Network change

For electric cars to gain market traction, recharging infrastructure needs to be mature, and that will mean OEMs becoming more than vehicle manufacturers

The introduction of battery-electric vehicles has been slow to progress, mostly because of how ingrained the use of fossil fuels has become. A century of investment in the internal combustion engine has led to cars and a refuelling infrastructure that we now take for granted, but that brings challenges for OEMs such as Nissan that have invested heavily in battery technology and electric vehicle development.

Nicolas Bozek, head of Nissan Europe’s zero-emissions business unit, says: “We’ve been driving gasoline cars for 100 years and people know what to expect, whereas the EV is fairly new. Of course there are innovators that are willing to adopt technology very rapidly, but our objective is to not only reach a niche of innovators – we want to reach everybody.” 

More funds and development programmes will be directed at improving the powertrain technology – whether it's cell chemistries, motors or management systems – but it could be the means of recharging the vehicles that has the biggest impact on whether EVs will be a commercial success.

To date Nissan has helped introduce more than 1,500 recharging points across Europe, but that figure pales into insignificance compared to the number of gasoline stations that can be found in every country around the continent. And that's a balance that Bozek wants to see change.

“You have to be in a position where you don’t have to worry whether you are going to find a charger or not,” he says. “At the moment, even though we see the trend happening, the recharging infrastructure is still fragile.”  

But the investment required to expand the recharging infrastructure to what Nissan would like to see is enormous, and the traditional business model that national grid operators and power companies work to in order to see a return on investment could hinder EV adoption, not help it.

“If the operators wanted to charge a price that would allow them to make a return on investment in two to three years, the price would be extremely high,” says Bozek.

Which means that there needs to be more discussion and understanding between OEMs such as Nissan and utility firms, grid operators, national governments and legislators – many of whom often take only a short-term view of what is needed.

tags: Jan-Feb 2016 Nissan Hybrids & EVs