More and more car manufacturers are jumping on the alternative fuel bandwagon. Electric and hybrid cars are available from almost all of the main car manufacturers, and at this year’s Detroit Motorshow, the list of unveils reads like a who’s who of the car industry – with BMW, General Motors, Lexus, Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo all showing off their new eco-friendly vehicles.
The problem is, who is going to drive these things? In a world where people choose Volvo vs. Nissan based on whether or not the Volvo service costs less than the Nissan one, the eco-friendly features of a vehicle aren’t exactly at the top of the priority list.
Last year, Nissan and General Motors both launched eco-friendly cars; one hybrid, and one electric only. Both set sales targets of 10,000 for the year – but neither manufacturer met those targets. GM’s hybrid was more than 2,000 sales short, while Nissan’s electric only fell just short of the 10K target. That’s not a lot of sales for two of the biggest launches of the year.
A Crunch Year for Alternative Fuels
Some analysts believe that 2012 will be the year when we see whether the public are interested in alternative fuels or not. If sales of electric and hybrid cars don’t pick up this year, then it may be back to the drawing board for the major manufacturers.
Now that most modern cars are quite fuel efficient, it’s hard to persuade consumers to shell out for the, currently incredibly expensive, electric cars. That’s something that is unlikely to change unless the price of the alternative energy cars falls dramatically, or fuel prices go up significantly.
When people drive in for their Volvo service, they may ask about the possibility of swapping to an electric vehicle, but as soon as they hear the sticker price, their interest wanes. Currently, there’s no incentive to invest in alternative fuels unless you’re incredibly environmentally conscious, or just want the latest tech.
Legislation for Change
The United States has asked all car manufacturers to target 35.5 miles per US Gallon by 2016, and to have doubled their current fuel efficiency by 2025. The first target is well within the reach of current technology, so there’s no reason to expect that traditional fuel systems will be going anywhere in the next couple of years.
Some states, such as California, are pushing for manufacturers to offer at least one zero emissions vehicle in their line-up. Of course, whether the zero emissions vehicle will be priced within reach of the average consumer; who is concerned about how much a Volvo service costs and has to pick and choose optional extras instead of splashing out for them all is another question.
It always takes a while for consumers to accept new technology, and most car manufacturers are willing to accept shaky adoption figures in the early days. This year will be important as a barometer of public acceptance, but a failure this year probably isn’t as critical as some analysts suggest. Let’s see where the technology stands in five years time before we call electric vehicles dead.