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What's in Store for Electric Vehicle Manufacturing?


Better battery technology is the key to sales success for these vehicles that are now only niche players


By David Yang
Santa Monica, CA


The Hybrid and Electric Vehicles Manufacturing industry makes up a small but growing segment of the $485.5 billion US automobile and components manufacturing sector. Electric vehicles are primarily classified as hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) or all-electric vehicles (EVs). Each type uses electricity to reduce gasoline consumption. During the past five years, rising gasoline prices and tax incentives have stimulated consumer demand for electric vehicles, though relatively higher retail prices have limited this growth; however, in 2013, sales of new HEVs, PHEVs and EVs are expected to increase 4% to total 290,000 units, accounting for 4.1% of total car sales.

In years to come, electric vehicles will continue to play a more important role in automobile manufacturing. Advances in areas such as battery technology can considerably lower vehicle prices and oil consumption, and in turn, demand’s typically cyclical volatility from oil prices will start to steady.

 According to Toyota, as of March 2013, the company had sold more than 5 million hybrid vehicles worldwide. Two million of these units were sold in the US.


Electric cars date back to the 19th century. At the time, internal combustion engines (ICE) and cheap gasoline had not yet saturated the market, though industrialists and scientists had developed considerable expertise working with electric motors and batteries. This allowed electric cars to gain an early foothold that didn’t last. The superior speed and range of gasoline vehicles allowed them to overtake electric cars in the market. According to an article from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, by 1909, electric vehicle production was equivalent to only 4.4% of gasoline vehicle production. Since then, cost and range concerns have continued to limit the growth of electric vehicles. Although interest has spiked during periods of high oil prices, on average interest has remained low.

Modern electric vehicles in the US emerged in 1999, when Toyota and Honda brought hybrid electric vehicles to the US market. Demand for these models and other electric vehicles has remained strong, mainly because of public concerns for the environment, falling vehicle costs, increasing gasoline prices and government tax incentives. According to Toyota, as of March 2013, the company has sold more than 5 million hybrid vehicles worldwide. Two million of these units were sold in the US.Cost Differential: Hybrid vs Conventional Vehicles

Types of Electric Vehicles

HEVs contain an ICE and an electric motor, providing them with advantages from both types of propulsion. HEVs can rely entirely on electric motors when driving at low speeds, resulting in fuel savings and low emissions. However, hybrids do use gasoline engines when driving at higher speeds, providing drivers with the reliability and range of conventional vehicles. HEVs cannot plug directly into the grid to charge their batteries; typically, the braking system and ICE are used to generate electricity and charge the batteries. HEVs currently dominate the electric vehicle market because of their similarities to conventional vehicles. According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, HEVs accounted for 89.2% of the electric vehicles sold in the US during 2012. Their market share, however, is expected to decline slightly in 2013 due to the continued growth of EVs.

EVs are still a very small component of the market, though they have experienced considerable growth in recent years. In 2013, these vehicles are expected to account for 6.6% of all electric vehicle sales (including HEVs and PHEVs). EVs use rechargeable batteries to power electric motors, consuming only electricity in the process. Currently, most EVs, such as the Nissan Leaf, can drive about 100 miles on a single charge, which is less than most conventional vehicles can drive on a single tank of gasoline. Nevertheless, data from the Department of Transportation suggests that a maximum range of 100 miles per charge is sufficient for 90% of household trips in the US. 

PHEVs are HEVs that can plug into the power grid. PHEVs feature larger batteries than HEVs, allowing them to drive at full speed using an electric motor. According to the Department of Energy, PHEVs can drive about 10–40 miles using only electricity. Also, if frequently charged, they become significantly more efficient when driving short- to-medium distances than HEVs. Variations on plug-in hybrid technology include extended-range electric vehicles, which use an ICE to generate electricity for the electric motor. GM’s Chevy Volt uses this technology. In 2012, PHEVs made up 7.9% of total electric vehicle sales.


Electric Vehicle Manufacturing

For the most part, electric vehicles can be assembled in facilities that are also suitable for conventional vehicles, because both types have similar basic components such as the chassis, interior and wheels. Toyota takes advantage of this by producing hybrid and gasoline models of its Camry at the same facility. However, as electric vehicles gain a larger share of the market and require customized manufacturing machinery, facilities dedicated to electric vehicles may become more commonplace. For example, according to GM, a specialized chassis for the Chevy Volt could lower manufacturing costs, but it would require more costly customized machinery.
Impact of Improved Battery Technology
Electric vehicles typically use lithium-ion (li-ion) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Li-ion batteries discharge at a slower rate than NiMH batteries but are more expensive to produce. Batteries are typically manufactured in specialized facilities. For instance, Toyota sources batteries from Primearth EV Energy, a joint venture between Toyota and Panasonic. Currently, batteries are expensive to produce, even when the manufacturer scales up operations, because battery capacity is limited. According to an article from Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, batteries can only store a set amount of electricity dependent on their physical size. Storage capacity is also dependent on battery chemistry, which is not affected by manufacturing scale. While there is ongoing research on battery technology, no major commercial breakthroughs have been made.


Government Incentives Encourage Growth

Currently, electric vehicles are considerably more expensive than conventional vehicles due to battery costs. Among comparable models, HEVs retail for about 10.9–16.1% more than their gasoline-only counterparts, while EVs can retail for as much as 72.7–127.5% more than equivalent gasoline-only vehicles. According to research from consulting firm McKinsey & Company, automotive li-ion batteries currently cost about $500–$600 per kW-hr of electricity generation. At gasoline prices of $3.50–$4.00 per gallon (the national price range over the past two years), the annual cost of owning an electric vehicle, which accounts for fuel, insurance, interest, maintenance and other costs, is not competitive against the annual cost of owning a gasoline vehicle. According to data from the Department of Energy, a 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid only reaches ownership cost parity with a conventional 2012 Toyota Camry after 13 years of ownership. The cost differential is even greater when considering more expensive electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Tesla Model S.

While it may be true for some individuals, it is unlikely that consumer demand for electric vehicles is driven entirely by environmental concerns. Given the significant differentials in total ownership costs and purchase prices, it is reasonable to assume that government incentives have played an important role in the growth of the electric vehicles market. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 provided a tax credit of up to $3400 for qualified hybrid vehicles purchased between 2006 and 2010. While government tax credits for HEVs expired in 2010, these credits made HEVs price competitive against conventional vehicles in the past five years, fueling consumer demand for hybrids.

Aside from hybrid incentives, The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 introduced tax credits for PHEVs and EVs that range between $2500 and $7500, depending on battery capacity. This tax credit is applicable to select models of electric vehicles until 200,000 units are sold. Even if the tax credit is maxed out, PHEVs are still about 48.3% more expensive than their gasoline counterparts, while EVs are 38.3–113.4% more expensive. Consequently, plug-in vehicles have experienced slower consumer adoption than HEVs. Without major declines in retail prices, which are driven by battery costs, PHEVs and EVs will likely see limited market penetration in the coming years.


Consumer Demand for Electric Vehicles

As tax incentives expire in the five years to 2018, electric vehicles manufacturers will be dependent on continued technological developments to lower electric vehicle prices. In particular, further advances in battery manufacturing can lower the price of electric vehicles, making them more attractive to consumers.

To estimate consumer demand for electric vehicles in coming years, IBISWorld analyzes the total cost of ownership for comparable models of hybrid electric and conventional light vehicles, using data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and Department of Transportation. IBISWorld also analyzes the effects of improved battery technology on the automobile-manufacturing sector, assuming that improved electric vehicle batteries will reduce auto manufacturers’ dependence on gasoline prices.

The following factors are applied to the scenario. Gasoline prices are baseline forecasts sourced from the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2013. Vehicle data also are sourced from Annual Energy Outlook 2013 baseline and favorable technology change scenarios. The number of miles driven per year and average length of car ownerships are assumed to be constant in the five years to 2018. These assumptions are based on the latest data from the Department of Transportation, which states that consumers drive an average of 13,476 miles per year, as well as data from market-intelligence firm Polk, which estimates that consumers own new vehicles for six years. All other costs, such as insurance and financing, are assumed to be constant across all vehicles.

Under the baseline scenario, the total cost of ownership over a six-year period for HEVs is estimated as 2.7% higher than conventional vehicles in 2013. During the next five years, the cost differential will decrease at an annualized rate of 5.7–2.0% in 2018, signaling improved competitiveness for HEVs. If favorable technological advances in batteries are achieved, the cost differential is forecast to fall from 2.5% in 2013 to 1.7% in 2018, at a declining average annual rate of 7.6%. This narrowing cost differential will fuel consumer demand for HEVs.

Even without any technological developments during a six-year period, HEVs will cost an estimated $718.2 more than conventional vehicles in total ownership costs. As a result, the scenario proves that HEVs are relatively mature and will enjoy stable demand during the next five years. However, the ownership costs of EVs are projected to remain 36.5% higher than comparable conventional vehicles in 2018, which is a considerable improvement from 57.7% in 2013. IBISWorld estimates that EVs will have difficulty gaining market share during the five years to 2018 due to high ownership costs.


Impact on the Overall Automobile Manufacturing Industry

What effect will the above factors have on the many disparate parts of automobile manufacturing? A look at risk scores will give an indication of the direction in which things are heading. A risk score is comprised of structural risk, growth risk and sensitivity risk. Structural risk accounts for the impact of fundamental characteristics common to all industries, such as international trade and competition. The growth risk measures an industry’s projected revenue growth, while sensitivity risk accounts for external factors affecting industry performance. The score is measured on a scale from one to nine, where a lower risk score indicates a less risky industry.

The $87.0 billion Car and Automobile Manufacturing category experienced the largest decrease in risk because it is the one most directly impacted by consumer demand, which is driven by gasoline prices. On average, the 10 industry segments examined experienced a risk decrease of 0.04, driven mainly by falling growth and sensitivity risk. Lower growth risk is a result of more efficient batteries, which lower ownership costs for consumers, and result in strengthened demand for industry products. Additionally, improved electric vehicle batteries make manufacturers more resistant to volatile oil prices, thereby lowering sensitivity risk.

While the overall decrease in risk is low, the entire manufacturing sector benefits from a strengthened automobile sector. These 10 segments are estimated to generate a combined $431.1 billion in revenue during 2013, accounting for 7.6% of manufacturing output and 3.1% of US GDP. As a result, stable demand for automobile manufacturers could potentially ripple across the manufacturing sector, leading to strengthened revenue and job growth. For instance, metals and chemicals manufacturers will benefit from growth in automobile manufacturing because they supply the intermediary materials used to manufacture automobile components and parts.


What the Future Holds

In coming years, growth among electric vehicles manufacturers could potentially fuel overall growth of the automobile-manufacturing sector. In particular, advances in electric vehicle battery technology can lower the cost of vehicle ownership, which will increase consumer demand for electric vehicles. Cheaper batteries also reduce the impact of high oil prices on downstream demand for cars, lowering the revenue volatility of automobile manufacturers. Both of these factors will bolster the long-term sustainability of the automobile-manufacturing sector, which in turn benefits other manufacturers along the supply chain. However, if technological developments stagnate, EVs and PHEVs will continue to have high ownership costs, leading these products to have limited market penetration. As a result, effective research and development will remain vital to the success of electric vehicles and the overall automobile-manufacturing sector. ME


This article was first published in the June 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

Published Date : 6/1/2013

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