Electric Vehicle Technology Evolves

Has a window opened for convenience stores?
electric vehicle station

Electric vehicles (EVs) are making inroads in the minds of consumers who are eager to “go green” in their vehicle choice and leave a smaller carbon footprint. In the c-store industry, retailers are wrestling with how to become a part of this up-and-coming market, while they wait for EV charging technology to catch up with the speedy convenience-shopping occasion.

According to Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst for Navigant Research, Boulder, Colo., the U.S. EV market is growing. Annual sales of plug-in hybrids and battery EVs reached more than 100,000 in 2014. By the end of 2014, the number of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) was close to 300,000.

“Of course, this is still a small fraction of the total car market, with light-duty-car sales in the U.S. in 2014 totaling 16 million,” Jerram says.

As Devin Lindsay, principal analyst, North America Forecast, for IHS Automotive, explains, judging the state of the EV market is very subjective.

“Some feel that it has been quite successful, as we have vehicles on the road with technology that resembles the Jetsons more than the Model T,” Lindsay says. “Others might say that it has been a boondoggle, as millions of dollars have been invested in a technology that consumers do not want.”

The answer, he says, may exist somewhere in between: “In a few short years, hybrids and electric vehicles have become common on U.S. roads, and at the same time, the overall penetration of the technology is very small compared to the numbers of traditional ICE—internal combustion engine—vehicles.”

As automakers begin to compete for consumers’ attention within the EV market, some manufacturers have an early lead. For PEVs, the Nissan Leaf is still the industry leader, but Tesla’s sales have grown rapidly.

For plug-in hybrids, the Chevy Volt enjoyed the highest sales in 2014. However, Ford’s C-Max and Fusion Energi plug-ins together sold more in total, while Toyota is a market leader with the Prius, Jerram says.

Nissan with the Leaf and Tesla with the Model S are the clear current leaders, Lindsay says. “Both automakers have made various improvements throughout the life cycle of their respective vehicles,” he says.

“One of the important benefits of producing a vehicle early in the market is that [the automakers] can gather information on how the vehicle fits within the lives of its consumer.”