More than 45 auto manufacturers are expected to be competing globally in the electric vehicle market with approximately 75 models by 2015, according to a study from IHS Automotive Supplier Business. Depending on the strength of the global recovery of automotive markets and the speed with which the electric vehicle (EV) models are marketed and the supporting infrastructure, cumulative sales are expected to total 700,000 to 1 million.

The study found that EVs are fast becoming a competitive battleground between the traditional automotive value chain and one that centres on recharging infrastructure and between the established original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and newcomers from both western economies and China.

It reports that beyond 2015, there is likely to be spectacular growth in the Chinese market. Approximately 35 new EV models are expected to be launched during the next few years from both Chinese OEMs and western OEMs. This is likely to lead to a situation of heightened competition in the sector in the region, allowing it to develop as a cost driver for the rest of the world.

The study has noted that until recently, the development of EVs was seen by many as a niche suitable for particular duty cycles and urban markets. However, once-sceptical OEMs are moving quickly into the EV space. For example, Honda, the first OEM on the market with hybrids, long held a corporate view that hydrogen is the fuel of the future and that EVs would be merely a sideshow. However, in July 2010, the company announced that it would be launching an EV in Japan and the U.S. during 2012.

All the global OEMs are now offering or testing an EV or a range of EVs, which means that every major OEM is now committed, to some extent, despite there being some considerable risk that EVs may yet be a technological blind alley as mainstream vehicles for consumers.

IHS reports that while momentum is building in the marketplace and among manufacturers for EVs, questions remain about the speed of market growth, making forecasting difficult. In their current configuration, EVs require considerable infrastructure investment which, although it is being developed piecemeal around the world by local authorities, requires not only significant cooperation across the value chain, but also some standardization. Battery technology still lags other key technologies in terms of both life and cost. Furthermore, the testing of battery lifecycles is difficult to accelerate so, despite the motivation, battery technology is probably destined to be the weak component of the EV for some years to come. In addition, OEMs face the decision of whether to pursue a REEV solution or opt only for EVs. In the end, the scenario could be that families maintain two vehicles, one conventional and one EV.

IHS has noted that the current enthusiasm for EV technology and recharging infrastructure requirements mirrors the enthusiasm that flowered briefly more than a century ago, but then remained largely dormant as the world turned to the convenience of petroleum fuels. During recent decades, several OEMs including GM, Toyota, Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroën (PSA), have put demonstration fleets into service only to withdraw them after gaining field experience and consumer feedback.

The study also points that with the global issues of CO2 emissions, fuel economy, fuel price volatility and energy security gaining increasing government and consumer attention, EVs and other alternative technologies are firmly back on the agenda. To further encourage OEMs and supplier R&D and consumer uptake, governments at the federal, state and municipal levels, and energy utilities and other corporations are providing incentives that range from research funding to reduced electricity charges and free parking.

The complete report of The Electric and Range Extended Electric Light-Vehicle is available here