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Exclusive interview with Robert Stüssi, President of AVERE, in the up-run to EVS 25

22 October 2010

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The 25th World Electric Vehicles Symposium (EVS 25), taking place from 5-9 November in Shenzhen, China, will gather leaders from government, industry, scientific and technological circles to exchange views on the latest developments and future directions regarding electric vehicles. Robert Stüssi had been chairman of EVS 24 in Stavanger, Norway and talks to about developments over the past 18 months and his expectations for EVS 25. You have been chairing the EVS 24 in May 2009 in Norway. What progress has since then been made in the EV market in terms of technological advancements?

R.S.: It is difficult to identify technological per se. For the market it is important that the vehicle is delivered and out to be bought. There are of course technological advancements, the batteries have advanced all the time. The biggest advancement, however, is that electric vehicles have past the prototype stage and that many OEMs have EVs ready to be rolled out, already or in the short term. In EVS 25 there will be a lot of electric vehicles on display that will arrive on the market in the next few months. 

EVS 25 programme here What were the major hurdles for a broad uptake of electric mobility then, and what are the stumbling blocks now? Have any of the factors significantly changed?

R.S.: Yes, the factors are changing in terms that the car is more or less out. We know more or less the price, we know the subsidies, the timeline when the cars will arrive on the market - there is reasonable certainty about a number of characteristics of the cars, the lifetime of the battery and so on.

But there still remain at least two real barriers: charging and training.

In the beginning, the charging people (power providers, utilities...) were not interested in EVs, now suddenly everybody is talking about how to integrate EV charging in the existing structures and how to install a proper charging infrastructure. But there is a lot of confusion on the subject. Holland, for example, is setting up charging points, but some are barely used as people prefer charging at home and charging points are profited for free parking. Fact is, nobody knows what the right business model for the different modalities of charging infrastructure is. Nobody knows how the consumers will react and what mode of charging they are going to opt for.

The second barrier, is training. A lot of governments push for electric mobility but the training aspect is generally neglected. It needs some expert knowledge to properly integrate EVs into fleets. In each municipality and company, a number of people have to be trained on managing EVs. Have there been any surprising developments in the electric vehicle and EV battery market over the past 18 months?

R.S.: There are certainly advancements, but nothing revolutionary. The major advancement is again that the market is ready. A number of battery factories for large capacities have been and still are being built, so when the EVs arrive on the market there will be a sufficient supply of secure batteries for them. How do you evaluate the different market projections that range from 0.5-4% market penetration of EV/PHEV by 2020?

R.S.: In the meantime, almost everybody has projections above 5%. The range of projections is now rather 5-25%, except for e.g. Volkswagen who is very cautious and only calculates with 0-5% market penetration of EVs and PHEVs. Renault foresees 5-10%, Ford even 15-20%.

The consultants in this field show a wide spread in their projections, most being somewhere in between 5-10%, Global Insight for example being more reserved with 0-5% and Deutsche Bank being more optimistic with 15-20%, the later however including HEVs in these projections as well.

Some of this might of course be attributed to wishful thinking and calculated optimism as every country wants to take the lead in the global electric vehicle market. Who are in your opinion the most important players in the EV sector in terms of
  • technical advancement
  • viable business model
  • holistic approach to setting up an EV ecosystem
  • market weight
R.S.: In terms of technical advancement, that will be those who arrive first on the market and with a larger variety of models. As for the most viable business model, that is certainly changing and advancing from just selling a car to selling mobility. Many companies offer already mobility services beyond the car, but it still needs a lot of change on the consumer side. This will take time. The concept of car-sharing, for example, exists for 10 years now but today there are probably only some 10,000 shared cars in Europe. Which is already good but shows that these kind of changes take a long time.

In terms of approach to electric vehicles, there is a great difference between Europe, America on one hand and China, India and other emerging economies on the other hand. Europeans and Americans want a brand car, secure, intelligent, with lots of information to the driver. The Chinese and the Indians prioritize, for the moment a practical car for the masses, although the range of models is also diversifying fast. Who are the key people/nations/companies to involve in the promotion of electric vehicles? Who has to be on board for EVs to become a success story?

R.S.: The OEMs, utilities, governments and a number of cities are already on board. Now we have to target more cities and also the companies and all kind of entities in order to convince them to integrate EVs into their fleets. Companies have strategic access; they can combine different options of mobility. Electric mobility has to start in fleets; therefore we need to prioritize to bring entities on board. This will also help to get individuals more familiar with EVs. Barcelona is in this respect a good example. The city pushed everybody to work with them on electric mobility: universities, companies, public agencies. Who would have the political/economic power to block them?

R.S.: Nobody. We are beyond the point of return. Electric vehicles are coming, it can only be quicker or slower, but they are coming. What are your expectations for EVS 25? How do you expect this event to be different from EVS 24? Will the basic topics be the same? Or are there new issues to discuss?

R.S.: EVS 25 will be massive. EVS 24 had already doubled the scientific communication with 450 papers. For EVS 25 now, over 800 papers have been submitted - that is tremendous growth!

EVS 25 will have a very large exhibition. Last year, the exposition was smaller as the car was almost missing at the conference due to the economic crisis. This year, OEMs from all over the world will be very present with a number and variety of electric vehicles. Normally car manufacturers are more interested in displaying in auto salons such as the Mondial de l'Automobile in Paris or the Geneva Motor Show (in the case of Europe) to connect with the car buyers, rather than in scientific conferences such as EVS because they presume that this audience knows the cars anyways. Now however, there is also a push from the OEMs to be present at these conferences and to present their electric vehicle models and new technologies.

The basic topics and issues under discussion at EVS 25 will not be very different from EVS 24 as we had already started to diversify in the last years, integrating thoughts on new business models, public transport, marketing issues etc. Fundamentally EVS is a scientific end technological symposium for specialists, rather than for the (informed) public.

Registration for EVS 25 here If you would be asked to formulate a global action plan for a rapid introduction of electric vehicles, what would be your top 3 points on the agenda?

R.S.: We have to involve cities and all kind of public and private entities to deploy electric vehicles. We have to invest heavily in training and awareness campaigns: giving people EVs to drive and get used to electric drive; promote academic formation in electric vehicle engineering - for the moment, for example, an important part of research in electric mobility is carried out by the OEMs in cooperation with universities.


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