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Study: The road ahead for electric cars

Decisions made in 2010 will play a crucial role in shaping how consumers and the auto industry adopt all-electric and hybrid vehicles.

While hybrid and all-electric cars are about five years away from becoming commonplace, 2010 will be a crucial year in determining how an electric car is designed, built, fueled, and used, according to a paper released Thursday by Pike Research.

The auto industry is already headed toward official decisions on technology and standards, and still to come is a natural market evolution determining industry leaders.

Pike Research

The most interesting part of the report is how Pike Research analysts see driver habits and electric cars evolving.

Currently, the report said, many automakers, like General Motors with its Chevy Volt, are following a strategy in which the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) being offered "seeks to satisfy the approximate 80 percent of drivers estimated to commute 33 miles per day or less."

Cost will be a key factor in the evolution of the market. The Pike report says it's debatable whether hybrid and all-electric cars will prove cheaper to drive mile for mile, given fluctuating gas prices and the cost of lithium-ion batteries. A survey cited in the report, meanwhile, found that only 17 percent of drivers would pay a premium for a PHEV over a gas-powered car.

Once the market of environmentally conscious drivers is saturated, automakers will have to come up with a plan B, according to Pike Research.

"If a significant consumer audience fails to embrace the initial class of PHEVs because of the cost, it is likely that automotive OEMs may shift to designing vehicles with shorter all-electric range, and smaller, less costly battery packs," said the report.

The group's paper, "Electric Vehicles: 10 Predictions for 2010," was published in conjunction with, leaving the reader to question some of its more subjective conclusions on hybrids vs. electric cars or efficient gas-powered vehicles.

But the report also includes many interesting statistical predictions for anyone following the evolution of the green transportation industry:

  • By 2015 there will be 5.3 million places around the world to plug in and recharge a car.
  • Despite a U.S. push to revive its failed auto manufacturing economy with green technology manufacturing, it will actually be Asia that becomes the "dominant supplier and consumer of electric vehicles and batteries." Pike Research attributed this to the Chinese government's initiative to produce 500,000 electric vehicles per year.
  • The U.S. electrical grid upgrade will be sufficient to handle the influx of plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars overall, but neighborhoods with a concentrated volume of EVs could overwhelm a local utility.
  • Most people will charge their cars at work or home, and use public charging stations sparingly and mostly when traveling.
  • The majority of people will charge their cars after work between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. putting a strain on local utilities, which will then in turn offer incentives for charging after 10 p.m.

The full paper is available for free download from Pike Research.