer definition, while removing existing uncertainties."

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